Protecting Privacy Expectations and Personal Documents in SEC Investigations – Note by Abraham Tabaie

From Volume 81, Number 4 (May 2008)
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Consider the following hypothetical: the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) is investigating a corporation for stock option backdating by the corporation’s officers and directors, and possible criminal charges are looming. The implicated company fires an executive, and seals her office. All of the executive’s documents inside the office, including her personal documents, are subpoenaed by the SEC. In a modern world, both work related documents and purely personal documents are often left at the office. These documents could include, but are not limited to, personal bank statements, other personal financial documents, letters, a diary, and even medical information. While personal files could have nothing to do with the corporation, the corporation must turn over these documents to the SEC pursuant to a valid subpoena. The SEC later can provide these documents to the U.S. Attorney’s office in a parallel criminal investigation of securities fraud. In a traditional criminal case, the government would need a search warrant and probable cause to enter someone’s home or office and take personal documents from the individual. Through the SEC subpoena, however, the documents may be subpoenaed for mere “official curiosity” and then handed over to the U.S. Attorney’s office, as long as the parallel proceedings were not carried out in bad faith.


 

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