ON THIS DAY – 20 YEARS FROM NOW
May 6, 2028
On this day the United State Supreme Court first took up the case of Sinclair v. Tawny in which the issue of whether or not an employer’s decision to monitor an employee’s email traffic and internet usage from home represented an unconstitutional invasion of an employee’s privacy.
Prior to the revolutions in transportation of the late industrial era — specifically railroads and automobiles — workers rarely travelled more then a few miles to “commute” to work. Most either lived and worked on a farm, or in an inner-city housing complex next to a factory or office building. Then came motorized transportation and subsequently suburbs. By the end of the 20th Century it was hardly uncommon for Americans to commute 10, 20, even 30 miles a day to and from work, clogging highways and mass transit systems along the way.
But rising fuel prices, environmental impacts and decrepit infrastructure made it virtually impractical to commute to work on a daily basis. By about 2018, almost half of America’s workforce was working from home – thanks in large part to technological innovations like the internet that effectively eliminated the need for “office space” in most service-sector industries.
Initially employers learned to appreciate the lack of expensive overhead, and employes the lack of supervision. True, there were some social challenges that resulted from the breakdown of separation between “home” and “work” (divorce rates skyrocketed to near 70%) yet the mass extinction of civilization – many had predicted – had been everted. Yet, a few bad apples inevitably abused their internet privileges while on their respective companies’ dime. Some ogled porn under corporate accounts, which ultimately boomeranged and caused PR trouble, others simply “surfed” all day unbeknownst to their boss.
To monitor productivity, some employers began installing camera’s in their employees homes, yet Idaho’s Hunt v. Hine concluded that this constituted an unreasonable invasion of privacy (though, in this particular case – the employer was using the camera to monitor his employees’ sexual activity) and “corporate cameras” were outlawed in 2024.
In a split 5:4 decision, the Court ruled that it was not unreasonable for a company to monitor an employee’s email traffic and internet usage from home DURING REGULAR WORK HOURS. The Court reasoned that — because an employer is ultimately responsible for the conduct of his/her employees- – the use of internet surveillance could be constitutionally applied, so long as it:
1) Did not violate the spirit of the 5th Amendment
2) Was outlined in company policy and was not used to discriminate against any individual on the basis of sex, religion, race etc.
3) Was regulated in accordance with the laws and policies of the of state governments and the Department of Labor
The issue remains contentious to this day.