Kim Guttormson

Calgary Herald; With files from Peter Green and the Montreal Gazette.
Sunday, April 06, 2008

 

The City of Calgary issued more than 500 letters of reprimand to employees who visited websites involving gambling, nudity or explicit sexual content over a 13-month period ending last September.

Information obtained by the Herald, through a freedom of information request, found 526 warning letters — or about 41 a month — were issued between September 2006 and September 2007.

In nine months last year, between January and September, 341 letters were issued to employees who used work computers to access websites containing nudity (81), adult content (84), gambling (89) or sexually explicit content (87).

The letters notify employees they have visited or attempted to visit an unauthorized website.

Another 185 warning letters were issued between September and December 2006. Of those, 90 were related to websites involving nudity or adult content, while 49 involved gambling and another 46 were sexually explicit sites.

“Obviously, you’d have to be crazy to be doing that from work,” Maria Bakardjieva, an associate professor of communication and culture at the University of Calgary, said of trying to access pornographic websites.

But city officials and some aldermen said they don’t see a problem with the findings.

“I don’t see this as a concern at all, seeing how many employees we have, how many who are going on the Internet,” said Ald. Andre Chabot. “The fact there’s only this few says we’re quite diligent.”

About 9,000 city employees use computers in the course of their work day.

Bob Nanke, the city’s IT security co-ordinator, said the city doesn’t compare its numbers to other cities or corporations, “but I’d say this is good. It’s pretty low.”

He added the private sector tends to be less strict than the city about access to sites.

Dan Kelly, with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, found word of the Internet use upsetting.

“That’s incredibly significant,” said Kelly. “Employers in general do have a problem monitoring employee usage of the Internet, and a lot of it is for using (it) for personal purposes on business time, but it’s even more disturbing when it’s inappropriate content on city time.”

Peter Marsden, president of CUPE local 38, which represents 3,000 inside city workers, said some of his members — especially younger employees — believe the city’s stance on inappropriate sites is “Victorian.”

“There are a number, in their early 20s, who express concern at how prudish the city’s concerns are,” he said.

Some staff have received letters for accessing lingerie sites or trying to check lottery ticket numbers, he added.

“They’re told it’s inappropriate. It might be coffee time or lunch time, but the city says it’s still our computer and we don’t want you going there.”

The city’s security software blocks categories of sites, preventing access to anything related to nudity, sexually explicit content or gambling. A monthly report identifies the top 10 users in each category, which is forwarded to corporate security.

The city may also have received complaints from a co-worker.

Further attempts to access prohibited sites trigger an investigation and any breaches are dealt with as “misconduct,” the warning letters say.

Web-based e-mail sites, extremist or hate sites and proxy sites that attempt to get around the software are also blocked.

City policy allows employees access to sites such as Facebook or YouTube from work computers.

The policy is reviewed regularly, Nanke said. At one point, anything to do with Las Vegas was blocked because of gambling, but that made it hard for anyone trying to book a flight or a hotel on their lunch hour.

However, a local expert on workplace web monitoring said the findings point to a larger problem of employees wasting time surfing the Internet for personal interests while on the clock.

“Doing travel reservations, planning reservations and chatting with friends on Facebook — they may not be inappropriate (sites), but they also are a much bigger productivity-killer than inappropriate sites,” said Raj Narayanaswamy, co-CEO of Replicon Inc., a Calgary-based manufacturer of time and expense tracking software. “The big story is unproductive use of the Internet.”

Temptations to surf are always there, added the U of C’s Bakardjieva.

“With this new wave of sites and applications, we’re seeing major new opportunities for people to find distractions,” she said.

Article Source: Calgary Herald, April 6, 2008

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