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Alabama IT Whistleblower Fired For Spyware 751

Posted by timothy
from the insult-injury-and-all-that-jazz dept.
chalker writes "Vernon Blake, an IT sysadmin for the Alabama Department Of Transportation, wanted to get evidence that his boss spent the majority of his time playing solitaire on his computer. Since emails to higher up supervisors were ignored, he installed Win-Spy, which grabbed screenshots several times per day over a period of 7 months. 70% of the resulting screenshots showed an active game of solitaire, and another 20% showed his boss checking the stock market. When he reported this to superiors, he was fired, even though he had 21 years of service in the position. His boss got a reprimand to 'stop playing games'. He is appealing his termination in court since he claims it was part of his job description to 'confirm and document' computer misuse for ALDOT. His complete story is here."
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Alabama IT Whistleblower Fired For Spyware

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  • Everyone knows (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 31, 2004 @09:05PM (#9855574)
    Employers spy on employees, not the other way around!
    • by theguywhosaid (751709) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @09:19PM (#9855637) Homepage
      Employers spy on employees, not the other way around!

      I read that as:

      Employers spy on employees, why not the other way around?
      And I thought AC deserved a medal.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 31, 2004 @09:53PM (#9855786)
      What's this URL for?
      http://www.dot.state.al.us/Bureau/Right_of_W ay/Con tacts/employeelist.htm

      Oh look, I do believe it has George Dobb's phone number on it. :-) That's 334-242-6188

      Slashdot away!

      Suggested voicemail message: "We are watching you. Stop playing games on your computer and get back to work."
      • Re:Everyone knows (Score:5, Informative)

        by kzinti (9651) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @11:10PM (#9856102) Homepage Journal
        It's also got some good e-mail addresses:

        dobbsg@dot.state.al.us - George Dobbs, the Solitaire King

        bowlinp@dot.state.al.us - Paul Bowlin, the head of the ROW Bureau, who thinks George's work ethic is above reproach.

        aldotinfo@dot.state.al.us - E-mail address for ALDOT, apparently the only published address through which ALDOT director Joe McInnes (who signed the termination letter) can be reached.

        governorbobriley@governor.state.al.us - "In Birmingham, they love the gov'nor - Hoo Hoo..."

        Drop these folks a line, let 'em know what you think. "Now we all did what we could do..."
    • Re:Everyone knows (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:06PM (#9855847)
      I would imagine there's a bit more history here between the two individuals than what's being presented in the story.

      The sysadmin's decision to "spy" on his boss was a poor one, regardless of the scenario. Whatever the bosses story you have to ask yourself "Exactly what was the sysadmin attempting to accomplish?" If his boss was such a poor performer, his failures would have made themselves evident over time.

      No one here knows whether or not he deserved to lose his job.

      Contrary to popular slashdot opinion, I would be amazed if this guy won his lawsuit. It would just be too dangerous a precedent to set.
      • by Abalamahalamatandra (639919) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:35PM (#9855968)
        "If his boss was such a poor performer, his failures would have made themselves evident over time."

        You've never worked in government, have you?
        • Re:Everyone knows (Score:5, Interesting)

          by AuMatar (183847) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @11:04PM (#9856074)
          Or the business world. Most of the people in managerial positions don't know what thtey're doing, they got their by luck and kissing the right ass.
          • strongly disagree (Score:4, Insightful)

            by phats garage (760661) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @10:22AM (#9857816) Homepage Journal
            Or the business world. Most of the people in managerial positions don't know what thtey're doing, they got their by luck and kissing the right ass.

            Your comment implies they know exactly what they're doing.

            I've held a few peon IT positions, I've had different attitudes during them. My starting job, I was opinionated and high profile, and just got myself in a world of crap. I soon learned that the less you're heard from, the less unneeded attention comes your way. Now theres a danger that your job can get too cushy and you can goof off too much and get in trouble, but a steady application of self motivation can help you steer clear of trouble.

            Instead of arguing about upper level decisions, "advise and persuade", and if ever a decision of yours proves it would have been better instead of the way management actually went, do not rub it in!. If a decision recommended by you is subsequently championed by someone else without acknowledgement of its origion, congratulate them on their creativity. I once walked in on my boss snoozing on his desk, I told him he should take it easier, he was wearing himself out. (Good boss tho, plus a new father so 3 am feedings were taking a toll.)

            Its a wonderful thing, these periodic paychecks, and even better if you get to hack in an airconditioned environment to get them. Pragmatism goes a long way.

