I was recently given a new office laptop which has been quite explicit about enforcing certain employer-employee agreements. Because of this I've been reflecting on the ownership rights regarding the use of this computer for any work and/or services I might be tempted to do if I were in a tight situation.

While I don't assume that anything I do on this computer is owned by me, I was wondering if these bounds extend to off-work hours when I am sshing into a personal computer.

Do I own any of the work that I provide in this situation? Is there a difference if I am providing services, or writing documentation/code on a personal project? (edit) Would there be a difference if I am in the office or not?

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    If this is off hours, why not just work on your personal machine instead of ssh-ing into it? – BSMP Sep 30 '15 at 18:56
  • More a legal question but if this is work / activity you are performing at the work place even off hours then I think work can make a claim to it. – paparazzo Sep 30 '15 at 19:14
  • @BSMP Because he is at work and his personal machine is not at work. – paparazzo Sep 30 '15 at 19:15
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    @Frisbee — great distinction. What about if I am using this work laptop out of the office (usually I carry it around since I spend the majority of my life on it), but I'm off-hours and ssh'd into my personal box? – stites Sep 30 '15 at 19:39
  • I already know that I basically can't do anything personal on this computer, but I'm wondering about how far the legalities stretch. – stites Sep 30 '15 at 19:40

If you are using work resources (your work computer, at work, using their electricity and their internet connection) then yes you can expect that they might be able to monitor, track, and hold you responsible for any actions you take on that personal computer remotely in that violate company policy.

As for the work product it could be that your company has a claim to that work. Since the work was actually done using your personal computer you also have a claim to that work. What it will probably come down to is would your company have a realistic expectation that the item you were working on would be their product. If you work for a bank and create a banking app that interfaces with the systems of the bank you work for then your company is going to have a pretty strong argument that it is theirs. On the other hand if you work for a newspaper as a writer and completely on your spare time you create a banking app that interfaces with a bank api then you have a better claim. You may still be in violation of company policy for using company resources for your personal project though.

  • Could you reference your comments in @Frisbee's response? It's not amazingly relevant, but pretty interesting. Also, could you add a reference or two? I feel like I've heard a lot of what you're saying before, but it would be very helpful to have a citation or two to seal it in : ) – stites Oct 1 '15 at 7:43
  • @Stites - I included a link in a comment below Frisbees. I hate to reference this sort of thing in an answer because the technology is changing rapidly and links to this sort of thing rot quickly. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Oct 1 '15 at 14:35
  • Didn't see that! Per @Joe's comment, I guess this is off-topic? I'm new to the workplace stackexchange and didn't realize this. I guess I would expect something more in-depth from a legal / business exchange. – stites Oct 1 '15 at 15:43
  • @stites - I disagree that this is off topic. It is a question about how the law would apply not asking for specific advice on a specifc circumstance. These type of questions are allowed – IDrinkandIKnowThings Oct 1 '15 at 16:30

You are conflating two things:

  • you don't have any privacy, we might monitor you, we might look at the files you have stored and so on - a claim that originates with "we provided this computer to you"
  • we own what you create while you work for us - a claim that originates with your employment

This second claim has been asserted towards intellectual property created with pencil and paper, or with a computer the business doesn't own, so the "I was remoted to my own machine" defense may be as meaningless as "I was sitting at my own machine after hours." The claim is a very strong one and covers everything you think up or create while employed. Not all employers make this claim; not all who do succeed in getting things proven to be theirs.

As for the first thing, if their monitoring consists of looking at your company email, reading files on the hard drive, and so on, then they are unlikely to see what you're doing on your own machine. If it includes a keylogger then at least in theory they could ssh to your machine, log in, and have a peek around, though whether they would be allowed to do that, or whether it would be ok for them to do that, is a different question. I find it unlikely they would pry like that, but they might forbid you to use their machine for any personal purpose, whether that's scrolling through Facebook or ssh-ing to your home machine. They can then use their hypothetical keylogger to see whether you are complying or not.

  • definitely true about how I am conflating the two. That's just me being sore about having to click on a user-agreement whenever I log into my computer. Apologies about that — I'll make an edit. – stites Oct 1 '15 at 7:18

Consult an attorney but if you are using company resource or company time then the compnay is likely to claim that as company property (if they want to).

So you have a company laptop at a coffee shop and your ssh into you personal computer. Yes that is using a company resource but they would have to have to use a keystroke logger and then evaluate your key strokes. You are probably safe.

For grins if you do plan to use that laptop for ssh then you should burn this SE account and don't post your picture if you are going to ask questions that could be used against you in a court of law.

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    actually there are monitoring software that can record and recreate your desktop including remotely connected sessions and compress it into a reasonable size for storing. For the average user a month's activity is less than a gig. Compressed even more when done on standardized workstations for a company and stored as a single compressed file. And It is a Microsoft product that is included as part of an enterprise SMS Licence. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Sep 30 '15 at 20:20
  • @Chad Did I in any way state or infer it could not be done? "They would have to have to use a keystroke logger" clearly implies such a product/service is available. Still they would need to evaluate the keystrokes. – paparazzo Sep 30 '15 at 21:06
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    Your answer makes it seem like that evaluation is a manual process rather than one the computer can do automatically and recreate the screen for review by humans. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Oct 1 '15 at 14:19
  • @chad Not worth debating. The logger records. Until you know what you are looking for it is a manual review. – paparazzo Oct 1 '15 at 14:31
  • My point is there is monitoring software out there that does that analyzing for you to the point of recreating the entire desktop view like you are playing a recording of the activity. employee-monitoring-software-review.toptenreviews.com – IDrinkandIKnowThings Oct 1 '15 at 14:33

You cannot use this machine for personal activities

That seems to be the policy, and from what you say it seems to be both clear and strict. You can't use the machine for your own activity. You seem to be confusing what counts as personal activity, however... you're talking about "Can I SSH onto my own machine and do work on my home machine?"

SSH'ing into your machine counts as a personal activity

It doesn't matter which machine is doing the processing, it doesn't matter where the files are being saved: the simple fact is that you are using this work laptop for your own personal activities/hobbies/etc. You've agreed not to do this (or possibly that anything done with their machine is theirs).

You are using the SSH software, without permission, for your own activity. The fact that your own activity is accessing your own machine changes nothing. Using an SSH application, or using whatever it is you want to use on your home machine, both are still things you are choosing to use for yourself.

You're still using their hardware, their battery cycles, their keyboard, their wear and tear. You're still doing your activities on their property which they have paid for and you have agreed not to do your activities on.

While I understand your point that these policies are typically put in place to prevent viruses, stop people using the machine during work hours for their own use, etc, that doesn't change the agreement or their right to tell you how you may use their property.

Quite simply, don't do it.

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