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What access rights should an employee grant an employer for a work computer?

For instance, let's assume that the business people come to the IT lab late at night for discussions with the CIO and they use my computer for reading email and general web surfing. In a sense, this means that they are taking full or partial responsibility for any security issues that crop up that get traced back to the employee's machine.

Perhaps the proper way to provide a computer to an employee is to give him full and exclusive use of it while employed.

Only supervised access (such as hardware/software maintenance) should be acceptable.

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migrated from Aug 25 '09 at 17:55

This question came from our site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

I think this is more of a superuser or serverfault-type question. No programming at all... – Kyle Walsh Aug 25 '09 at 17:53
The title of your question shows your misconception on this issue. It is not their computer. What an employer can and cannot do is restricted by law in some locations, but regardless employees are best to assume the employer can do whatever they want. – EBGreen Aug 25 '09 at 17:59
A twist on this question would be whether an employer should be able to impersonate the employee, as that could be viewed as a form of identity theft in some circumstances. Generally I believe that my employer has access to my machine anytime and may reboot the box without my knowing in some cases. If I'm using my home computer for work, this does become an interesting question in some ways. – JB King Aug 25 '09 at 17:59
Well, maybe not your misconception, but a popular one nonetheless. – EBGreen Aug 25 '09 at 17:59
Thats fine. I would point out however that so far I don't think anyone that is actually a lawyer practicing law in this field has replied and given that I doubt that one will, I doubt that a real accurate answer will ever come out of the question. – EBGreen Aug 25 '09 at 18:26

When you use an employers workstation, you are using their property. You have the rights they assign to you, but really, it's theirs and you are using it at their discretion.

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Most of the answers so far point out the obvious: it's the employer's machine, not the employee's.

But the question (and a comment by JB King) point out a much more important case: if the employer has access to your computer, or more precisely, to your account, it could derive in a form of identity theft, or that they are co-responsible with the employee for any security 'problems' in the machine.

It's spelled out in -one example from many- the book Anansi Boys, which otherwise has nothing to do with this subject: it points out the situation in which you give your credentials to your boss, and he steals money using your identity.

No, this is not legal advice.

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Assuming the company owns the computer, they have full rights to use, search and/or grant others to have access. One reason our company requires password protected passwords is to protect the user - transient users cannot sit down as use a computer as someone else. The same is true for e-mail, browsing history and bandwidth.

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Password protected passwords? What? – Jeffrey Hantin Feb 7 '14 at 22:27

In real terms (under most circumstances, anyway), the employee cannot "grant" rights to a particular piece of equipment to the employer, since the employer is the owner of said equipment. In other words, it isn't "your computer", it's "theirs".

If you're talking about signing on under "your" account, that is another matter. While, again in most cases, the account itself would be the property of the employer, the extent to which it is identified as "you" is your right to manage. As to how that can actually be worked out is a gray area, but the employer has no legal right to impersonate you without your permission, though that might differ with varying locations.

As with all internet legal advice, this is worth every dollar you paid for it.

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Regarding the security issue, it's the same as most any violation: find a way to demonstrate that it was not you.

Create your own password protected account and allow IT or your employer to use the admin account to access your computer. If your boss or someone else secretly uses your computer to visit questionable websites or make threats to government officials, the logs will show you weren't logged in and provide you with at least some deniability.

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There seems to be two questions, or at least threads going here.

One is what rights does an employer have? The other is what you can be held responsible for if someone uses the computer issued to you.

For the former, searches require consent. The owner of an object or premises can always consent. Others often can, but the details are situational. (An adult child can consent to search of a home owned by parents, but a minor child's consent depends on whether the minor knew he/she could say no.) Parents can consent to searches of the kids' computers. Spouse cannot consent to search computer issued by other spouse's employer.

As for the second, to be responsible for use/content, especially in the criminal arena, the prosecution must prove whose bottom was in the chair, not just which account was used.

By the way, I am an attorney and I do computer forensic investigations as part of my practice. Therefore, I have to say the following: this is not specific legal advice for anyone nor does this message constitute an attorney client relationship.

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