            • by jpostel (114922) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @01:27PM (#9858634) Homepage Journal
              Instead of arguing about upper level decisions, "advise and persuade", and if ever a decision of yours proves it would have been better instead of the way management actually went, do not rub it in!. If a decision recommended by you is subsequently championed by someone else without acknowledgement of its origion, congratulate them on their creativity.


              And in the end, all you have is your integrity.

              I have mine, and I was a consultant (which is saying something). Heheh. I never AFIAK told a client something they wanted to hear in order to get a job. I never failed to mention an existing or potential problem. I told them, "You can disagree with what I recommend, but you DO pay me for my knowledge, expertise, and experience."

              Anything less than that is negligence, which may not be what you are suggesting, but pragmatism is akin to being practical. So is letting your boss get away with making bad decisions practical? What if that decision causes a few people to lose "these periodic paychecks"?

              My boss is human. I argue with him every day. It's part of the job. They watch you so you don't make mistakes, and you watch then to do the same. As long as you act as a team, then things work well. As soon as people start worrying about looking good, then things get messy. I constantly argue with my boss about that point exactly. I tell him that I am interested in making the company run well from an IT standpoint, and that the company makes money to pay me. If everyone worries about looking good, then they make decisions that they think will be popular rather than decisions that are right for the business.
      • Re:Everyone knows (Score:5, Insightful)

        by jayp00001 (267507) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @01:20AM (#9856519)
        "If his boss was such a poor performer, his failures would have made themselves evident over time."

        Ahh the optimism of inexperience. Soon to be crushed by the dismal intrusion of reality.
      • Re:Everyone knows (Score:5, Insightful)

        by cmallinson (538852) * <c.mallinson@ca> on Sunday August 01, 2004 @02:40AM (#9856703) Homepage
        No one here knows whether or not he deserved to lose his job.

        Exactly. It seems that the sysadmin has made the assumption that a person needs to be actively using a computer to be "working". BS. Maybe this guy plays a game of solitaire in the morning while listening to his voicemail, and then goes to a meeting for an hour, pours over some documents, or brainstorms on paper. This could easily look like two hours of playing solitaire when looking at the screenshots.

        There is probably a lot of time when Slashdot is up on my screen at work, and I'm across the room working on a whiteboard.

  • That's 90% (Score:5, Funny)

    by Platinum Dragon (34829) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @09:06PM (#9855576) Journal
    Should we ask what the other 10% consisted of?
    • Re:That's 90% (Score:5, Informative)

      by fuctape (618618) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @09:27PM (#9855679)
      According to the article:

      10. An analysis of the screenshots yielded the following results:

      • 293 (approx. 71%) of the screenshots documented active, on-going games of solitaire.
      • 87 (approx. 21%) of the screenshots documented web site visits, email subscriptions, and other miscellaneous non-job related activities consisting mostly of personal financial and stock market research.
      • 29 (approx. 7%) of the screenshots indicated some job related activities, mostly consisting of an "I concur" in an email response. However, solitaire was minimized (hidden) for quick retrieval on most of these screens.
      • 1 % or less of the screenshots were inconclusive as far as the type of activity.
      • No screenshots (0%) documented any job-related activities such as word processing, spreadsheets, databases, job related websites, electronic document management, right-of-way plans standards, etc.
      Additionally,

      5. A screen capture utility was used to automate this process. The utility behaves like a camera by capturing photographs of the computer screen. The utility did not target any specific activity or application usage by the user.

      6. Screenshots were automatically recorded at times randomly selected by the screen capture utility. The installer of said utility had no control over the randomly selected times.

      7. Periods of computer inactivity on the part of the user de-activated the utility until such time that user input was detected. This feature prevented generation of redundant screenshots at night, weekends, holidays, days off, etc.

      8. Also, A minimum time interval of approximately 30 minutes transpired between screenshots to prevent a large volume of redundant images. The purpose of the utility was to take a representative sample of computer activity. The pattern of computer usage on the part of the user ultimately governed the interval between screenshots. When no activity was detected, screenshots were halted.

      I really hope this guy gets vindicated in the end. He did his job, documented his case very well, and got screwed.

      • by twitter (104583) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:54PM (#9856030) Homepage Journal
        He did his job, documented his case very well, and got screwed.

