California city blocks employees' access to some sites

California city blocks employees' access to some sites

American Canyon, Calif., described as the gateway to Napa Valley, supplies water to nearby wineries. But this city of about 12,000 is using software to block the gateway to harmful or inappropriate Internet use by city employees.

Systems administrator Keith Finkel is using Sentian software from N2H2 Inc. of Seattle to report and monitor employees' Internet use.

Each morning Finkel connects a Microsoft Proxy 2.0 server to N2H2's database of Web sites, which are categorized by content. Finkel can then tailor a profile for each employee of sites they can access. For example, say someone in the Recreation Department needs to access sites about soccer. In that employee's case, that could be productive Internet use. But sites pertaining to sex or drugs would be blocked. Sometimes the software will send a warning message, notifying the user that a site is being monitored.

At the end of each month, Finkel hands the city's department directors a report for each employee, showing who has been where and for how long, and if any of these sites were monitored or blocked. To his knowledge, no one has been fired because of Internet use, Finkel said. 'But we have had some instances where an employee's time management has been called into question,' he said.

Finkel contrasted the work environment in American Canyon with the military, where he received his technical training. 'I knew guys there who got an Article 15 [a limited punishment for a minor disciplinary offense] for going to ESPN.com at lunchtime.' Users couldn't put pictures of their family or pets on their desktop wallpaper, and everything was documented, he said.

In American Canyon city offices, it's more relaxed. But it does slow down the network when employees decide they want to listen to streaming audio, he said.

City employees access the Internet primarily through Microsoft Explorer. Desktop PCs, mostly from Dell Computer Corp., run Microsoft Windows 2000 and XP, and are on a three-year replacement plan, Finkel said.

Written in C++, C and some Visual Basic, the Sentian software resides on the city's servers. No one on the city staff has yet has been able to foil the software, Finkel said.

The software also offers a productivity calculator that tallies the amount of unproductive Web browsing an employee engages in.

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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