Federal Employees Could Face Jail Time for Using BlackBerrys

An antiquated law is adding to confusion surrounding tonight's potential government shutdown. Under the 1884 Antideficiency Act, furloughed federal employees could face two years in prison just for using their office BlackBerrys or checking their work email from home.

The law prevents federal employees deemed "non-essential" from working when no budget is in place. This used to be simple; you just wouldn't show up. But since the last government shutdown in 1995, government-issued smart phones have become critical tools for many federal employees. Some departments say they'll simply take away the devices all together. Workers, however, would have to return to their offices on Monday to physically hand over the devices, another technical violation of the law. And if they aren't confiscated, who's to say employees aren't checking them?

Non-essential employees aren't supposed to check their work email, either, whether by BlackBerry or home computer. The government will have to review all 800,000 federal employees and decide which ones are "excepted," those that can continue to perform "essential functions," and those that are not. The latter group will be thrust back into the dark age of communications, meaning any time before the early 2000s.

[Image via AP]