Privacy expectations: “my documents” folder and Facebook “likes”

Not cybercrime directly, although important for investigation purposes (search and seizure of private documents typically need a warrant). The Labour/Employment division of the French civil supreme court (la Chambre sociale de la Cour de cassation) decided that in this particular case, the folder titled “My Documents” is not personal to the employee and can be opened by the employer. The reasoning is that most softwares (Windows, Mac OS) have a “my documents” folder as generic folder where to add files different from program files and usually linked with a user. The fact that it is generic or standard does not allow for an expectation of privacy unless the employee has indicated by other means (and not necessarily by using his/her firstname) that it is personal and not work-related.

Linguistically it is interesting to note that the law interprets “my” as not being private when for ordinary people, ownership (“mine, my”) can be associated with privacy (= others do not have access). The decision makes sense, though; otherwise, an employer would not have accessed to its own files necessary for its business. On the other hand, I wonder to which extent employees fully realised that “my documents” folder can be accessed by their employers?

Soc. 10 may 2012, n. 11- 13.884 available on, free of charge but all in French. Commented on Dalloz Actualite, 22 mai 2012


The ruling could be compared with that of the US Virginia District cCourt which considered that the feature “Like” of Facebook is not protected speech under the US First Amendment. Firstly, “non speech” = non words/discourse items could fall under the First Amendment: flags, symbols have been protected by the US S. Crt because of the message they convey or allow to convey. Secondly, as the post highlights, Facebook “like” feature allows Facebook users to express their views on many matters, whether the next concert or the political events unfolding in the user’s country or elsewhere (the Arab Spring comes to mind as a recent example). In other words, Facebook “Like” contributes to freedom of expression of sensitive political speech. So why not offer some protection?

Bland v. Roberts, 2012 US Dist. Lexis 57530, 4:11cv45 (E.D. Va.; Apr. 24, 2012) – “Are Facebook ‘Likes’ Protected By The First Amendment?“, TechDirt, 30 April 2012

About Audrey Guinchard

Senior Lecturer @ University of Essex (UK)
This entry was posted in Countries - France, Countries - US, Privacy. Bookmark the permalink.

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