Editor's Desk

The Yuck Factor

IT cop? South Carolina passed legislation that might add this role to your job description.

Your job just got harder. Word back from South Carolina is that as of July 20, 2001, the state was going to start holding IT professionals responsible for reporting child pornography they come across in the course of their work. Specifically, legislators modified an existing law requiring that people who process film call law enforcement. Now it mandates that “computer technicians who view such images when working on a computer report the owner or person in possession of the computer.” Yuck.

It was bound to happen. Physicians were the first to face this kind of legislated responsibility, followed by other healthcare workers, then social workers, attorneys, and, in nine states, anybody who comes across it. All 50 states have some form of similar laws; they vary by whom they include as the responsible reporting parties. My guess is that other states will play copycat in writing IT professionals into the laws, just as they did when film processors were added to the roster.

As I was reminded on one discussion forum recently, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I have questions about this decision by a state to deputize some of its citizens as morality police.

How would you even come across this stuff in the normal course of technical support? I could certainly understand having words with a user who was stashing an inordinate number of a particular type of file on the server; but that doesn’t require actually listening to the .MP3 files or looking at the .PCX images. Yes, I know that companies increasingly monitor our digital activities; but what IT professional would actually confess to wanting to do the dirty work that entails?

How do you handle the situation of a manager who uses a work computer to download anything you find distasteful—maybe a Lawrence Welk .MP3 rendition of Fascination? Do you let it pass, snicker with your co-workers, make a trip to HR or call the cops?

And how do you even define porn? My definition’s probably different. Whose wins?

No, I don’t want to support the sleazebags who exploit kids for money. But I do want to prevent the grandmothers of America from being hauled to jail for having a wallpaper image of the grandkids toweling off after their baths.

So now, you have another thing to watch out for. Code Red wasn’t enough of a worry.

I suspect it’s probably a more pressing ethical dilemma to restrain yourself when you realize the inadequacies of your company’s software licensing practices. (At a recent conference, Microsoft VP Bob Clough took attendees—Microsoft partners—to task for allowing unlicensed programs to run in their own shops.)

What are the ethical dilemmas you’ve faced lately? Tell me at dian.schaffhauser@mcpmag.com.

About the Author

Dian L. Schaffhauser is a freelance writer based in Northern California.

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Reader Comments:

Sun, Oct 7, 2001 Windy Dallas, TX

We have many "moral" responsibilities in our profession, and this should not be an exception. If anything, this is more important. No one screamed when it became our responsibility to report those that have illegal software on their systems. As a matter of fact, probably 90% of computer professionals turn a blind eye to pirated software. Let's hope they don't turn a blind eye to this newest responsibility. It will be necessary for the boundaries and expectations to be set by legislation so the "grandmothers" aren't trapped. However, to compare one of the most vulgar and illegal forms of pornography to a computer virus is irresponsible. I will be happy to help the government in their pursuit to get these sickos out of my workplace.

Fri, Oct 5, 2001 Anonymous Anonymous

I agree with the "yuck factor". We have enough to worry about without looking at the contents of all the files on major system. I don't have time, there are only 8 hrs in my work day, how about you (I have a life outside of work). I deal with senitive data and if I were to start poking around in private area of the network I would loss my job...

Mon, Oct 1, 2001 Jon London

I disagree!

No, of course I don't disagree with your comment about "not wanting to support these sleaze bags ..... etc. etc." but I do disagree with your lazy attitude, and Ostrich sentimentality.
We all have a duty to our childrens generation to protect them from harm, whether this is required by law should be irrelevant. I would have, and have had, NO second thoughts about reporting these sick people to Law Enforcement Agencies.
As a responsible member of society, and an IT technician, I generally am privvy to all sorts of information that others do not get to see. In the case of pornography, I will turn a blind eye, but in the case of what I suspect to be Child Pornography, I cannot, and will not. I HAVE come accross sick images of children in my general work, when you are in the course of repairing an installation of an operating system and such, often you need to open random files to find out if something is worth saving from the PC. Our shop was about 3 doors down from the police station, and we often had visits from officers curious as to what our reaction would be to that kind of picture, and when I finally came accross a stash of pictures on one persons PC, I was so shocked that I virtually ran to the station to get our contact to have a look. There was an interesting look of disbelief on the owners face when he came to collect it and the PC was carried out of the workshop by a uniformed officer.
We all have a civil duty to protect people who can't protect themselves, and if you've got images on your computer that appear to be illegal, and you can't adequately explain them, then you belong behind Bars!!

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