What rights does an employer have to the employee's computer?

The question above is what sparked the concern. How should the community handle questions that deal with possible legal issues? This one could also be a localized issue as laws will vary from country to country. We have a global user base on these sites.

All of the answers so far are valid points and this question is a great discussion and concern to bring up. But, none of the answers have any legal value and this might be an issue that needs greater answers and not simple discussion.

  • 1
    You just had to didn't you? This is now going to get him who shall not be named involved and I am going to have to spend the rest of my evening moderating comments. I hate you :) – BinaryMisfit Aug 25 '09 at 19:48
  • 1
    I think there was one or two other questions that brought up possible legal concerns, so I figured it was time to get the record straight on the community stance. – Troggy Aug 25 '09 at 19:52

The most typical response we will end up giving is the "IANAL...but this is what I think..."

In general all you can really give is your personal opinion or any knowledge you may know about yourself. Otherwise you should direct the user to speak to legal counsel and find out what their options are or what the law actually says.

We should also make sure that the question still fits within the realm of the site's intended usage. If it's a legal question that doesn't really have much to do with actual computers, then it should probably be closed as off topic.

  • 1
    +1 I have allowed this particular question, however which ever direction the ponies head I will humbly follow :) – BinaryMisfit Aug 25 '09 at 19:53

I will catch flak for this, but I feel that these questions are rarely right for S[OFU]. As already noted they almost always consist of pure opinion. That just screams subjectivity. For any consensus to come out they will usually require protracted discussion as well.

  • Great point bringing up extended discussion is normally required again. – Troggy Sep 10 '09 at 20:17
  • Many questions have legal precedent, such as "who owns the code." If I give my "opinion" it usually has a legal basis. – user102937 Sep 18 '09 at 4:07
  • Legal questions aren't just subjective; they're at worst expressions of opinion about something testable (in this case, in a courtroom rather than a lab). Sometimes it's possible to be certain about things (usually knowing the location, where there's appropriate legislation or (in common-law jurisdictions) clear precedent). – David Thornley Nov 23 '09 at 22:48

Assuming the question is acceptable and related to the site its posted on, theres nothing much you need to do aside from pointing out that you are not a lawyer and that at best you can only give him rough advice and ideas. If he wants a definitive answer he needs to go see a real lawyer.

Usually people on SO just post IANAL (I am not a lawyer) before even beginning to answer the question.


Questions concerning legal issues come up all of the time on OnStartups and they handle them just fine.

On this site it seems that its not considered necessary to put any sort of disclaimer in an answer (unless you are actually a lawyer, in which case most lawyers seem to include some sort of disclaimer to protect themselves), however its seen as a courtesy to point out that you aren't a lawyer if you aren't.

Some interesting meta discussions:


Even if most of us don't do law, there might be some of us who are interested in IT related laws.

It's true that different countries has different laws on IT issues, but there are similarities, and in some cases, like in the EU, there are central laws which are dictated in all EU countries. Also, the country-specific laws can provide information for visitors from the same country, and maybe a pointer for other nationalities.

The important thing is to supply facts as much as possible, and not guesses.


I asked a question on stackoverflow a while back about how to find a lawyer who can answer dev questions (613396). I will usually give my opinion on an issue, and then point them at that question to help them find someone who can actually address the issue.

I do wonder if Meta is a more appropriate place for that particular question these days.

  • No, Meta is not. Meta is not an anything-goes Q&A; it's specifically for question about SO. (And the occasional off-topic Friday afternoon kind of thing; but not this.) – John Rudy Nov 23 '09 at 21:36

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .