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Mind Your Email: Potential Criminal Liability for Privacy Violations and Dissemination of “Company Secrets”

Posted on April 6th, 2010 | Author: admin

Guest Blogger: Kenneth N. Rashbaum, Esq., Rashbaum Associates, LLC

Email, text messages, instant messages or even social media communications from or about one’s place of employment may be fraught with peril, depending upon the country from which the communication is sent.  The recent criminal prosecution against Google in Italy, stemming from an upload of a YouTube video, is a stern lesson in the reach of Italian privacy law.  It, among other things, proscribes the export beyond the country’s borders of “personal information,” a broad category which includes visual likeness (in this case, a video), as well as emails which indicate the identities of the Italian sender and recipient.  Similar laws also exist in other European Union member states.

Case in point, recently, an American citizen working in Dubai was the subject of a criminal prosecution for leaking company secrets as a result of an email to a friend about his circumstances at his job.  The basis of the prosecution, according to an article, I Just E-Mailed a Friend, US Lawyer Charged in Dubai Corporate Info Case Tells ABA Journal, in the ABA Journal (dated March 31, 2010), was the allegation that the American, Justin Connor, had “revealed company secrets about his employer, Meraas Holdings.”  The peril flows in an easterly direction, as well.  New York’s highest state court, the Court of Appeals, ruled in DeutscheBank Securities, Inc. v. Montana Board of Investors, 2006 NY LEXIS 1366 (Ct. App. June 6, 2006) that an instant message may be sufficient for New York to extend long-arm jurisdiction over a foreign defendant.  Prudent advice, then, would be to be circumspect about electronic communications from or on behalf of multinational corporations, and utilize counsel to prepare protocols for use of electronic communications media.