        Did he? How do you know he did not take 2,000 screenshots and cull them? Always beware when an interested party hands you "random" samples. It would have been better if he tied the screenshots to time logs of applications. If his boss really played solitare all day, a log of applications would show it and the percentage time it was active. Even still, it would be difficult for him to prove as he could manipulate the logs manually.

        What's called for is institutionalized watchdoging. There should have been someone who this man could have asked for help in doing his job. An IT person under another boss would be good. This institutional failure should as a basis for a transfer, not a firing.

        I can imagine the state trying to slip out of the bind by saying that the boss was not abusing his computer or network time. It can always be argued that playing the boss was accomplishing his job description and what he did with his spare time was his business. Managerial positions can be that way.

        A conscientious manager will roll up their sleeves and help get work done when they run out of planning, reports and all that boring crap. It helps to keep your feet on the ground.

        A slob will sit around and turn into a moron. A slob that's drooling 90% of the time soon finds few topics for reports and might get axed. A dangerous slob is one that got themselves promoted to hide incompetence. They have a tendency to screw up and blame their underlings. I've had one of those and I think this one did too. Typically, those they leave in charge for an extended leave will say things like, "I did my job and his job with ease. My job usually takes all of my time. I wonder what the boss does all day."

      • Re:That's 90% (Score:3, Insightful)

        by hendridm (302246) *

        I really hope this guy gets vindicated in the end. He did his job, documented his case very well, and got screwed.

        Funny, where I work, my boss tells me what my job is. Sometimes it's obvious, and sometimes I have to use judgement. No matter how I tried to justify it, I don't think installing a keylogger on his computer could ever by construed as his wishes.

        I think exposing his boss for being useless was a good thing (and arguably his duty), but the end doesn't justify the means, IMO.

  • by airbie (767806) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @09:07PM (#9855584) Homepage Journal
    delete solitary from his boss's computer?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:01PM (#9855819)
      C:\> more test.c
      #include <stdio.h>

      void main( )
      {
      for( int x = 0; x < 1000; x++ ) {
      print( "GET TO WORK, YOU LAZY FUCK!" );
      }
      getch();
      }
      C:\> bcc test.c sol.exe
      Borland C Compiler v5
      Compiling... DONE!
      C:\> delete C:\Windows\System32\sol.exe
      C:\> copy C:\sol.exe C:\Windows\System32

      - Seth

    • by l810c (551591) * on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:06PM (#9855851)
      delete solitary from his boss's computer?

      How about creating a custom solitaire that Loses Every Time. The boss would become frustrated. Seething in anger he would blurt it out at status meetings, thus outing himself.

  • by mtrupe (156137) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @09:08PM (#9855588) Homepage Journal
    For spending 70% of his time worrying about what his boss was doing. Give me break! We've all worked with people like this before- they're sooo worried about what everone else is doing. These are the same people who used to remind the teacher about the homework assignment.

    I'm not saying its right to spend all day playing solitare, but it sounds like this weasel went to extremes to "tell on" someone.
    • by Platinum Dragon (34829) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @09:09PM (#9855594) Journal
      For spending 70% of his time worrying about what his boss was doing.

      Errrr... isn't that why he installed the spyware in the first place? So he wouldn't have to spend 70% of his time worrying about what his boss was doing?
  • Wait (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 31, 2004 @09:08PM (#9855591)
    They have computers in Alabama? When did this happen?
  • Use? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Daleks (226923) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @09:09PM (#9855592)
    Was the bosses machine his primary source of doing work? If you're the boss you're in meetings all day and out telling people what to do, not sitting in your office typing away. Also, I've left a game of freecell going during a 2 hour meeting before or during lunch. That doesn't mean I'm derilict in my duties.
    • Re:Use? (Score:3, Informative)

      by bizpile (758055) *
      The article said the program took in to account idle times and took no screenshots during periods of inactivity.
  • 'whistleblower'? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by autopr0n (534291) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @09:09PM (#9855593) Homepage Journal
    Please. This guy installed Spyware on his bosses computer, and his wife's. for seven months, probably looking for porn surfing but all he got was solitaire.

    This guy was just an asshole, the kind of person who thinks because he's a sys-admin who has admin access on the computers that he ought to be the computer morality person as well. Or in this case, the productivity nazi.

    The supervisor in this story has gotten good reports, maybe playing solitaire is the way he 'thinks'. Who knows?

    The person who setup these screen grabs (seven months of them) deserved exactly what he got.
    • by danharan (714822) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @09:33PM (#9855703) Journal
      hold on a sec.

