Panel: Monitor Internet use by employees, judges

Panel: Monitor Internet use by employees, judges

Employees and judges at the nation's federal courts soon might face computer use monitoring.

The recommendation that the courts monitor and forbid certain systems activities is drawing objections from judges who are suggesting the prohibition could be a privacy violation.

The 27-member Judicial Conference of the United States will vote Sept. 11 on the recommendation of its Committee on Automation and Technology.

The committee made three recommendations:

  • Computers connected to the federal judiciary's data communications network should access the Internet only via authorized gateways in New Orleans, San Francisco and Washington. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts in Washington should control operations at the gateways.

  • The office should bar computers connected to the network from using file-swapping applications such as Gnutella and Napster, back-door access programs such as Glacier and online games such as Quake.

  • Courts should inform employees that their use of the network and the Internet could be viewed and recorded.

    Critics of the policy have questioned whether it is legal or ethical for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts to monitor judiciary employees' use of computers.

    The federal court system's backbone network connects 800 buildings and is used by judiciary employees to send

    e-mail, access judiciary systems and transfer data. It comprises an internal network used by employees and PACERNet, which is used by the public to access court Web sites.

    Internet use accounts for more than 75 percent of the traffic across the network, the committee said. It costs more than $8.4 million annually to provide Internet services on the network.

    The network is protected by a firewall.

    Each of the three authorized Internet gateways has intrusion detection software that monitors network and server activity for denial-of-service attacks and unauthorized access attempts.

    In May, the Ninth Circuit Judicial Council directed workers at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to disable the software, raising concerns that the network might have been exposed to unauthorized users.

    The software was restored in June to detect denial-of-service attacks and attempts at unauthorized access but without a program that screens for pornography, music and videos.
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