Download clampdown

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

violations.

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

system.

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,"

Surprise said.

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

camper."

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,"

he said.

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