      It was so well known this guy's boss was playing solitaire all the time that people were circulating cartoons about it.

      He went to upper management before installing the spyware, and kept bugging them about it.

      That to me is not indicative of someone that is simply installing spyware to try and catch his boss surfing porn: it's a sysadmin who's using whatever tools he has to back up a claim no one seems to be taking seriously.
      • by Otter (3800) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:00PM (#9855817) Journal
        That to me is not indicative of someone that is simply installing spyware to try and catch his boss surfing porn: it's a sysadmin who's using whatever tools he has to back up a claim no one seems to be taking seriously.

        Be that as it may, it's not his job or his place to be conducting surveillance on a superior he thinks isn't working hard enough. I've got zero sympathy for him.

        • by kcbrown (7426)

          Be that as it may, it's not his job or his place to be conducting surveillance on a superior he thinks isn't working hard enough. I've got zero sympathy for him.

          Yep. Because, after all, if your job description says you are supposed to look for computer misuse (and that term happens to include use of the computer for non-business purposes), monitor computer systems to document such misuses, etc., what they really mean is that you're supposed to be doing that to other peons like yourself, not your supe

      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:19PM (#9855905)
        That to me is not indicative of someone that is simply installing spyware to try and catch his boss surfing porn: it's a sysadmin who's using whatever tools he has to back up a claim no one seems to be taking seriously.

        To me, it's a sysadmin who's an idiot. The 'higher ups' were informed and chose to ignore it. He should have done the same thing.

        And who exactly made the cartoons (one of which is not a cartoon at all, but rather an inadequately pixelated photo). If it was him, he's an idiot. If it was someone else (who would have gotten the information from him), he's still an idiot.

        He may have been a sysadmin, but he won't be in the future. No potential boss would hire him knowing that they may be spied upon and end up seeing their names in the local paper in an unfavorable light. He abused his position and is now seeing the consequences.

  • Solitaire (Score:5, Funny)

    by jdc180 (125863) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @09:10PM (#9855598)
    Surprising thing was none of the screenshots were of solitaire crashing
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 31, 2004 @09:12PM (#9855607)
    Granted, most people here hate boss-types, but its only fair to ask for the boss's side of the story. For example: perhaps his job consists of minimal computer usage. When I was in college, part of my financial aid package involved doing work for the school - I got put to work answering phones and calling alumns to shake them up for money. I had a computer, and there was a solitaire game or something similar on it all the time - it was mindless enough I could do it while talking to somebody, and it kept me sane between calls. The boss could be in a similar situation if he spends most of his time on the phone or otherwise _talking_ to employees. He just wouldn't be constantly playing the game. Most people here equate working with time spent active on the computer doesn't mean that it always is.

    I'm not saying this is the case, but its worth considering that the boss could have a radically different story, and the article did present a very one sided view.
    • by earthdark (582375) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:50PM (#9856014)
      Here's an actual news article on story [decaturdaily.com] rather a link to the guy's own website.

      Choice quote:
      Blake also testified Monday that he installed the program on two other computers in the department, that of the state Right of Way Engineer Paul Bowlin, who heads the division, and Right of Way Secretary Jana Trafford Blake. Jana Blake is married to Vernon Blake.

      Spying on your boss for seven (!) months is one thing but on your own wife? Seems to me he was more of a control freak.
  • Rule #1 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jxs2151 (554138) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @09:13PM (#9855609) Homepage
    Do not make your boss look bad and expect to retain your job.
  • Spyware. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Daleks (226923) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @09:17PM (#9855627)
    I wonder how the guy was caught. Oh, and there's a picture of a spy [knology.net] in the lower right hand corner.
  • by ErichTheWebGuy (745925) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @09:18PM (#9855631) Homepage
    ... for using Windows. Bet if he was using Linux and playing games (games on Linux are better anyway) he would have been fine. I'm pretty sure the only reason why I haven't been fired yet is because I use Linux. ctrl+tab moves me to my other desktop, which conviently is running vi with the latest version of our app, and I am sure that I have no spyware installed.

    Arthur - If you're reading this -- just kidding! Otherwise, I am completely serious.
  • by JoeLinux (20366) <joelinux&gmail,com> on Saturday July 31, 2004 @09:18PM (#9855634) Homepage
    Not-so-mean-BOFH vs. PHB. Let's get ready to rumble!!!
  • by k98sven (324383) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @09:22PM (#9855652) Journal
    If you ask me, the more interesting question is: To what extent should an employer have a right to decide what their employees do on company time.

