Can Boss Take Personnel Documents with Private Information Out of Office?

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“I’m concerned that my boss has breached my privacy by taking documents that have my social security number, and other personal information out of the office and to his residence. Do I have a civil case against him? ”

[NOTE: Articles and answers on DearEsq., while written and published by lawyers, do not constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship is formed by your reading of this information. You should always consult with an attorney for any legal situations.]

Generally speaking, the act of physically removing personnel information (which may include personal information protected by privacy laws) from a work premises isn’t necessarily against the law. Stupid? Yes. Dangerous? Yes. Risking the loss or theft of the data? Absolutely, as has been proven many times. The news has been filled with stories of company laptops containing sensitive personnel information being lost or stolen while being carried by an employee outside the office. But until something bad happens, you’re hard pressed to bring a privacy-related civil case.

Until disaster strikes, what can you do? If your boss’s actions are a breach of your company’s policies and procedures, you could anonymously alert your HR department, or even your company’s legal department, to the risks being taken by your boss. If you work for a government agency, the violation of policy may itself be illegal, so you should bring it to the attention (anonymously, if possible, since whistleblower laws are seldom very good at protecting people) of the agency’s inspector general or office of legal counsel.

Finally, you can search on a site like Yahoo News for examples of news stories about privacy breaches involving people who improperly brought private information home on their laptop. You’ll find a couple of stories every month over the last year or so, with hundreds of thousands of people’s privacy being compromised. Accidentally dropping a few copies of those kinds of stories on your boss’s chair might make him think twice.

Recommended Reading (click on the picture for details):
Internet Privacy for Dummies

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Author: Ray Everett-Church, Esq.

Ray Everett-Church is a privacy and security consultant with PrivacyClue LLC and is co-author of "Internet Privacy for Dummies"

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