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Porn on boss' computer--the Ethicist speaks

By Leee ·
In yesterday's <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/03/magazine/03wwln_ethicist.html" target="_blank"><i>New York Times</i> "The Ethicist" column</a>, Randy Cohen advised a tech who wanted to know what to do about the discovery of child/"early teens" porn on the boss' computer. In the words of the tech, "Must I call the police? I think so, but I need my job."<BR><BR>

Cohen suggested various scenarios regarding how the pictures wound up on the boss' hard drive and placed the larger blame on the producers of the pictures, but in the end, advised: "Because this material is on [the company's] computer, the firm risks prosecution. But short of calling the cops, your options are few. Nor would deleting the pictures eliminate all legal risk; that could be seen as destroying evidence. Your best recourse? Alas, silence."<BR><BR>

Thoughts?

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Ah, the "reign of silence"

by MT Pilgrim In reply to Porn on boss' computer--t ...

I hate to admit it, but it would seem silence is the best course of action, particularly if it is someone much further up the food chain than your immediate supervisor. Depending on your relationship with the (Assumed...) "guilty" party and the nature of the contraband (child vs. straight porn), you may be able to off-handedly comment about how "certain items should be cleaned before you pass back through on your cleaning sweep" after notifying either your boss or H/R of the situation to cover your own backside.

While this does not excuse you from responsibilities when it comes to porn images of children, unless you are absolutely iron-clad certain as to the origins of the contraband you are playing Russian Roulette with an automatic instead of a revolver with your career.

I'd have to say that I would monitor the individual's computer for evidence of further infractions. If this occurs then you are justified in going back to H/R (where there is already a record of your concern - as well, hopefully as your own detailed account of the steps taken by yourself...) and putting the ball in their lap(s).

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HR?

by jterry In reply to Ah, the "reign of silence ...

You talk as if you think HR would have his back in case things went wrong. In every company I have been in HR was there to protect the company, not the employee. I would take my chances with the police before HR.

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HR....Hmmm

by debposton In reply to HR?

I had to terminate an employee because of this same issue and HR called the local police. Why should we keep silent because he/she is the boss??? I was quoted chapter and verse of the law...I was told terminate or be terminated. He (x-employee) was a **** of worker..just during downtime ...he like to look. I am not condoning his behavior but we all have issues.

What is good for low-level staff should be good of upper-level management!

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Wish that were always true...

by jemorris In reply to HR....Hmmm

And we often see it matters "who you know" as well. Look back at what happened in that case at the Mass. Law school where those 2 third party contractor's tech's were canned for things supposedly not related to them finding child porn on a Senior professor's computer.
Both tech's had top performance reviews until they reported what they found, then they were fired within months for supposedly "bad" work performance...

Both Tech's were basically "blacklisted" from IT related work around the Boston area (I think it was partly due to the publicity surrounding the case).

Something I've noticed in some of the other posts here is folks calling the tech "nosy", but for many service organizations it is common to make a backup of any personal & company related data off the computer being worked on. That's how the above techs came across the pictures in question. The backup procedure flagged a hidden directory full of JPG files and just from the names on some of the pictures the techs became suspicious after confirming what they were they called their supervisors who told them to keep it to themselves, then the techs called the FBI.

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It depends on how the pics were seen

by w2ktechman In reply to Porn on boss' computer--t ...

If I was on a service call to work on a system, and it was an unavoidable act to find these pictures, then I would inform management, or an security or manager.

If I accidentally found it, or it was in a place that I should not have found it (or would need to look for it), I probably would not have run into it. In that case I would'nt know about it.

But the majority of the time I disregard pictures and they stay private for the individual.
However, I know someone who has been asked (as a contractor) to search a HDD for all Porn and print it out before. This manager accidentally printed a bunch and forgot to pick it up from the printer. Lol -- stupid mistake.
Anyway, he refused (as I would have) and forced the company to use its own internal security team for this.

