Is It Legal to Access Personal Email Accounts of a Former Employee ?

Pure Power Boot Camp v. Warrior Fitness Boot Camp (587 F Supp 2d 548 [SD NY 2008]) involved an action by plaintiff against two former employees for: (1) stealing plaintiff's business model, customers and internal documents; (2) breaching fiduciary duties; (3) infringing on plaintiff's trademarks, tradedress and copyrights. After defendant Fell was fired from plaintiff's employ, plaintiff accessed three of Fell's personal e-mail accounts and printed e-mails from them. Plaintiff admitted that it was able to access the hotmail account because Fell left his username and password information stored on plaintiff's computer such that when the hotmail account was accessed, the username and password fields were automatically populated. Also, that Fell had given another employee his user name and password at one point so that she could check on an Ebay sale he was conducting. The other two accounts were accessed because the gmail account username and password were sent to the hotmail account and the other account based on a lucky guess that the username and password were the same as the hotmail account. In Pure Power Boot Camp, while there was a company policy against using the company's equipment for accessing personal e-mail which provided that no privacy could be expected in such access, there was no evidence that all of the e-mails plaintiff downloaded were e-mails that were created or reviewed through the use of plaintiff's system because plaintiff did not use its computer's memory to determine what Fell had accessed at work. Thus, because plaintiff "accessed three separate electronic communication services, and ...obtained Fell's e-mails while they were in storage on those service providers' systems ... either of those actions, if done without authorization, would be a violation of the Stored Communications Act" (id. at 556). In Pure Power Boot Camp, the Court decided to suppress all e-mails, regardless of whether or not they were otherwise discoverable (i.e., not privileged), but would allow their use for impeachment purposes should Defendants open the door, because the integrity of the judicial process was "threatened by admitting evidence wrongfully, if not unlawfully, secured" (id. at 571).