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Ethics Question

Posted on 2004-10-28
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Last Modified: 2010-04-11
I am the network administrator where I work.
When users are hired here they sign a long contract of acceptible internet/email/computer usage which basically says you can only use the stuff here for work related purposes and that all users can be monitored to see if they are infringing the contract they signed...yadda yadda...Basically giving me the right to read ppls emails and monitor web activity and such.  It should be noted that I have never exercised this right and the only time I open someones mailbox is when the user is having problems and they ask me to check something out.  Web access is monitored on an anonymous basis and I block pages using websense that I feel are inappropriate.  Spam/viruses are blocked with Trend Micro IMSS and I occasionally monitor what is blocked for false positives but the contents of emails are never reported to management or anyone else for that matter.

Recently a user was caught (not by me, probably a customer or someone looking over his shoulder) using his email account for inappropriate and non-business related purposes and it was reported to management.  I got notification from management to suspend his email account so I exmerged a back-up of it and then deleted his mailbox.  That was yesterday.  Today, people are walking by my office giving me dirty looks and making comments like "read any good emails lately?"  My guess is they think I am responsible for ratting him out.

I consider myself a quiet but friendly guy and now I am seen as the jerk computer guy who reads everyones emails when this is far from the truth.
How have you other admins out there handled this situation or how would you?
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Question by:frieked
    11 Comments
     
    LVL 6

    Accepted Solution

    by:
    I would say your doing your job. Protecting the Network is one of your main goals. Thus, monitoring web traffic and emails is extremly important. One they have to understand they have the internet, email for work purposes... Not to play partypoker.com or send emails to his buddy about red soxs winning the world series. We don't mind if someone checks their banking or sends personal emails on their break or even lunch. But we do monitor it. This is fair warning and if someone has a problem with it they will save that personal use for home.

    Keep in mind sending a personal email isn't too big of a deal, definitly not enough to bother management with. We use the monitoring for security reasons and to keep up on productivity, not as a weapon against fellow co-workers.

    As far as how to handle the situation:
    I would keep doing things how you are, things will die down once they understand that it's how things are going to be. I would keep being helpful and friendly. I would show a guilty feeling towards them or they will feel like you are doing something wrong. I would show confidence, and let it be known that your doing yoour job, even if they arn't!

    Let me know if you have any further questions!

    Good Luck,

    Jorden
    Tech-Security
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    LVL 2

    Assisted Solution

    by:JBinRI
    I get this question every couple of months....

    I usually start be saying "Do you know how long it takes me to read through all the mail that comes and goes through this place? I haven't had a weekend off for the last two months because I've been too busy reading everyone's mail."

    After saying something like that..... they usually get a laugh out of it.

    What I tell them is "are you doing anything on your computer that could get you in trouble?" Usually the answer is "no." I then mention to them that I do not read through anyone's mail. However, if something is brought to my attention by management that is a serious matter in regards to company issues, it is my duty to do a formal inquiry and to submit only factual information to management.

    Basically, you are telling them that you are too busy to read through anyone's email.... and if you are, it has be a serious company issue.
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    Expert Comment

    by:JBinRI
    BTW

    There should be a grace period of 1 week for any email coming or going containing "Red Sox".

    86 years is a loooooong time :)
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    Author Comment

    by:frieked
    Thanks all for the great comments, I'm going to wait for a few more responses then split the points between the 2 or 3 best.
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    LVL 34

    Assisted Solution

    by:PsiCop
    This is, unfortunately, part of the burden of being a sysadmin. You can try to dispel the thinking with tactics like JBinRI suggests. How successful that will be depends on the intelligence level of your co-workers.

    Regardless, you have not acted in an unethical manner. I've been in your position for a great many years. I never had time to read everyone's E-Mail either. I can't even keep up with my own.

    How you should approach this situation is probably mostly driven by your environment, its politics, and your relationships with your co-workers. But realize that no matter how much work you put into repairing your image, there are always going to be some who think you're spying on them,
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    Expert Comment

    by:pyrite504
    I work in a school, where we have a legal responsibility to protect the kids from themselves (going to dating sites, chatting with guys 3X their age, etc.)

    There have been a number of times where the directors of the school have forced me to go through mailboxes of students, and in one case a teacher to make sure there were no illegal ot unethical shenanigns going on.  It really sucks, because you know that you'd hate to have someone going through your digital stuff.  The best way I found to handle this is whenever the opportunity presents itself, I make very clear that the system is neither my or their personal property, and as it isn't, they shouldn't expect any privacy when it comes to their home drive or their email.  I follow that up with the fact that the only time I go through someone files (as we have over a million of them on the network, so it's a huge hassle for me to do so) is when he head of my school and a member of the board comes to me and orders me to do so, and I put up a fight as to whether or not it's warranted.

    It's just your job, and they need to respect that.  Now, I know you aren't in a situation where you're charged with minors, but they signed a policy, and if you make it clear to be cool with them and to remind them that your despot boss can command you to go through their stuff as they see fit, and if you don't you get fired.

    When it comes to them giving you dirty looks or smart comments, make it clear you didn't do it, and if you did, you have enough respect for yourself and your job to hone up to it if you did.

    Hope that helps.
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    Expert Comment

    by:SunBow
    > only use the stuff here for work related purposes and that all users can be monitored to see if they are infringing the contract they signed...yadda yadda..

    good

    > ...Basically giving me the right to read ppls emails and monitor web activity and such

    yes, um, I think.. justify that

    >  It should be noted that I have never exercised this right

    I think this means you abide by law (because of next one)

    > the only time I open someones mailbox is when the user is having problems and they ask me to check something out.