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Child / early teens porn?? Simple

by drowningnotwaving In reply to Porn on boss' computer--t ...

If indeed it is child or early teens porn, then something must be done.

If it is the "boss" (i.e. CEO) then call the police.

What's the worse point - losing the job or possibly (by lack of intervention) encourage the exploitation of kids? Look in the mirror and ask yourself, in 25 years time, which of those choices is going to make your memories easier to deal with?

If it is a lesser boss then tell the CEO, HR Manager or someone else in authority, diarise the discussion and get your diary note witnessed by a (I think in the US you call them public notaries, in our world we call them Justices of the Peace).

If it is not child porn and the guy hasn't been forwarding it around to other people inappropriately then they'll deal with it. If it is child porn then it's a different world altogether.

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Maybe, maybe not

by jdclyde In reply to Child / early teens porn? ...

When do YOU go through pictures in private directories on coworkers computer?

This "tech" clearly has his own ethics issues to deal on top of determining the real age of the models. His job is toast if he says anything, because he is in a violation of his position looking at data that was not his to check out. What if this had been confidential information?

I would not want this tech working with or for me. (provided there really was a tech. I do NOT believe there was, and it is just a made up story.)

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Good points

by drowningnotwaving In reply to Maybe, maybe not

Yes the tech is in rock v hard place land.

Perhaps that is his/her penance - ie losing the job.

I now think your made-up story has a lot of legs, too.

Isn't it a habit, I heard somewhere, of ethicists to put out a story of moral principle, just to gather research about other people's reactions?

'Cos you have to be guessing the reaction to a kiddy-porn story is going to be reasonably universal. Can't really imagine too many public votes of empathy?

I'm learning all the time.

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But....

by TBurgess In reply to Maybe, maybe not

In my experience, most companies have a clearly stated policy that anything on a company asset is open to review at any time by members of the IT staff.

As such a staffer, I am empowered and directed to look for situations out of the norm that might indicate comprimising situations for the company. Things like file sharing, porn, trade thefts, etc. cost companies millions per year.

If the tech, hypothetically or not, found unusual file sizes, hidden partitions, mismatched disk sizes or any number of other red flags, and the company has such a policy as I mention, he was "duty bound" to investigate.

Once a violation was suspected, then the policy would likely direct the tech to contact HR, Information Protection, IT, VP or other for a determination on where to go next.

If the company is so small they don't have such policies, it is hard and likely a loose/loose situation for the tech. I agree with another poster however, that in 25 years, what will really matter? His integrity or his silence? I think the answer is clear.

I would strongly suggest to any tech out there, that you intimately know your companies SOP and what you can and are expected to do in such situations. If no such policy exists, draft one and submitt to management. Your computer assets at work are FOR WORK. Not for your personal use. Remember you are being paid to do a job! Do your job. Leave personal things OFF work computers. PERIOD! And if you're in to such things as kiddy porn, be afraid...very very afraid! Your day or reckoning is coming!!

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We don't have that information

by jdclyde In reply to But....

about anything suspicious, and what little we were given states the exact opposite.

The "internet tech" only states that he is installing a new software package.

He does not state why he is snooping in his bosses personal pictures or give anything to validate his time spent snooping through his bosses computer. There was no talk at all about being suspicious of his bosses activity.

I still do not buy this as anything more than to push the discussion out and get the writer some face time.

If we ignore the logic of the tech should be fired for snooping through company assets, we get to the point of pics he THINKS MIGHT be girls under 18. Are they really under 18, and are they actually porn? We had a discussion on here where someone found (again, on a bosses computer? I see a trend?) underage girls in swimwear. Inappropriate, but not illegal?

If there is VALID concern that the PICTURES are indeed illegal, as I said elsewhere, get off the system NOW and call HR. Don't do anything until you have a witness, and even then don't do anything but call the authorities. Like I also said, I would even be afraid to make a disk image for evidence as I do not know what the legal aspects of that are, because now YOU are duplicating illegal material.

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