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Can Google Use Surveillance Information Against Its Own Employee?

Google and its employee, DeWayne Cassel, are in the midst of a lawsuit wherein Cassel has accused the tech company of discriminating against him. Cassel is still employed by the company. At the start of his employment, Cassel signed an employment agreement. In that agreement, Cassel stated that he had to give up “any reasonable expectation of privacy” regarding anything related to Google business.

Jumping ahead to the lawsuit for race discrimination, Cassel’s attorneys asked Google during the discovery phase whether it thinks it can still access Cassel’s data under the employment agreement. When Google refused to respond to the questions in this area, Cassel’s attorneys filed a motion to find out whether Google is allowed to continue viewing Cassel’s digital communications. As the Washington Post pointed out in its article about this case, the current legal filing homes in on a question continuing to gain steam nationally about Google: how much surveillance is it conducting into its users’ lives. According to Cassel’s attorneys, Google’s terms of service allow it to access user data to “protect Google.” Does that include the personal data of non-employees involved in the lawsuit?

Google emailed a statement to the Washington Post denying the assertions in Cassel’s motion. “We work hard every day to protect personal information, and have not  - and would not – access the personal data” of Cassel and others involved in the case. Experts interviewed by the Post do not believe Google would cross such a boundary to access data from Cassel. There is debate among the attorneys about whether Google understood the questions and declined to answer them during the litigation. It does present some interesting questions for the workplace and the tech company’s crossover interest in employees and users.