    Should it matter if you're spending half your time playing Solitare if you still manage to do the job you're supposed to do?

    This boss's managers don't seem to want to get rid of him. One conclusion you could draw from that is that perhaps the boss actually is getting what he's supposed to be doing done. (Maybe most of his work isn't even done on the computer?)
    In that case, who cares if he's playing solitare? Perhaps he's thinking things through and making decisions while doing it?

    Personally, I've got a job where nobody tells me what to do with my time, as long as I get the job done.
    And that's the way it should be, if you ask me.
    By my definition, a job is performing a task for money.
    • Oh come on, are you serious or this a joke?
      If you ask me, the more interesting question is: To what extent should an employer have a right to decide what their employees do on company time.

      When you're on the company's time you should be working. That's why its called 'work.' If the guy was getting his job done and still playing solitare 70% of the time either A) the guy needs more tasks or B) someone else probably has the capicity get the tasks done. The point of the article is that there is incredible
  • Playing Solitaire (Score:4, Insightful)

    by eltoyoboyo (750015) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @09:27PM (#9855681) Journal
    is to the office staff what leaning on one's shovel is to the DOT road crews. It is a privilege of the senior employees. Yes, you could be fired for not working all day. Obviously, it is not going to happen to this supervisor any time soon. The fact is that this guy is not good guy whistle blower. He is just an idiot with an unproductive boss.

    Installing unauthorized software on a state government computer WILL get you fired. Raise the bar, and install spyware on a state government computer and you could be facing criminal charges. It does not matter that the software install was for alleged "white hat" purposes.

  • by FluffyWhiteBunny (771314) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @09:33PM (#9855700)
    I had this same sort of problem at work. But instead of trying to prove that the employee was spending innordinate amounts of time playing solitare we would just go in and change all the windows shortcuts to point random places. My favorite was to have it open mspaint with a screenshot of a new game of solitaire.
  • by Dave21212 (256924) <dav@spamcop.net> on Saturday July 31, 2004 @09:33PM (#9855701) Homepage Journal

    He has a toolbarcounter on his whine page [aldotwaste.com]
    This should be fun to watch... [toolbarcounter.com]

    Counter Hits Summary
    Total Months Counter Hits / 12200
    Average Number Of Counter Hits Per Day / 394

    Oh, and I imagine this will look different in a few hours as well ;)

    Top 5 Browsers by Visits
    (Browsers / Visits)
    Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.x / 6498
    FireFox / 1447
    Unknown / 922
    Safari / 598
    Netscape 7 / 437


  • rules to live by (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 31, 2004 @09:38PM (#9855722)
    Yeah, never underestimate the buddy system in management.

    During bad times I took a soul killing job at a charity. Like many charities, this one was run to keep buddies employed. I was doing the number two position in our branch office, moving our inefficient paper around. Number one sat in her glass-walled office and read romance novels all day, being a buddy of the big chief at head office.

    Desperate for brain stimulation, I figured out how we could exchange our photocopier lease for a computer system lease (our charter did not allow us to own equipment), and how to set it all up to handle our paperwork. I figured a month to install, another to make absolutely sure it worked perfectly, and then they could fire me as redundant. Excellent efficiency. Wrote it up and delivered to my manager. Got turned down. I bugged for why. It was eventually admitted that it would also eliminate the number two at head office, who was of course another buddy of the big chief.

    But I got out soon enough. There was an inspection coming up and I was informed I'd have to be demoted because romance-reader needed to cover up that I'd been doing all the work; branches weren't supposed to have a number two.

    You might think of that next time you're phoned to donate clothing to be resold by a charity. Give it directly to the poor instead and write a cheque to a real cause.
  • by noidentity (188756) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @09:44PM (#9855750)
    ...but the screen capture utility didn't capture that for some reason.
  • by bluGill (862) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @09:49PM (#9855773)

    Anyone who lives in Alabama ought to be writting a letter to their state representatives asking what is up there. Reports that someone is missusing their computer shouldn't have been ignored in the first place. The state of Alabama needs to completely change that department. Start with replacing the cabinet person responsible for transportation. (I'm guessing this is a cabinet level position, but I don't know how that state government works)

    Then do a massive layoff, since most of the upper management obviously needs to go.

