Court affirms govt right to search work computers

Published by reposted only Date posted on November 3, 2011

THE government may search an employee’s office computer without violating his constitutional right to privacy, even if it does so without a warrant, the Supreme Court ruled last month.

In a decision dated Oct. 18, the Court denied the appeal of Briccio Pollo, a former supervising personnel specialist at the Civil Service Commission who was dismissed for dishonesty and misconduct.

The Court upheld a Court of Appeals decision in 2008 favoring the Civil Service Commission.

“A search by a government employer of an employee’s office is justified … when there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that it will turn up evidence that the employee is guilty of work-related misconduct,” said Associate Justice Martin Villarama Jr. who wrote the decision.

Citing the O’Connor v. Ortega case in the United States, the Court said the commission’s search was “a reasonable exercise of the managerial prerogative of … an employer aimed at ensuring its operational effectiveness and efficiency by going after the work-related malfeasance of its employees.”

The absence of a warrant did not violate Pollo’s constitutional right to privacy or the privacy of communication and correspondence, the Court said.

Then Civil Service Commission Chairwoman Katrina Constantino-David ordered the search after receiving an anonymous letter accusing Pollo of lawyering for parties with pending cases with the agency.

During the search, investigators found 17 diskettes with files copied from Pollo’s computer. These were draft pleadings or letters in connection with administrative cases before the commission and other tribunals.

The Court agreed with the commission that the computers would be a likely starting point in ferreting out incriminating evidence, and “that the ephemeral nature of computer files, that is, they could easily be destroyed at a click of a button, necessitated drastic and immediate action.”

The Court said Commission regulations specifically put employees on notice that they should have no such expectation of privacy in anything they created, stored, sent or received on office computers.

The Court rejected Pollo’s explanation that the files belonged to his lawyer friends whom he had allowed to use his computer. –Rey E. Requejo, Manila Standard Today

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