Surfin’ USA

During the same week I noticed that the Beach Boys would be appearing at a Northwest casino, I came across a news article from Klamath Falls explaining how a group of ten county employees spent way too much time surfing the web on the job.  Oregon didn’t get into the Beach Boys 1960’s hit song, but at least some of us seem to have found our way to surfin’ the Internet on our employer’s nickel for everything from recipes to crossword puzzles (http://www.dailytidings.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20110422/NEWS02/104220307).

The City of Albany maintains what I believe is a reasonable policy that employees may use the Internet for personal reasons at work in the same way that they may use phones for local calls (http://www.cityofalbany.net/hr/documents/policies/HR-ER-13-005%20Use%20of%20Office%20and%20Telecommunication%20Equipment.pdf ).  There is no harm to city interests if an employee needs to do an online banking transaction or check home e-mail during a break.  There is great harm, however, if the policy is abused as it apparently was in Klamath Falls.  I would hate to have to explain why some workers allegedly spent the equivalent of a three-quarter-time employee using the Internet for personal use when other employees were losing their jobs.

We know there has been abuse of the City’s policy in the past and that it is likely to occur again.  Our IT Department has found examples of employees using City e-mail accounts for a variety of personal reasons that extend well beyond incidental use.  Recently, the Finance Department needed to access some banking e-mail messages and found a number of employee’s personal transactions.  Please be advised that any message sent from a City computer is a public record that must be made available to anyone who requests it.  I emphasize this point because I am told there have been messages sent that contain personally sensitive information.  Use of the Internet has become so ubiquitous that the lines between personal and professional purposes are often blurred.  My recommendation is to adopt a conservative attitude and seriously restrict anything that can be construed as personal use.  Today, I responded to an e-mail from a former employee that is almost wholly personal and probably should have been forwarded to my personal account.  I also found after reviewing old records a number of messages that should and easily could have been handled at home.

I would prefer not to spend time monitoring and controlling Internet usage throughout the City because I know the great majority of the people who work here use the resource responsibly.  I recently wrote about the need for financial audits to assure compliance with accepted standards, and I believe we have no choice but to adopt a similar practice regarding computer and Internet usage.  As part of this compliance initiative, our IT Department will be randomly looking for abuses of our policy to assure we stay within acceptable boundaries.

Surfing the Net is a great way to access information, and it has certainly spread farther and more rapidly than the sport the Beach Boys were promoting nearly 50 years ago.  Unlike surfing the waves, the dangers of surfing the Net are subtle and easy to forget.