    We can argue the ethics of what this guy did, but I'm having problems finding anyone ethical in this story. Not the supervistor who ignored the report (if it wasn't ignored either the behavior would have stopped, or the boss would have been fired before this guy finished 6 months of screen grabbing). Not the boss playing solitare instead of the job he should do. Even if he can do his job in 1 hour a week, it is unethical to not find other work that needs to be done for the other 49. This guy is perhaps most ethical, as a admin his job is to watch the state's computers. (but perhaps because I don't know that state) This isn't a private machine he was spying on.

    If the supervisors were doing their job, this would have never got this far, because they would have repramanded the boss right away. Then either the boss would have changed so nothing would need to be done, or he wouldn't and they would know to fire him. Most people I know have done something stupid like this at work (including a number of you reading this at work), but when it becomes a problem the boss is supposed to notice and tell you to change before it becomes time to fire you.

  • by Chuck Bucket (142633) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @09:51PM (#9855780) Homepage Journal
    I can see both sides, but you have to remember, most companies can fire you for any reason or no reason, so this would just set yourself up for being distrustful, regardless of your 'white hat' sales pitch.

    if it were me, I'd look at something like bitch-slap, you know, the old bluescreen inducing network app? from the screenies it looks like it may work on that old system. just randomly crash the computer, but be sure to cover your tracks, that would be enough to keep me entertained. you can only worry about what the next guy is getting away with for so long, plus, it's only a job. ...on the other hand, that was his job...ok, then he should have gotten permission up front for his task, that should have covered it.

    CB
  • Whistleblower? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pclminion (145572) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:01PM (#9855823)
    Whistleblower? That's moronic. Whistleblowing is when you bust a power abuser like Ken Lay who pillages billions of dollars. This is not whistleblowing.

    What right does this person have to dictate what his boss should do? If he doesn't feel his boss is performing his job correctly, he should report it to the higher-ups, which he did. The higher-ups didn't care. This should have been a big fucking hint. Perhaps his boss can do his job and play Solitaire at the same time. Maybe that's why he ended up as Boss.

    Here on Slashdot, many people post and read articles from work. This is claimed as "Okay," because we're getting our jobs done regardless, right? But when it comes to somebody in a position of power, suddenly playing a mindless cardgame is such a horrible violation that a sysadmin must "blow the whistle?" I call bullshit.

    This idiot overstepped his boundaries. What makes it worse is that he was a government employee and demonstrated an intent to use his position as system administrator to spy on other government employees. This is completely unacceptable, and it was entirely appropriate to fire his dipshit ass.

  • by Punchinello (303093) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:04PM (#9855840)
    Alabama is an "at will" employment state. This means that an employee can be disciplined or terminated for any reason (or for no reason at all) as long as the termination does not violate federal or state laws. I do not know state law in Alabama, but he wasn't fired for being black and he wasn't fired for not sleeping with his boss, so I think he is screwed. Perhaps there is some whistleblower law floating around that will save him. Otherwise he should be getting his resume ready.
  • by skinfitz (564041) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:13PM (#9855879) Journal
    Look - the way the world works is this. There is the way things are supposed to run, and there is the way they actually run. We geeks do have a hard time with this concept, as to us, a spade is a spade.

    Its like for example, I posted a comment about Google and search engines recently, [slashdot.org] which I posted intending it to be funny. The mods obviously agreed, and it's presently rated +5 Funny. HOWEVER, two guys still replied "correcting" my "claim" that searching Google for "search engine" took me to the home page. The fact is, whether my "claim" is accurate or not is irrelevant - it's funny to think that someone searched Google to find out what a "search engine" is and was taken back to the Google homepage and thinks Google is broken (get it??) What the joke is implying is that Google is so good, for many people it is the only way to search the web and has in fact become a verb - "Googling" for something rendering the "search engine" phrase obsolete.

    In a similar fashion, if you are employed as a sysadmin and part of your job role is to "identify misuse of the net" or company hardware, this does not mean you have carte blanche to spy on the boss, (or worse, their superiors). If you want to lose your job, sure - go right ahead but people do not hire you to spy on them. You will very rarely see any of these "unwritten rules" formalised - it's just "the done thing", and the very fact the phrase "unwritten rule" exists should tell you something.

    It's the geek syndrome - taking things literally. It's why we are traditionally so bad with the feminine mind set (I'm not being sexist here, men (typically gay men) can exhibit the feminine mind set too) until we understand the rules; and there are rules - for example if the average woman asks you "does her arse look big in this" she is most definitely NOT looking for an honest answer, she is looking for a compliment.

