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Ethical Question

By utken ·
I'm an IT stuff in a small company. We recently implemented a new firewall system that can log users' web usage. For the past few days my boss has requested a printout of Internet activities from one of my colleagues who happens to be my friend (say Lisa). Apparently someone in the office has been reporting him that Lisa has been to such and such website during working hours. Although none of those sites were of offensive type but they certainly were not work-related. My boss is not very pleased about this issue but has not made any comment yet to Lisa or her manager. To my knowledge, other stuff are also using the web for personal reasons (even to greater extend) but Lisa's the one who got 'nailed'. Being an IT stuff, I know it's my responsible to fulfill my duty - give my boss the log; on the other hand, I also don't want Lisa to get into trouble for surfing the web for only 5 minutes a day. Unfortunately my boss does not have a written Internet policy that could determine the seriousness of her web usage.
Should I tell Lisa in private about this issue so that she could stop the activity? But what if she realizes that she is the only one who is being watched?
Please advise. Thank you.

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by john_wills In reply to Ethical Question

Give the boss the information about Lisa, and also about a couple of other people, ones doing more surfing than Lisa. That should take any heat off Lisa, besides giving you points for initiative.

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Is Web Accesss a right or privilege.

by akadis In reply to overkill

Without a written policy no one can claim there is abuse officially, but the reality is that abuse does exist in two forms. Loss of work time and dangerous website activity (inadvertant spyware-malware downloads), are typical issues administration will consider as abuse.

If you have a chance, advise everyone of the monitoring capabilities in a broadcast email, include the reasons for blocking / monitoring. Then set a new standard by blocking obvious sites such as Kazza, Napster ... Combined with a employee policy statement from the boss and New Hire procedure that includes an IT appropriate usage statement, then you will cover the issue correctly.

But to what degree should the IT policy cover. Users playing streaming media use bandwith needlessly. Instant messaging detracts from the workplace when you have users looking to talk with their friends and family at will. Christmas shopping on the net.. who sets the line?

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IS Usage policy...

by mrbill- In reply to Is Web Accesss a right or ...

As an IT staffer you do not have the authority to write company policy, unless granted such by upper management. You could suggest to upper management a course of action and let them handle it. They may have you write it up and then pass it by the legal dept for review, then the boss, or his rep, sign it. Then all users would be required to read it and acknowledge it, with refresher readings on a set basis. This would cover you(IT guy), the boss and the users in the event of future infractions.

Other folks on this site would know more on this issue.

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Manner of presentation

by Cactus Pete In reply to Ethical Question

If you can show a summary page of web usage, leave them ranked in order of whatever seems appropriate - time spent, MB downloaded, whatever - and highlight Lisa's entry. You will have then given your boss what was asked, with ample other information against which it can be weighed.

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by utken In reply to Manner of presentation

Thanks for all of your input. It is indeed very hard to justify one's act without a proper policy in hand. We (my boss) has long agreed to create the policy when we decided to use the firewall but unfortunately thing like this are not always the first priority in our small business environment. Hopefully he will start something after this incident.

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by road-dog In reply to Ethical Question

Ask yourself, "did they say I couldn't tell anything about monitoring"? If the answer is no, then while away from work, mention how much you hate generating Internet traffic reports.... After all, is it unethical to do something that they didn't tell you not to do?

It looks like Lisa is being targeted. Make SURE that you put the ENTIRE report, with her relatively minor offenses somewhere on the low end. Deliver the report and archive copies. Make sure that a backup tape has this report on it and gets pulled out of the rewrite rotation...

When the report is used to fire her and not more eggregious violators, make sure that her Attorney deposes you early in the discovery process of the labor lawsuit. Your honest answers SHOULD assure that the Attorney subpoenas the report. Then when the case is settled, make sure you are handsomely rewarded by Lisa, 20 percent would be fair.

maybe something like this:

"so you are the individual who generated the report?"


"your employer originally testified that this report could not be found, where did this report come from?"

"well, the original was deleted somehow, but my disciplined backup process had a spare copy"

"From your expertise on this subject, how bad were these violations as relates to other employees that were not fired?"

"Well, she shows up in the botton third of the list"

"Do you know any other people on the list above her who were fired?"


You get the idea...

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Be Proactive

by Deadly Ernest In reply to Ethical Question

Write or find a suitable draft policy, Tech Republic has some, and prepare a report with everyones usage. If possible have the report show the times of access. Then arrange a meeting with the boss.

At the meeting discuss the need for a clear policy, showing him the draft you have, and that taking action against anyone without a clear policy being set out beforehand could end up in court if they decide to sue for wrongful dismissal or harrassment etc. Then present the report and show him everyone's usage.

I have seen small companies where personal usage on innocuous sites during approved breaks (personnel down time like lunch) is just ignored and seen as part of their break as it does not adversely affect the business, nor did they worry about checking hotmail and similar mail accounts. It might do to suggest to the boss that he takes such an attitude whilst issuing a more draconian policy.

I would also suggest to all staff, quietly, that they not do any personal browsing during working time, suggest they save it for lunchtime.

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