Guest Internet Access and Hostile Work Environment

Abuse by Patrons of Library, Church or Internet Café?

E-pornography is dangerous for any organization that provides others with openly-visible access to the Internet.  The organization’s employees might claim hostile work environment.  Just as employees can complain about the viewing habits of co-workers, they might complain about the habits of guests and patrons.

Guests and students at libraries, schools and churches (places with shared computers) can indeed endanger those organizations by accessing objectionable material.  For example, librarians at the Minneapolis Public Library complained that their rights were violated when patrons used library computers to view porn.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission agreed.   Then, after the employees sued in court, the Library settled, reportedly agreeing to pay employees $435,000 and agreeing to take steps, including possibly technical filters, to reduce the potential that librarians would be exposed to porn on account of activities by patrons.

Can’t an organization protect itself by just adopting a non-technical policy against porn?  Not necessarily.  In some work environments, non-technical policies are enough because co-workers fear for their jobs.  The policies can threaten co-workers with serious reprimand or termination if they abuse the Internet, and often employees (more-so white collar employees) respect that threat.

For guests and patrons, on the other hand, all that is at stake if they violate a policy might be their privileges to continue using computers.  Those privileges may not be precious to them. Therefore, technical blocks and filters might be the only effective way to prevent them from accessing unsavory content.

Update: Administrators can now use the free Threat Detector service to discover which risky places employees, students or patrons have been visiting.

–Ben Wright, advisor to CyberPatrol, the leader in Internet Safety.

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