Editorial: Snoop patrol

Thomas R. Temin, editorial director

At the public schools in my neighborhood, local police officers often visit to advise kids and parents on the dangers of alcohol and drugs. One piece of advice always bothers me: Lock up the liquor cabinet.

The message seems to be that no child is trustworthy. I may be naive, but I think locking up things only makes them more enticing. My cabinet is unlocked, but my kids know it is off-limits.

A growing number of agency managers seem to be of the policing mind-set when it comes to employee Web access. As Preeti Vasishtha reported in our April 15 issue, many use software to block certain Web sites and, in some cases, to monitor and record where employees go on the Internet.

This strikes me as a poor way to deal with adults. Such blocking and monitoring is an expense, plus an extra duty for management and systems administrators.

Some proponents claim it has nothing to do with trust. But you can't say you trust people, then constantly snoop on them.

I'm also skeptical of surveys purporting to discover how much work time people spend online visiting gambling, travel, entertainment and porno sites.

People who are good performers generally go where it's legal to go, and they do so within acceptable time limits.

People who waste an inordinate amount of time on the Web tend to be the poor performers anyhow, and their surfing is a symptom.

It is true that certain employee actions--such as one worker showing another a pornographic site--can get an organization into legal trouble. Perhaps surveillance and blocking can be justified on those grounds.

Better to focus on getting rid of time-wasting surfers and other nonproductive types than installing vast surveillance systems.

Monitoring and blocking make the effective people in government feel as if they're being treated like children--or criminals.

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