    Good again. That is the way, the only way. Or rather, you are not allowed to generically snoop or fish or witchunt or discriminate, however, there are other troubleshooting activities that can be self generated, such as for network traffic problems, virus/worm propagations, eMail delivery issues you notice yourself, not needing user to originate all complaints, problems, issues.

    > the contents of emails are never reported to management or anyone else

    Exactly. There is the law, and then again, yes, there is the law.

    > Today, people are walking by my office giving me dirty looks and making comments like "read any good emails lately?"  My guess is they think I am responsible for ratting him out.

    Several ways to choose, here is a starter

    a) ask each (alone) if they'd found out why the account had to be suspended (or removed)

    by this, use is not made of own perception first, you are so completely ignored you'd at least appreciate a rumor.

    b) "I got notification from management to suspend his email account "  

    Best this be in writing, so you can cya should they find reason for denial (such as pending lawsuit).

    Of course, once in writing, it should be clear to any reader that you too are being just the grunt worker in the whole process. You can post it on a bulleting board, or hand it to someone, but just absentmindedly leaving it on desk may work to more advantageous position.

    (c) A pro- frieked approach, selling your version of your role in the process is a likely losing position.  However, if you prepare that and hold in reserve, what could work is a poor-me, crying tactic.   So you ask them, maybe as group, to help you out, and give them the same question you gave us.  Tell them you are concerned that there may be some rumour that you were involved in the allegations, and ask for helpful advise from them in how to best defend your personal integrity.
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    Expert Comment

    by:SunBow
    (d) This one is a little different, but normal part of my approach to telling admin why they should avoid snooping. It is really an extremely wasteful use of your talent. With all the SW load, upgrades, troubleshooting (go on and on with own duties) you simply have no time to read eMail of anyone else, you barely have enough time to read your own eMail.  Use of this tactic only works hawever, if you really are a good admin who works, and they know it.  If they only see you at coffee machine or surfing sites they wonder may not be business relevant, then this tactic may not work so well.  it is always helpful to be known as one who serves customers well, one who pitches in working, at least trying, and not as someone who ignores them when they have problems.

    In short, you only wish you had the spare time to "waste" by browsing or even for tattling.  Besides, you probably still miss the way that employee would write memos, hate to lose their talent, etc., wonder why they had to go....
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    Expert Comment

    by:cmsJustin
    No matter how much work you have to do and how much email comes through, people will still think you are reading emails. It should be known to the company that this was not a problem brought up by you, and that you were only following orders on this specific instance. If people dont beleive it and still have a problem, f*** them, they will get over it eventually, like knox81 said. Good people will see through the BS and not feed into the drama.

    -Justin
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    LVL 16

    Assisted Solution

    by:samccarthy
    What's a sysadmin to do.  You are getting dirty looks and snide remarks due to the uneducated or uninformed at your work.  We know that you are only doing your job.  We know that usually the little bit of checking the web here or there or occasional Email that is not company related we don't worry about.  However when Management gets involved and directs some action, you must comply or your job is on the line.  

    Here is what I would do.  It has been effective in the past.

    I would go out with a company wide email and nicely explain policy and what happened.  As I don't know your exact policy or network, let me take a stab at this and you can modify as necessary.  What it accomplishes is First it reminds everyone of the rules, Second it explains what happened and that you only did what you are directed to do and lastly, it should give your boss a warm fuzzy that you are being proactive.

    "To All Employees,

        A situation recently arose where an employee violated their employee agreement that lays out appropriate internet and email usage.  Simply stated, company assets can only be used for company business and all other activities are inappropriate and unauthorized.  I don't know all the details, however management determined that it was serious enough to direct the email account in question be suspended.

        To head off any possible issues with other employees or to clerify why some things are done, I want to remind everyone of the importance of complying with the company directivies and good IT practices.

         - First, did you know that a single piece of software loaded on a PC could result in $300,000 to $400,000 or more in fines for license violations?  

          -  Did you know that sending threatening or inappropriate email could subject you or the company to legal actions or could result in getting us put on a SPAM list and our email could then be serverly blocked on the internet until we can get off of the list.  Using your company email for other than company business greatly increases the chances that this will happen.

          - Using the company email address at web sites or entering it into feilds to sign up for whatever, invites SPAM and inappropriate email to be sent to you.  This can result in Worms, Viruses, etc., possibly infecting our network and clogging our limited bandwidth.  It also taxes the servers trying to deal with legitimate email and wastes everyone's time.

          -  All this addes up and expounds on itself.  If we all lose just 10 minutes per day per employee, (50 person company), dealing with SPAM, or network slowdowns or doing non company business, in a week that's 2500 minutes or 41.6 HOURS of lost productivity.  In a year that is the equivelant of 54 WEEKS of lost productivity for the company!!!

    As you can see, besides the legals aspects of the contract we all signed, This can have far reaching effects on everything from decreased Internet Bandwidth, to clogged Email to lost productivity.  I have far better things to do than have to deal with these issues when many are so easy to avoid in the first place.

    We are all a team and want to be successful.  By following these policies and IT best practices, we can be efficient, productive and that makes the company more efficent and profitable.  That's in everyone's best interests!!

         If you have any questions about the policies, please see HR and I'm sure they'll be happy to help.  If you have any questions over best practices or anything I can help with, just email or stop by my office.  I will be more than happy to assit.

          Thanks for your continued support and assistance.

                             (Your Name)"
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    Author Comment

    by:frieked
    Sorry I could not give everyone points, they are all good answers
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