Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Privacy on the Internet at Work?


You’ve probably read about the man who was fired by the NY City Department of Education for being on the Internet at work. A judge overruled it, saying he was checking the weather, and he’s been reinstated (at last check).

"It should be observed," Judge Spooner wrote, suggesting that the man only get the slightest reprimand, "that the Internet has become the modern equivalent of a telephone or a daily newspaper, providing a combination of communication and information that most employees use as frequently in their personal lives as for their work." (read the pleading here: http://search.citylaw.org/OATH/06_Cases/06-722.pdf .

So how’s it looking?


Q: So I can’t get fired for using the Internet?

A: First let’s get this straight. In Texas, which is an employment-at-will state, IF my employer wants to fire me because I’ve been abusing the Internet, if he’s smart, he ignores his reason and just walks up and says, “You’re fired.” In an employment-at-will state, your employer can fire you for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all. So why quibble about why he wants me out of there.

That having been said, companies can and do fire people over the Internet. According to the American Management Association (AMA), ¼ of companies surveyed in 2004 had terminated an employee for violating their email policies. That was up 22% from 2003.

There are state laws. There are federal laws. It’s E-A-W as long as you don’t violate some federal law. (Check with a lawyer about your state law, as well as federal law.)

Q: But if I erase my path, I’m OK, right? I don’t think they’re monitoring us. Anyway that’s against the law isn’t it?

A: No, No, and No. According to the AMA again, about 2/3rds of companies say they currently monitor where employees go on the ‘net. Software like WebSence and SurfControl can block sites and also tell where you’ve been, and this is done at the network level. You won’t be able to tell. Generally they don’t have to tell you. Connecticut now has a law that they must notify you. The California Assembly passed one but Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed it.

Q: But my email’s ok, isn’t it? And IM? That’s really safe.

A: IM really safe? LOL. Email safe? ROFL.

52% of companies scan emails. Most backup the computers. That stuff stays around forever. And since stuff on the computer is useful in lawsuits, there’s a market, so there are companies that specialize in this, and new equipment all the time to find anything that was once there. (Cell phones, too.)

There’s something called a “sniffer” that can read unencrypted data as it passes down the wires, so hotmail won’t buy you privacy either.

Enjoy your IM now. Only about 20% of companies monitor it, but IM Director and Akonix Enforcer can record conversations and/or block certain activites on IM. Health firms and security brokers are already required by federal law to retain records of some IM conversations, so it’s coming.

Q: Well, I’ll be OK if I stay reasonable right? Like no porn sites?

A: Most companies (90%, says the Center for Business Ethics at Bentley College) allow “reasonable personal usage,” but more than half of them don’t define “reasonable personal usage.” Realistically, your employer is not going to define it the way you do. Surveyed companies, BTW, said news was OK, but half thought banking online and shopping wasn’t.

Q: Good grief. What else can they monitor?

A: There’s something called a keystroke logger that records everything you type. There’s also something that periodically takes a photo of what’s on your screen (like a nightmare, isn’t it?) A giant ctr+prt scr in the hands of Big Brother.

Q: We don’t have a policy on it now. What should I do?

A: I’m such a believer in “reasonable,” and so annoyed with those people that abuse privileges and ruin it for everyone else; however, there are security issues as well.

It doesn’t have to interfere with your work. One study even showed that Americans spend more time at home on the Internet doing work (5.9 hours a week) than they spend doing personal things at work on the Internet (3.7 hours). (However, here comes trouble: people with no computer at home spend about 6 hrs. a week on the ‘net at work.)

You’d think if someone were getting their work done, why worry about it. The problem is those who don’t. Someone who works in a huge law firm told me they were all reprimanded because “somebody” had gone into the library, viewed porn for 2 hours, “and even bookmarked it.” Now I ask you … could a secretary disappear for two hours? It had to have been a lawyer, but guess who’s access was taken away.

Certainly you should be able to tune to www.classical.org, or check www.susandunn.cc to see what's new in IQ, or this blog!

It's so much a part of our lives, we ought to be able to use the Internet at work, reasonably, when it doesn't interfere with the work. For online banking, the occasional purchase, to research a subject, get an address, check the news ...

That having been said,

1. Find out what your company’s policy is and adhere to it.

Chances are it will have loopholes in it. If it says “Internet use is forbidden during work hours,” employees will construe that it’s OK during breaks and lunch. (If you’re an employer reading this, get a lawyer to write your manual.) There will undoubtedly be a test case in that office before long. Don’t let it be on you.

2. If you use the ‘net, use common sense, emotional intelligence.

Don’t visit porn hate or creepy sites, don’t disturb others with noise, don’t send emails that are in poor taste.

3. Get your work done.

Exemplary employees always fare better when it’s someone’s call. Besides it’s the right thing to do.

4. Don’t run around sharing things with others.

In other words, don’t advertise you’re on the net. Don't brag about the great travel deal y ou just sealed, or the great ebay purchase you just made. Someone will use it against you, sooner or later.

5. How serious are you?

There are anti-products: Anti-keylogger: http://www.anti-keyloggers.com/ , Internet eraser: http://www.zdelete.com/eraser.htm . (I haven’t tried them.)

6. If you intentionally defy a clear written policy, you’re on your own.

7. Choose your company culture carefully. Choose one that suits yours.

A recent law magazine ran an article on law firm’s attitudes toward Internet use. One manager said they were in a lock-down. Another said she had good workers, and personally she had better things to do than monitor people on the Internet.

Which company would you rather work for?

Bottom line: "There's no expectation or privacy" and, if you're in an employment-at-will state, yeah, they can fire you any time they want to (as long as they don't violate another law).

CHECK WITH A LAWYER FOR LEGAL ADVICE. I am not qualified to give legal advice.

I am qualified to coach. In fact I train and certify coaches. Email me for personal coaching, or for information on my coach certification program. It's simple, fast, affordable, with no residency requirement. I have trained coaches all over the US, in India, Malaysia, Singapore, Beijing, the Phillipines, the UK, Wales, Australia, New Zealand, and more. (EQ is hot all over the world -- it's our common language, and our best shot for dealing with the globalization.)

Or call 210-496-0678.

Having a hard time with someone at work? Take my Dealing with Difficult Internet course. It's interactive. It tells you what to say and how to say it, what to do and what not to do, what you can change and what you cannot. It tells you how to survive and thrive. Order it HERE, a great value at $19.99.

I specialize in keeping you safe in shark-infested waters. We'll talk about handling the Office Gossip, the Alpha Male, the B**** Diva, the Slacker, the Passive-Aggressive, the Control Freak, the Clueless, the Bully, the Whiner, the Potentially Violent, and more.

No comments: