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 [email protected].

About the Author

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


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