At orinkerr.com. Below is an excerpt:
… Ziegler was an employee of a company called Frontline Processing, described in the opinion as”a company that services Internet merchants by processing on-line electronic payments”in Bozeman, Montana. Ziegler downloaded some child pornography to his computer at work, and his employer, in an effort to help out the FBI, went into Ziegler’s office and copied his computer to give to the FBI. The computer contained child pornography, leading to charrges. Ziegler then filed a motion to suppress, arguing that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy on his workplace computer that was violated by the government-directed search.
The correct way to resolve this case would have been to say that of course Ziegler had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of his private-sector office, see Mancusi v. DeForte, 392 U.S. 364 (1968), including the computer in his office. Then the court should have turned to whether the search was either a private search or else a reasonable warrantless search pursuant to the employer’s valid third-party consent. Unfortunately, however, it seems that no one realized that private-sector Fourth Amendment privacy rights are so different from public-sector Fourth Amendment privacy rights. The defense attorney apparently didn’t notice the difference, and it seems that the AUSA didn’t either. (I couln’t find the briefs on Westlaw, but the opinions summarize the parties’ positions.) And the failure to understand this basic distinction in Fourth Amendment law then worked its way up the line, with apparently no one stepping back and noticing that you couldn’t rely on the public sector Fourth Amendment cases to analyze whether a private-sector employee has a reasonbable expectation of privacy at work.
The unfortunate result is an opinion that makes a quite clearly incorrect conclusion that private-sector employees do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the workplace computers in their offices when the employer has access rights to the machine…