More Federal Employees Caught Using Work Computers To Access Porn, Claim 'Boredom' Made Them Do It

from the and,-as-usual,-it's-still-the-taxpayers-being-acrobatically-fucked dept

It's sometimes hard to believe, but government employees are people. And like most people who have access to an internet connection, they occasionally go surfing for porn. Perfectly normal. Except… well, except for many things.

Only the truly unemployed would be likely to go searching for porn as often as one SEC employee did, when he ran into the agency's anti-porn firewall 1,800 times during a two-week period, without ever once considering this was how the system was designed, rather than just an indication that he wasn't trying hard enough. Multiple employees at the agency were reprimanded for watching porn on their work computers for "98% of the workday."

A state official in Oregon infected the government's computer system with a nasty trojan hitchhiker picked up while surfing for porn. This resulted in a data leak, but the employee was reprimanded solely for using a work computer inappropriately.

An investigation by the EPA's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found one employee had downloaded and viewed more than 7,000 pornographic images while on the clock. When OIG investigators went to ask the employee about the images, they found the employee "actively viewing pornography."

Recent investigations are finding more of the same. Government employees apparently can't seem to separate work and [self] pleasure, using both tax dollars and work computers to facilitate their porn habits. But it's not so much the habit that's truly infuriating It's the excuse.
For one Federal Communications Commission worker, his porn habit at work was easy to explain: Things were slow, he told investigators, so he perused it “out of boredom” — for up to eight hours each week.

[...]

“He stated he is aware it is against government rules and regulations, but he often does not have enough work to do and has free time,” investigators wrote of another federal employee, this one at the Treasury Department, who viewed more than 13,000 pornographic images in a six-week span.

[...]

In another recent case, a GSA employee who spent about two hours a day on a computer looking at pornography and dating sites “sometimes became bored during these long hours at the computer and would often use the computer for personal use to pass the time,” according to a case report by the GSA inspector general last year.
Now, I don't know about you, but I've had boring jobs before, where not every minute of the day was spent working. And I've had access to the internet at the same time. And not once did I think the lack of work meant I should use work computers to access porn. Not once. But for these government employees, it's apparently a legitimate excuse. Boredom is all the justification needed to break the universal rule that work computers should not be used to access NSFW sites. And they didn't just do it a couple of times. They did it constantly. It's completely disingenuous to blame your job for your porn habit, especially when your employment is funded by money taken from people directly out of their paychecks without their explicit consent.

But what's worse is that those farther up the food chain at these agencies are treating this piss poor excuse as though it's valid -- or at the very least, refusing to take the situation seriously.
Investigations at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Commerce Department and the General Services Administration have turned up similar cases, though memos show the employees rarely face criminal prosecution for time and attendance fraud.

A spokesman for the FCC declined to comment on what, if any, action the agency took after the FCC’s inspector general singled out the eight-hour-a-week porn peeper.

FCC spokesman Mark Wigfield said only that the agency follows Office of Personnel Management guidelines on disciplinary matters and officials could not comment on specific cases.
So, bored federal employees will continue to surf for porn or otherwise waste tax dollars because there's zero accountability. These stories surface so frequently because an OIG investigation only uncovers wrongdoing. The reports are almost always scathing indictments of federal money being misspent and mismanaged and yet, all the OIG can do is make recommendations. The agencies themselves have to change and they almost universally refuse to do so. The problems are so ingrained at this point that no one wants to make the effort needed to enforce some level of decorum and accountability. Only rarely does external pressure have any influence, and legislators have been hesitant to create additional means of enforcement or deterrence.

The government mantra seems to be "if it's broke, don't fix it." There's nothing wrong with viewing porn, but there's plenty wrong with using government computers and punching the clock while doing it. If we can't expect lower-level agencies to be accountable to the public, why should we be surprised the administration itself feels exempt from this crucial aspect of democracy as well?

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    HegemonicDistortion (profile), Aug 14th, 2014 @ 12:45am

    Gives a new meaning to the phrase "bored stiff."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Aug 14th, 2014 @ 12:47am

    While naming the sticky-fingered employees directly might be a bit much(though a 'you get two warnings, the third time it happens your name hits the local newspaper' punishment might be fitting), naming the indifferent supervisors that apparently have no problem looking the other way might be effective.

    If the one's who are supposed to be managing their employees, and making sure they aren't wasting time and taxpayer money don't care to do their jobs, name and shame, and see if that gets them to shape up.

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 14th, 2014 @ 1:42am

    Re:

    If the one's who are supposed to be managing their employees,

    You are assuming that they are not the ones with sticky fingers.