    Learning to read between the lines is a useful skill. A wise person once said something along the lines of "often rather than what you do say, it's what you don't say that can be the difference between a sucessful career and an unsucessful one".

    I agree, it sucks, however it's the way things are and the people who can adapt to this are sucessful.
  • by msheppard (150231) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:14PM (#9855884) Homepage Journal
    The people he reported this too were probably doing excatly what he reported. Think about it: You are a manager - and are presnted with evidence that an employee has the power to track what you are doing... who do you fire?

    M@
  • by Chanc_Gorkon (94133) <gorkon&gmail,com> on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:22PM (#9855916)
    Personally, if the activities of a user isn't impacting the network or my application, I could really care less what they do when waiting for work to do. As a sysadmin, I do alot of waiting....on support calls from companies, waiting for user specs, waiting for users to frickin get of the system.....if I did not have Firefox open with something interesting to read, then I would go stir crazy. I usually don't stream anything during the day and when I do get sidetracked on the web, I start to think of things comeing up and start working on them. But have you ever had a day where you only had an hour or two left and you had to stay for support but in that hour or two you really did not have enough time to get anything started? That's the perfect time ot get caught up on industry websites and other items that may not pertain directly to your job, but are nice to know anyway because they MAY pertain to your job someday. Case in point, if you own a Mac and are an it person, you may browse Mac web sites for a a fe wminutes at work. That additional knowledge may pop up in a meeting...Hey so and so....didn't you say that Mac's do blah blah blah....

    Solitare can work your brain. I think excess is one thing, but the occasional game is not going to do anything. If this guy just came to work and played solitare all day well then I could see that as excess. But if he cooled down from a meeting by firing off a few hands, then I doin't have an issue with that.
  • by Mulletproof (513805) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:27PM (#9855934) Homepage Journal
    While most of us would find this guys actions appropriate, he obviously did not understand the attitude of the management he worked for, and THAT is what determines whether his actions were right or wrong, not what you or I or even he thought. When it became obvious that upper management didn't give a shit, his job as IT narc was done. At that point, his actions should have been regulated to gathering evidence for that day when things came crashing down (and they would have eventially) to cover his ass. If your bosses have expressed a distinct disinterest in how that posisition was managed, YOU are in the wrong for going any further, as much as it pains me to say it. At that point, you may be stepping on good ol' boy toes or some other crap, and while you have the right to do it, your an idiot for doing so.

    It really surprises me that after 21 years of supposed service, this guy gets canned for the expose, which leads me to believe there is something(s) we're all not being told. 21 years and this guy still doesn't have a sensible grasp of the environment that would can him as sooner than praise him? 21 years and this guy is worth less than a solitair playing spider monkey? Normally that only happens when they're just dying for an excuse to get rid of you, normally after you've done something to piss them off.

    Sorry, but thing aren't adding up here for the righteous IT guy here. I'm betting he screwed the pooch way before this incident.

  • by btempleton (149110) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:51PM (#9856018) Homepage
    His job, he says was to find computer misuse. The boss wasn't misusing the computer, he was possibly misusing his time. If he had been playing solitaire with a deck of cards, would that be misuse of his desk? Of the cards?

    No, misuse of the computer, if you ask me, would involve installing spyware and trojans on other people's computer, looking at their files, flooding the network, running a porn site.

    This sysadmin scares me, if he doesn't think you are doing your job properly, then even after he has told your boss about it he thinks he can install spyware on your computer and watch you. What other thing that bothers him would make him feel justified in doing crap like this?

    I would fire him on the spot, possibly consider pressing charges. While employers do own their computers and thus you don't have as much privacy from your employer as you should have, this guy was not authorized by the employer, and what he did is possibly illegal.
    • by base3 (539820) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:59PM (#9856050)
      This guy was the prototypical power-tripping network Nazi. We see these come out of the woodwork here now and then, too, particularly when someone gets fired for something they emailed or visited on the web.

      The employer's ownership of the infrastructure doesn't give J. Random Admin authority to act as judge, jury, and executioner. I hope he gets to spend some time in the state pen for not being smart enough to drop it after he was rightfully fired.

