Australian Gov't Official Fired For Googling 'Knockers' From Home With Office Laptop

from the don't-go-knocking dept

If your employer gives you a laptop, which you sometimes use from home, does that employer still have the right to look at what you’re doing while at home? Down in Australia a long-term government employee in the Commonwealth Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism was apparently fired after the monitoring software on his laptop notified his bosses that he had done the unthinkable and Googled the word “knockers.” The monitoring software apparently takes screenshots of the computer every 30 seconds, which revealed the search. The guy fought back in court, saying that while he was using the laptop provided by the government, it was on his home connection, and he felt the intrusion was a gross violation of his privacy. The judge disagreed, saying that the guy should have known his computer was being monitored and that surfing for porn was a serious issue.

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Comments on “Australian Gov't Official Fired For Googling 'Knockers' From Home With Office Laptop”

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Brian (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Well it appears he tried something like that. Near the bottom of the article it mentions:

“At first the public servant claimed the access to the pornography was accidental and then, Justice Perram said, later created an “elaborate but ultimately unbelievable explanation for his actions based around notions of research and inquiry”.”

Anonymous Coward says:

If it’s government policy for not using it to download inappropiate materials, shouldn’t they just enable web filters with password (possibly even blocking keyword for web browsers to make “intentional” to break policy of no non-approved browers allowed), so they can’t do it at all?

It looks more like a set-up trap to me.

Christopher (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Agreed. Personally, I think that the judge got it wrong. When the guy is at home, whether he is using a government provided computer or not, the government has NO right to dictate what he does on that computer, period.

The fact is that the whole “Porn sites are virus-laded traps!” hasn’t been true for a long time now, from my liberal explorations of the porn aspect of the internet.

In fact, the bigger source of viruses and malware is ADS ON LEGITIMATE NON-PORN WEBSITES!

I still remember my cousin surfing to on her computer and getting pwn’d by a virus on it. I traced it directly back to the ads on that website by surfing there myself in Windows with NoScript disabled in Firefox, and having Norton immediately pop up a warning about it.

Sean T Henry (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I disagree, the govt’ owns the laptop most of the time employees sign a user policy saying that you cannot do X on our equipment.

If it being on our own connection made a difference then employees could just get a wireless connection and plug it in at work and when on break look at porn. If you want to look at porn especially if your work monitors the computer and not the connection BUY YOUR OWN COMPUTER, want to use it for work then do so.

Angry Puppy (profile) says:

Funny as in Odd

It strikes me as odd that the Australian government went to such lengths and taxpayer expense to fire the government employee. Why not simply an official reprimand and/or a demotion? It sure looks as if someone was simply after this guy. I assume it was a male, a woman would have only had to take umbrage and claim that she was researching breast cancer and using the colloquialism to ensure a thorough search.

That brings up a thought: What if an Australian female government employee searched ‘wanker’? Would she be fired for searching for porn or for trolling for comments about her boss?

Seriously: This is a good lesson to anyone using company or government kit be it a laptop, car, or any other type of equipment. It’s not yours it’s the owner’s/taxpayer’s.

AW says:

From the article it did bring up a decent point that it could possibly be viewed at work because images would be stored in the cache and the guy was in IT so should have fully known that his computer takes pictures of usage. A fireman can’t bring an engine home and start setting large fires just to put and an IT pro can’t bring a computer home and start hacking out viruses, which is another thing he opened himself and his company up to. I side with the court on this one. Use of company property is a privilege not a right, if you get that chance to work at home, do so, but use your home computer for home stuff.

Papa Fox says:

A few extra facts:

1. The person involved was a senior public servant whose laptop held sensitive info.

2. The *only* way the laptop could connect to the internet was via a VPN.

3. The google search for ‘knockers’ thus went through a government firewall/proxy. Unfortunately ‘knockers’ was on it’s banned list.

4. The person was actually responsible for enforcing the ‘zero tolerance’ policy – it was held that he was fully aware it.

So, the judgement might well be harsh, but it isn’t unreasonable. The big deal was that the search went through a government server, because that was the only way the laptop could connect.

Christopher (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

How many people are going to do that when they have a PERFECTLY capable computer that is furnished by the government? Not many, in my opinion.

The fact is that policies like this are fem-nazi policies, meant to catch men more than women and dismiss them for simply looking at something that other people don’t like.

I could understand if they could prove that he was doing it during WORK HOURS, not that he was just doing it period.

abc gum says:

Re: I agree

Yep, that makes total sense because it is much more efficient to drive all the way home, get into your own vehicle and then go back to the store you just drove by earlier.

Bottom line – one should avoid anything that even looks like impropriety regardless of the inefficiencies and lack of logic, unless you are a politician which means you are exempt from the laws you help write.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I agree

Depends on the employer. My husband, a small business owner, permits certain workers to take work vans home (saves him from having to ferry them to jobsites), and undoubtably they use them for personal reasons here and there, like picking up stuff for home renovations or moving furniture. We’ve used his work van for that many times.

But any damage done to the truck on personal time for personal use will come out of their paychecks.

His is a really small company and he’s pretty invested personally in his crew, so the trust is there. I can absolutely see a larger, more impersonal company strictly prohibiting that kind of activity with their equipment with good reason, mainly liability issues.

Lord_Unseen says:


First of all, I agree, if he was an “IT” guy and couldn’t get around that, he wasn’t a very good IT guy. Second, if you let me borrow your laptop, would you be very happy if I was surfing porn on it? Even if I was at home when I did it? Of course you wouldn’t! It wasn’t his laptop to do with what he pleased, so he should have respected that. (Also, no self respecting IT person would be caught dead without owning their own desktop).

AW says:


@ Anonymous Coward, Feb 11th, 2011 @ 12:01am
It was an intentionally hyperbolic example, I’m sorry you took an example of something you can’t do as statement of what he did do. Point is you can’t just do what you want with someone elses tools.

It’s actually pretty routine in my company to bring a laptop home that is solely for owrk use. in fact We have 3 computers in my house and I bring my personally laptop into work for use on my lunchbreak. But usign a work laptop for work is not abnormal at all and again as a senior IT pro hw knew better.

@Pitabred I’ts not for personal use it’s for work use. it lets you get to the jobsite faster. They are doing you and themselves a favor by saving you time. It’s almost entirely for the companies benefit.

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