Frontline Processing's Internet service provider tipped off the FBI that a Frontline employee had accessed child pornography from a work
Frontline Processing's Internet service provider tipped off the FBI that a Frontline employee had accessed child pornography from a work computer, and the FBI immediately contacted Frontline's information technology (IT) department, which investigated further. The IT employees determined that Jeffrey Ziegler, Frontline's director of operations, had searched for and accessed child pornography from his work computer, and they started monitoring his Internet activity through his browser's cache files, where they found evidence of child pornography. Frontline routinely monitored workplace computers, and its employees were aware of its monitoring capabilities.
Members of the Frontline IT department obtained a key to Ziegler's office from the chief financial officer, entered the office, and made two copies of Ziegler's computer hard drive. Frontline's corporate counsel turned over all the materials to the FBI and indicated that the company would comply fully with the investigation.
Ziegler argued that the FBI obtained the materials without a warrant and, thus, conducted an illegal search that violated the Fourth Amendment. Even though the district court found that the FBI had directed the company to enter Ziegler's office and make the copies, it denied his motions, explaining that Ziegler had no expectation of privacy in "the files he accessed on the Internet." Does an employee have an expectation of privacy in his workplace computer sufficient to suppress images of child pornography sought as evidence in a criminal prosecution? If so, could the employer provide valid consent to a search of the employee's computer?
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