IT professionals could soon join doctors, counselors, and teachers as professionals that are legally required to report child abuse and neglect, according to a new AP story in USA Today:
You could say that this is a natural part of technology playing a greater role in society and IT gaining a higher profile as a profession. However, the concern for IT pros is that legislation like this also puts personal legal liability on their shoulders. Connecticut would fine IT pros $500 per incident for not reporting known cases of abuse or neglect. California is proposing $1,000 and a misdemeanor charge that could result in six months in jail. These penalties are consistent with what other professionals such as doctors and counselors face. CompTIA is advocating on behalf of IT professionals to make sure that the new legislation does not place any unfair burdens on tech workers or have unintended consequences.
At least five states — Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and South Dakota — require computer technicians to report child pornography. Connecticut and California are considering legislation that would go a step further, adding technicians to the list of "mandated reporters" who notify authorities about any type of child abuse and neglect.
"Computer usage is a very real part of our culture and daily activities," said New Britain Police Sgt. James P. Wardwell. "Laws must change and evolve to reflect this ever-changing technological advancement."
I don't have a problem with this legislation. If IT pros uncover information that could help prevent violence and exploitation, then they should absolutely report it. The only thing that I worry about is that this could become a slippery slope, since the IT department has access to so much information about the individuals within a company. Because of that far-reaching data access, I worry that this could open the door to other legal burdens for IT pros that don't affect other professions. In the process of fixing and repairing hardware and software, IT pros come across all kinds of information about employees that could have legal ramifications. If and when this important new legislation gets passed, I just hope it doesn't get abused by lawyers as a precedent for holding IT pros legally responsible for a host of illegal or objectionable behaviors that they may come across when dealing with employees. That could force IT pros to become moral/ethical watchdogs.
I know multiple IT pros who have discovered pornography on employee computers (and in several cases, the boss's computer) and have had to wrestle with the ethical dilemma of if and how to report it. So my question is this: Regardless of the result of the current legislation, should IT departments adopt their own policies about IT pros reporting suspected child abuse and neglect? Should the policy include the necessity to report pornography found on company computers? Join the discussion.
Jason Hiner has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about how technology is changing the way we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.