- By Bryant Jordan
- Sep 04, 2000
Stop the music. That's the order from Justice and State department officials
to employees who have been downloading music files from the Internet — which
not only slows down computer networks but also possibly results in copyright
According to Robert Surprise, deputy chief information officer for operations
at the State Department, a review of agency files in April found that large
multimedia files, including music, were being downloaded on work computers.
"The largest of these was 750M and did cause some congestion on the
network," he said. Once management was advised of the influx of multimedia
files, officials reiterated the personal use policy to employees, Surprise
said. That policy prohibits workers from sending nonbusiness multimedia
files through the e-mail system because they congest and disrupt the local
State's policy also specifically bans MP3 files. Officials had a legal
concern because of ongoing lawsuits filed by artists and music companies
against Napster Inc. and other Web sites that offer free music files on
the Internet. "Being aware of the Napster controversy and the copyright
issues being discussed by the industry at large, the department used this
opportunity to remind its employees that a personal liability could exist,"
According to the personal use policy drafted in May 1999 by the CIO
Council, workers may use their computers and the Internet during nonwork
time as long as it does not interfere with the job and involves only minimal
expense to the government.
The policy specifically prohibits personal use that causes congestion,
delay or disruption to any system or equipment. Examples of disruptive files
include Internet greeting cards and video, sound and other large file attachments.
At the Justice Department, officials are taking a closer look at file
downloads by tracking what types of files are being downloaded at agency
workstations, according to W. Quinn Associates Inc., the Reston, Va., company
that sold the agency the tracker software it is using.
That software, StorageCeNTral 4.1, enables administrators to block specific
workstations from downloading multimedia files, said Steve Toole, marketing
director for W. Quinn Associates.
Toole estimated that 99 percent of computer users perform jobs that
do not require downloading or running multimedia files, yet those capabilities
come with the system.
"That's a policy-driven thing. Your administrators or people paid to
install executable files onto servers need that [capability]," he said.
"It's sloppy if any administrator allows all users to have that privilege.
It would be akin to allowing users to control your firewalls — that's what
an administrator gets paid to do."
But putting a block on the download capabilities of government computer
users could be counterproductive, other officials say. Rich Kellett, emerging
technology division director at the General Services Administration, said
better security is the answer, not stripping workers of a helpful tool.
"I think the issue isn't if people are allowed to run certain files
or not," he said. "Where we eventually need to get to is checking every
file for security. We don't want to eliminate functionality but give a wake-up
call to have more security programs."
For example, if a certain class of files poses a threat, an agency could
institute a policy that such files be opened in "a stand-alone mode" to
prevent an infected file from disrupting the system, Kellett suggested.
"You have to have a way for some people to have some [multimedia] files,"
he said. "If you're the head of an organization or department and you want
to do something...and find you can't do it, you're not going to be a happy
At the Transportation Department, chief information officer George Molaski
said he is "much more of the opinion of treating our employees here as adults.
They know what they should be doing and shouldn't be doing. I don't have
to play crossing guard.
"I think government has got to get out of the mode of spending time
and energy on things like this and spend it to better serve customers,"