Ethics: Web Site Wandering

By Russell Ethridge

Today’s Machining World Archives December 2006 Volume 2 Issue 12

Since you are responsible for information technology, this is your business, and ignoring it constitutes a dereliction of duty. The ethical issue was created because you accidentally discovered something about someone else which is at best distasteful and at worst dangerous. Whenever this happens, how you respond is both a product of what you’ve discovered and your connection to the situation. If you were wandering through an internet café and saw something offensive on a computer, you’d have no interest in the situation and no obligation to react. If during that same stroll you saw a child predator arranging a meeting for sex with a 10 year-old, the facts of what you discovered would warrant some action even though you had no connection to the situation.

In today’s workplace, certain offensive or insensitive material can give rise to discrimination claims because of the hostile environment such material can generate for those subject to it. Here, however, you have no reports that anyone has seen the son use the computer for these purposes at work. His activities may have been totally private, and the images were not downloaded to the hard drive or otherwise displayed. If it is just a matter of using company computer for something not related to work, you’d better be prepared to “out” everyone who ever used it to check the weather or shop online.

The desktop creates a different problem. It is only used in the work environment but you can’t identify the offender.

Maybe this was just someone surfing the underbelly of the latest political extremist movement. Still, it can create hostile environment problems, not to mention waste the time of someone the firm is paying to work.

You will certainly embarrass the son by either confronting him or telling his father since you have no idea that this ever involved work or even if they share your opinion of what is inappropriate. You have no one to accuse on the shop side of the problem but it really could lead to trouble if left unaddressed.

It is not time for accusations. It is a time for information. Tell all your employees what the computer consultants found without telling them where they found it. You won’t embarrass or accuse anyone, but the guilty will know who they are, and they will sweat because they won’t know how much you know. Explain why the firm cannot afford to have company property used for inappropriate and offensive material, and establish a computer use policy which draws clear lines. Then, remind them that they have no expectation of privacy in the company’s computers and should expect no mercy upon violating it, having now been warned. privacy in the company’s computers and should expect no mercy upon violating it, having now been warned.

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