Online monitoring to continue

A committee of judges has recommended that Internet usage be monitored among employees of the federal courts.

The Judicial Conference of the United States' 14-judge Committee on Automation and Technology recommended last week that the courts take "appropriate steps" to block traffic from sites such as Napster, Gnutella and Quake. The action involves computers connected to the court's nationwide network.

The committee recommended using, on an interim basis, the CIO Council's model for Internet usage as a minimum standard. The council's policy allows limited personal use of government equipment and forbids large file downloads and other network disruptions.

The committee's report comes in the wake of an internal debate over what constitutes appropriate and legal monitoring of employees' Internet use. On May 24, the Ninth Circuit Judicial Council directed its staff to disable intrusion-detection software amid complaints that it was inappropriately monitoring em.ployees' visits to sites about music and other topics.

Nancy Flynn, executive director of the ePolicy Institute, said employers should write e-mail and Internet usage policies and ensure that employees understand them. Employers then are "less likely to battle an invasion-of-privacy claim and less likely to face a claim of wrongful termination."

The Judicial Conference, the policy-making body of the courts, will vote Sept. 11 on whether to accept the recommendations.

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