On January 29, 2009, I had the opportunity to attend a brief presentation sponsored by Minnesota CLE entitled, “Corporate Data Privacy & Security: 10 Legal Practice Tips,” given by Brad Bolin, Senior Corporate Counsel for Best Buy, Inc. a Fortune 500 electronics retailer headquartered in Richfield, Minnesota. Bolin is a specialist in information security and privacy law. I was curious to hear what data privacy issues were on the mind of someone who monitors these issues for a living on behalf of a large corporation, especially a company that sells some of the very devices that make data privacy more challenging and which is known for its “results oriented” work environment. Many of the issues relate to topics discussed on this blog. The views expressed were strictly those of Bolin, not Best Buy. Here were his observations:

1. Work/Life Balance.  Electronic connections are collapsing the distinctions between work and personal life. Employees expect to be connected 24 -7. Bolin quoted Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn as noting, “Technology is … a constant backdrop in people’s lives, at home, at work, on the road and literally in the palms of their hands. We call it the ‘connected world’ and, as exciting as it is, it’s also increasingly complex, and difficult to keep pace with.”

12259312. Smart Phones Part 1.  Smart phones are becoming common and are a great example of how the “limited personal use” exception is swallowing the rule. He cited a survey showing that 20% of companies allow their employees to use personal devices for work, and the number is surely growing. Bolin discussed how under the old corporate model, a company that pays for an employee’s smart phone ought to take it back from the employee upon his or her departure, erase the contents and either recycle or reuse the device to prevent the disclosure of confidential corporate information. But what about the employee’s personal photographs, “apps”, movies, contacts and downloaded songs? What if the employee paid for the device but the company reimburses the cost? Securing employee-owned smart phones is not the same as securing corporate-owned devices, he emphasized.

3. Smart Phones Part 2.  Bolin said that, whatever rules you choose, a departing employee should be able to take his or her personal data, while IT should be able to ensure that any corporate information has been safely removed. The process should be simple and transparent to all. Adopt simple rules that make corporate data on an employee’s smart phone easier to identify and control. For example, distinguish between media files on the one hand, and xls doc, ppt, and pdf documents on the other. Have a transparent dialog with employees about the trade-offs that exist cost when placing personal phones on the corporate network. For example, an employee might be required to archive SMS text messages on his phone for e-discovery purposes.

4. Texting Issues.  While e-mail typically is stored on a common server, text messages usually are stored by cell phone companies or directly on phones, and often the employer does not directly pay for their storage. Employers must have either a warrant or the employee’s permission to see cell phone text messages that are not stored by the employer or by someone the employer pays for storage, Bolin said, citing Quon v. Arch Wireless, et al. 529 F.3d 892 (9th Cir. 2008),  The case is now under review by the United States Supreme Court.

5. TMI = Too much information.  An embedded Global Positioning System (GPS) feature is great for supporting and measuring effectiveness of a mobile sales force, but it raises the danger of collecting information about employees regarding the personal part of their life.Continue Reading Best Buy Counsel Speaks on Data Privacy