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FBI Grapples With Employee Sexting: What Is Your Company Doing?

Volume 12, Issue 2
March 6, 2013

As one of the nation's top security and law enforcement agencies, the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") is charged with protecting the United States against terrorist and foreign intelligence threats and enforcing its criminal laws.  With over 36,000 employees, the FBI focuses on threats challenging the foundations of American society or involving dangers too large or complex for any local or state authority to handle alone.  While the vast majority of the FBI's approximately 36,000 employees act professionally, confidential quarterly disciplinary reports issued by the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility reveal problems the agency is facing with employee misconduct, including "sexting," - the use of cellular devices to send lurid texts and nude photos.  CNN recently obtained copies of such confidential disciplinary reports, which the FBI says were issued to employees as a way to deter misconduct.  During an interview for a news report by CNN, FBI Assistant Director Candice Will said that she hoped the reports will curb what she called a "rash of sexting cases" and get the message out to employees, as well as their supervisors, that such behavior is unacceptable.  The confidential reports summarize cases in which FBI employees were disciplined for various sexting transgressions, including one woman who used a personal cell phone to send nude photographs of herself to co-workers and an FBI employee who e-mailed a nude photograph of herself to her ex-boyfriend's wife.  In both situations, the offending employees received ten day suspensions. Another employee who used a government-issued BlackBerry to send sexually explicit messages to another employee was suspended for five days.  This is not, by far, the first time law enforcement personnel have come under scrutiny for sexting.  In 2010, Kamer Zucker Abbott reported on a case involving privacy claims of Special Weapons And Tactics ("SWAT") police officers employed by the City of Ontario, California connected with the city's auditing of the SWAT officers' two-way pager use and its discovery that some of the overage fees being charged by the city were linked to sexually explicit personal texts, not a legitimate increase in business use.  These types of news reports provide an important reminder of the need for all employers to take the steps necessary to ensure that their company-provided equipment is not used for improper personal purposes, starting with developing and implementing appropriate workplace technology policies and making sure they are uniformly enforced.

Employer Report articles are for general information only; they are not intended and should not be construed to be legal advice. Reading or replying to such articles does not establish an attorney-client relationship. In addition, because the subject matters and applicable laws discussed in Employer Report articles are often in a state of change and not always applicable to every type of business entity or organization, readers should consult with counsel before making decisions based on the same.