The Yuck Factor
IT cop? South Carolina passed legislation that might add this role to your job description.
- By Dian Schaffhauser
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 email@example.com.
Dian L. Schaffhauser is a freelance writer based in Northern California.