     

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  4.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Aug 14th, 2014 @ 1:47am

    Re: Re:

    I was giving them the benefit of the doubt, yes, and assuming it was just laziness on their part that they weren't cracking down on sticky-fingered employees, rather than self interest.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 14th, 2014 @ 2:38am

    Now come on and be fair.

    This is government training exercises. How else are government employees going to learn to f**k the public without proper training?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
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    Richard (profile), Aug 14th, 2014 @ 2:54am

    Not once

    Now, I don't know about you, but I've had boring jobs before, where not every minute of the day was spent working. And I've had access to the internet at the same time. And not once did I think the lack of work meant I should use work computers to access porn...... It's completely disingenuous to blame your job for your porn habit, especially when your employment is funded by money taken from people directly out of their paychecks without their explicit consent.

    But - I'm prepared to bet that you have done some non-work activity and from the "tax dollars" point of view the exact nature of the non-work activity is surely irrelevant.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 14th, 2014 @ 2:59am

    Incompetence. Get used to it, it's everywhere. Especially there.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
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    Violynne (profile), Aug 14th, 2014 @ 3:16am

    On the brighter side: at least they're not using the computers to invade our rights.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    zip, Aug 14th, 2014 @ 3:23am

    rationale for hiring more female employees

    This could be a valid rationale for hiring more female employees. As with the various professions that are essentially (if not explicitly) off-limits to men, maybe we should add to that list all jobs that involves a private office with an internet-connected computer.

     

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  10.  
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    Call me Al, Aug 14th, 2014 @ 3:36am

    Re: Not once

    It is hardly irrelvant. NSFW websites are more likely to have malware so using them is different to spending your work hours browsing the news.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
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    Ninja (profile), Aug 14th, 2014 @ 3:51am

    Aha, you make it sound like it's only Govt employees but the private sector is full of it. Last company I worked to we had a "mailing list" that the ones in it would distribute all sorts of non-work things including porn. And it was private sector. I wasn't directly in the list in it but I'd see the gold because my work colleagues would show me.

    The fact that you haven't thought of using your work pc to check some porn at boredom times doesn't mean it doesn't happen everywhere. Some people take cautionary steps and check if the company has filters or conceal the activity. Others don't.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 14th, 2014 @ 4:58am

    Maybe we should just fire tham at the Thuggees in the police instead. That would kill two birds with one stone.

     

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  13.  
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    Richard (profile), Aug 14th, 2014 @ 5:00am

    Re: Re: Not once

    NSFW websites are more likely to have malware


    Certainly just about any website could have malware - including news sites. (and not just websites - played any Sony CD's on your work computer?)

    Any NSFW site that has a business model that isn't actually based on distributing malware has just a much (if not more) incentive to keep itself free of malware as any other entertainment site.

    So absent of actual evidence I'll not accept your point.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    NoahVail (profile), Aug 14th, 2014 @ 5:17am

    Re:

    Icky, yet poetic.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    Call me Al, Aug 14th, 2014 @ 5:23am

    Re: Re: Re: Not once

    http://techfruit.com/2013/04/11/why-porn-sites-are-a-malware-risk/

    I think this may explain my point a bit better.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    NoahVail (profile), Aug 14th, 2014 @ 5:47am

    Tim obviously has a porn problem

    "not once did I think the lack of work meant I should use work computers to access porn. Not once"

    Excuse me Tim?
    What kind of a sanctimonious, self-righteous narcissist are you to imply that porn isn't wholesome anytime, anywhere?

    Your post FAILS to defend porn. Only a a right-wing, closeted, gay, homophobe (that wants to legislate everyone's morality from the Bohemian Grove bunker built by their 700 Club boyfriends) doesn't fully embrace porn.

    Oh and thanks for 8 years of Bush, hater.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 14th, 2014 @ 5:48am

    face book

    If we nationlize face book, they can manage that, so they will have something to do.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    Richard (profile), Aug 14th, 2014 @ 5:51am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Not once

    HM yes - but bear in mind that "work" computers generally have their security software up to the mark - whereas it is "home" computers that don't (having said that it is also true that "work" networks typically have websense or simliar installed so you can't access nsfw sites even if you wanted to (true of my workplace for example). Such s/w typically blocks the malware quite effectively also. I have had one infection on a home machine (from an open source download site) that was effectively blocked at work,

    So the real question is not how come these government employees waste their time on NSFW sites - but rather how come they are actually able to?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Aug 14th, 2014 @ 6:23am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Not once

    Government or business computers, while generally more secure than the average home computer, are also far more valuable a target for malware. And up to date software still isn't protected from zero day or other unpatched exploits.

