Porn fiends exit as big brother boogies into town

Porn fiends exit as big brother boogies into town

I can recall back in the last century when I first began writing stories about e-mail snooping and the need to monitor Internet misuse by employees in the workplace. Remember the 1990s when the evils of the Internet first made news headlines and organizations were forced to pay multimillion dollar settlements to employees who had been exposed to explicit porn via e-mail?

Those heady days certainly upped the profile of the IT manager who was forced to take on the unlikely role of porn cop.

But hey, it took IT out of the back room and raised the profile of technology even if it was on the back of big boobs and bad movie plots.

You have to remember this period followed those dark days in IT history when company executives still asked questions like: "What the hell do those guys in IT do and where does all the money go?"

Life for those in IT has changed drastically since then. E-mail isn't such a new technology any more and CEOs are no longer perplexed by the techies (well, we hope so). And of course spam and viruses have emerged as far more sinister demons of destruction. I've even stopped checking the computer screens of my colleagues, curious to see what kind of "research" they were really doing.

But back then, the confusion was palpable; companies didn't want to be hit with multimillion-dollar lawsuits so they introduced e-mail monitoring software in the workplace.

This unleashed privacy concerns and, inevitably, strike action. The most celebrated case of industrial action was at Telstra in Melbourne when 60 staff were investigated for distributing porn. Then there was the Dow Chemicals case, the $2.2 million Chevron settlement which was as recent as 2003, fun and games at the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) for Qantas, even the NSW Police was forced to admit it had a few Internet sex fiends of its own. The trouble was, there were no laws in place to deal with the problem so companies did the next best thing and enforced e-mail usage policies.

These policies are signed and sealed by employees who are well aware that their e-mails are being monitored.

But here we are a decade later and legislation is finally catching up with technology.

The NSW government has introduced the Workplace Surveillance Bill 2005 which makes it a criminal offence to undertake any covert surveillance of employees and that includes reading e-mails.

Unions are pushing hard for other states to follow suit with Victoria the most likely to be next off the rank.

Citing some ugly stories about workplace surveillance, unions claim the Bill is long overdue.

The only thing left to do now is to pull out your old Internet and e-mail usage policies for a bit of a brush up to make sure they do comply with the new legislation.

I'm betting unions won't be shy in testing the new laws and nobody wants to be hit with the Big Brother bogeyman tag.

Employer groups were a little hysterical in their response to the new Bill threatening to remove Internet access altogether if it is over-regulated. A pretty hollow threat when you consider the productivity trade-offs that would accompany such a ban.

So how will the Bill impact your organization? Send e-mails to

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More about Brother International (Aust)Chevron AustraliaIndustrial Relations CommissionNSW GovernmentNSW PoliceQantasTelstra CorporationVIA

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