The Electronic Communications Privacy Act

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (Pub. L. 99-508, Oct. 21, 1986, 100 Stat. 1848, 18 U.S.C. § 2510) prohibits unauthorized “intercepts” of electronic communications, such as email.

In Fraser v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., 135 F. Supp. 2d 623 (E.D. Pa. 2001)) an employee had sent the e-mail, the recipient at the competitor company had received it, and so the employer had not intercepted the e-mail while it was being sent, which is the only thing protected by the ECPA. On December 10, 2003, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that part of the federal district court’s judgment (352 F.3d 107).

An important note here: an employer can do anything with e-mail messages sent and received on company computers, even including intercepting them during the process of transmitting or receiving, as long as it has notified employees that they have no expectation of privacy in the use of the company e-mail system, that all use of the e-mail system may be monitored at any time with or without notice, and that any and all messages sent, relayed, or received with the company’s e-mail system are the property of the company and may be subject to company review at any time.