    Those computers are much more likely to have information or access that is valuable. They are much more likely to be a stepping off point to get access to other valuable systems. They are more likely to have more bandwidth available for DDoS or spambot work.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Aug 14th, 2014 @ 6:29am

    Waitaminute

    They tripped porn filters. They could have been looking up health care information for all we know.

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    Michael, Aug 14th, 2014 @ 6:38am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Not once

    There is no security vulnerability that can come close to the effectiveness of someone stupid clicking on a button they shouldn't.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Michael, Aug 14th, 2014 @ 6:38am

    Re: rationale for hiring more female employees

    All that would do is increase the amount of porn watched by women.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Michael, Aug 14th, 2014 @ 6:42am

    Re: Waitaminute

    Good point.

    One thing we know for certain is that porn filters are far more effective at stopping non-porn content than stopping porn.

    However, once you interview the guy and he says he perused it “out of boredom”, I think it is safe to say he was surfing porn.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
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    LduN (profile), Aug 14th, 2014 @ 6:42am

    At what point does screwing over the public cease to be enough excitement?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
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    Jon Jones (profile), Aug 14th, 2014 @ 6:47am

    "they found the employee "actively viewing pornography."

    How exactly do you inactively view pornography? "Yeah, sorry boss. I was looking for a news piece but instead of putting `BBC` I accidentally put`findyourpornhere`Easy mistake, my typing sucks"

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 14th, 2014 @ 6:51am

    Re: Re: Not once

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
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    Richard (profile), Aug 14th, 2014 @ 7:27am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Not once

    There is no security vulnerability that can come close to the effectiveness of someone stupid clicking on a button they shouldn't.

    Agreed - and that is rather the point - because where I work - with websense blocking access to NSFW sites - we were taken down by someone who really should have known better clicking on a link in a spam email!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
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    Richard (profile), Aug 14th, 2014 @ 7:33am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Not once

    I think this may explain my point a bit better

    It does - but it is contradicted by this quote from the page linked by the AC below:

    "Symantec's Internet Security Threat Report revealed that religious websites have triple the number of virus-related threats than pornographic sites.

    "It is interesting to note that websites hosting adult/pornographic content are not in the top five, but ranked tenth," said Symantec in its Internet Security Threat Report. "We hypothesize that this is because pornographic website owners already make money from the Internet and, as a result, have a vested interest in keeping their sites malware-free; it's not good for repeat business."

    I think that report was in my memory when I wrote the original comment.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Aug 14th, 2014 @ 7:39am

    Re: Re: rationale for hiring more female employees

    No no, women prefer their porn in text form, not visual.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 14th, 2014 @ 7:55am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Not once

    "bear in mind that "work" computers generally have their security software up to the mark - whereas it is "home" computers that don't"

    This isn't really a relevant point. There is no security software that is so good that you can feel at ease going to dangerous sites.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 14th, 2014 @ 7:56am

    Re:

    How exactly do you inactively view pornography?


    Um... a really inappropriate screen saver?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 14th, 2014 @ 7:57am

    Re: rationale for hiring more female employees

    That seems like a nonsequitor to me.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
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    Jon Jones (profile), Aug 14th, 2014 @ 8:14am

    If it was your screen-saver, inappropriate or not then you put it there. Hence, viewing said screen-saver/theoretical porn would be actively viewing it. You put it there.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 14th, 2014 @ 9:12am

    Re: Re: rationale for hiring more female employees

    Rather it might increase the number of harrassment claims. "He typed the URL in and forced me to watch it, he did, he did, I would NEVER look at that it's just too disgusting, oh ummm, oh look.., yeah but he made me do it and I was forced to look at his screen as I walked past, I was I was." Ladies do NOT view that stuff, neither do they sweat but merely perspire fragrantly. Of course.

     

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  35.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 14th, 2014 @ 9:15am

    Re:

    "How exactly do you inactively view pornography? "

    By keeping both hands on the keyboard or mouse of course. And sitting still. No moaning either.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    identicon
    PRMan, Aug 14th, 2014 @ 9:22am

    Re: Re: Re: Not once

    As a religious person, it's a good thing I use NoScript I guess... I had no idea.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
    identicon
    PRMan, Aug 14th, 2014 @ 9:27am

    Re:

    I used to be the filter police at one company where I worked. The HR policy was to notify the biggest offender each day (in size in MB). There was one guy that literally surfed it all day. He hit 3 strikes about a month after we started policing and they fired him (not that he did anything anyway).