  • by The Beezer (573688) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:59PM (#9856049) Journal
    The Decatur Daily [decaturdaily.com] story had some interesting tidbits that weren't listed above, including these gems:

    Testimony alleged that as a result of Blake downloading the software, a computer hacker at an unknown location in Australia breached the Alabama Department of Transportation's computer firewall in 2003.

    also,

    Blake also testified Monday that he installed the program on two other computers in the department, that of the state Right of Way Engineer Paul Bowlin, who heads the division, and Right of Way Secretary Jana Trafford Blake. Jana Blake is married to Vernon Blake.

    So he spies on his wife, his boss, and HIS boss. It's also possible that his actions led to a breach in the firewall at the office as well (that's disputed and may not be the case). With those facts in play, that changes my view of events.

  • by Naum (166466) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @11:53PM (#9856267) Homepage Journal
    ...just an idiot. Monitoring and evaluating the computer habits of his boss is not his job unless his superiors instructed him to do so. And from the read of the Decatur Daily article [decaturdaily.com] suggests he had a personal axe to grind here, and he also installed the spyware on his wife's machine and the division head's machine.

    If he thought somebody was running a web server or downloading pornography, or gambling online, that is one thing. But to take it upon himself to perform his own performance evaluation of his superior, was a bit bold and he was rightfully fired.

    His focus should have been on the machines and the network, not carrying out retribution for a personal grudge.

  • by mark-t (151149) <markt@@@lynx...bc...ca> on Sunday August 01, 2004 @01:15AM (#9856507) Journal
    As soon as the higher-ups indicated their unwillingness to cooperate with him, he should have polished up his resume and started looking for work elsewhere.

    Ironically, it appears that his biggest flaw was too much company loyalty. Normally company loyalty is a good thing, but being loyal to a company that has bad internal policies and practices isn't going to get you very far, as this story indicates.

    Another possibility would have been to ask permission to install the spy software on company computers to facilitate documenting evidence of wasteful activity (this request being made entirely outside of and temporally distant from any discussion regarding his boss's activities so that a connection between the two would not be obvious). There is no reason why any computer on the network that the sysadmin is trying to prevent abuse on should be excluded from possible monitoring, but the exact policies that would be followed by the software and the adminstrator would need be laid out in writing to ensure accountability for how the software is used to the senior management, and to ensure to their satisfaction that it is not abused. Once permission had been obtained and after a few months, once the evidence is gathered, he could not have been justly fired for installing this "unauthorized software" after presenting the evidence to the higher ups, since he in fact would have HAD authorization to install exactly that software. If they chose to fire him anyways for that reason, it would be an open and shut wrongful dismissal case.

    Of course, then we probably wouldn't be arguing about it on slashdot... and heaven knows what a crime that would be.

    • by loraksus (171574) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @06:28AM (#9857093) Homepage
      Yes, he should of have quit his job because everyone is looking to hire 50 year olds in Alabama right now .
      Dunno how it is in BC, but the job market down in the USA (especially Alabama) is really shitty (especially for the 45+ age group) and he was probably making a very nice bundle of money after 20 years of raises in a government job.

      I also like how everyone apparantly knows all about the computer policies at the guy's place of work (and are able to comment on them.)
  • by bwilliam13 (736256) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @01:30AM (#9856545)
    Results are what matter. If someone can get their required work done with 10% of their time, no one should really care about the use of the other 90%. Sorry...gov't or not. That's what happens in companies who are concerned about the bottom line. You get your shit done, you have a job. You don't, you're fired. If higher ups thought he was getting work done, Solitaire is not an offense. If he's slacking, Solitaire becomes an offense. That simple. Dunno why there's 200+ posts debating this.
  • by Pahalial (580781) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @09:04AM (#9857470)

    Right, it seems this link [decaturdaily.com] (an actual news story on the issue rather than just the one guy's point of view) has already been posted here more than once.

    It stuns me that despite ~50 +5 replies, no one has bothered to point out that the program this guy installed HAD A BACKDOOR.

    Yes, that's right people. That's why they're calling this spyware. Because it is.


    Read this:

    Bobby Mitchell, an employee contracted to DOT to do computer network support and computer programming, told the hearing officer that DOT's computer firewall crashed in January 2003 and had to be rebuilt.
    ....
    Mitchell said he found WinSpy on Dobbs' computer when transferring material and programs in his computer to a new one and at that time saw that the program had an "imbedded address" that allowed someone outside the department to have access to DOT's computer system. The imbedded address was traced to Australia.

    So, who still actually believes he should get his job back? He was so focused on proving his boss was in the wrong that he compromised the security of the network he was a sysadmin for.

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