    This kept up until a VP was the biggest offender and then it suddenly stopped.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 14th, 2014 @ 9:38am

    Re:

    instead of just finding the porn on his computer, browsing history, etc... they found him watching porn when the inspector came by.

    I don't see why that person got away with watching porn. Where I work if you are caught with porn or visiting porn sites you are fired immediately or at the least your computer is taken away and you are reassigned to other work.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 14th, 2014 @ 9:46am

    Re: Re:

    "Where I work if you are caught with porn or visiting porn sites you are fired immediately"

    My workplace isn't quite that draconian. If you violate their use policy, you'll get reprimanded. If you do it again, you'll get fired. And it's not just porn -- we're allowed to use the internet for non-work-related reasons, but that use cannot contribute to sexual harassment, a hostile work environment, etc. In other words, it's not about porn, it's about liability. I can't do anything that could get my employer in trouble.

    I'm a little (but only a little) surprised that government agencies don't have the same concerns.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 14th, 2014 @ 9:46am

    Re: Re:

    "I don't see why that person got away with watching porn."

    Perhaps the first thing you do when working for government is get the dirt on your bosses as part of ensuring job and pension security since the implication is that productively working is seldom required. I wouldn't know.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
    identicon
    Bob, Aug 14th, 2014 @ 10:04am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Government agencies do have that concern, both as an official policy and in practice. For example I just spent 3 hours about a month ago on sexual assualt prevention training and people get briefed regularly enough about keeping the work place safe and respectful.

    In general there is no problem with stuff like this. The issue is that a small percentage just like every business has people that disregard policy and sometimes the disregard is found moving up the chain of command. In the case of the federal government that small percentage results in a lot of people.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
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    JP Jones (profile), Aug 14th, 2014 @ 11:23am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Like Bob said, the government has the same concerns. In the military if you're caught looking at porn (or even for porn) on your government computer you are looking at disciplinary action. Depending on the rank of the individual the consequences will be more severe (so a E-3 may get a written counseling in their record but an E-8 would probably receive an NJP at least, effectively ending their career).

    To me the real issue isn't that they're looking at porn at work (although, come on, really?), it's that they don't have anything to do otherwise. That screams poor management and/or overhiring. My guess is both.

    I personally feel, as a government employee, I have an obligation to work hard on the taxpayer's dime. Does that mean I work 100% of the time I'm at the office? No...I occasionally write posts on Techdirt =). But for the most part when I'm at work I'm doing something productive.

    The fact that these guys can go to work all day with nothing to do is terrible, and means that we either need to cut down the number of employees at these places or find a better way to employ them.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
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    John85851 (profile), Aug 14th, 2014 @ 3:07pm

    How can they view porn at work?

    My question is: how in the world are these people even viewing porn at work? Where in the world are the network-level filters? At my work computer, I can't even view YouTube or Facebook.
    I would take this to mean the network admins aren't doing their job. It's their job to make sure non work sites are blocked, especially ones with malware. After all, you shouldn't blame a kid for eating a cookie if the parent leaves an open package on the table.

    And the issue of whether reputable porn sites do or do not have malware is irrelevant since people (especially government workers) shouldn't be looking at it at work in the first place.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 14th, 2014 @ 4:20pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Not once

    Websense etc. probably makes things worse from a security POV - more legitimate porn sites tend to cooperate with filtering companies, and even more borderline operations (chan sites etc.) don't actively hide, so the easiest porn to get at is the really dodgy stuff, archives posted on spammed forums and so on, which is not only likely to contain malware but also often contains models whose age is somewhat questionable.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45.  
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    Ninja (profile), Aug 15th, 2014 @ 2:51am

    Re: Re:

    This kept up until a VP was the biggest offender and then it suddenly stopped.

    Typical. The President of the company was part of this "porn chain".

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46.  
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    techflaws (profile), Aug 15th, 2014 @ 8:00am

    There's no lost and found box

    Reminds of this scene from "Scrubs":

    person 1: I fell on it
    person 2: I fell on it
    person 3: I got bored.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 15th, 2014 @ 8:24am

    Re: How can they view porn at work?

    "Where in the world are the network-level filters?"

    Lots of places don't use such filters. Personally, I've never actually worked anywhere that uses them.

    "It's their job to make sure non work sites are blocked, especially ones with malware."

    It's only their job if the company says it's their job. There are TONS of problems with these filters that can cause real problems getting work done, which is why lots of places don't use them.

    The malware situation is better handled outside of blocking web sites anyway (even 100% legitimate websites are sometimes the source of malware). Every place I've works does scan the internet traffic for malware and blocks it when its spotted. This is done without site-level blocking, as it should be.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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