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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 @10:05PM (#9855574)
    Employers spy on employees, not the other way around!
  • by cerberusti (239266) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:06PM (#9855578)
    Firing him was an appropirate response. He abused the power he needed to do his job, and could no longer be trusted with it.

  • by airbie (767806) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:07PM (#9855584) Homepage Journal
    delete solitary from his boss's computer?
  • by mtrupe (156137) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:08PM (#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.
  • Use? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Daleks (226923) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:09PM (#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.
  • 'whistleblower'? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by autopr0n (534291) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:09PM (#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 Platinum Dragon (34829) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:09PM (#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?
  • by caino59 (313096) <jcaino@@@obscure[nospam]reality...net> on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:11PM (#9855603) Homepage
    dude, it was part of his job.
    his firing is bs.

    the boss was wasting time, wasting company money, and mostly wasting space.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:12PM (#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.
  • Rule #1 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jxs2151 (554138) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:13PM (#9855609) Homepage
    Do not make your boss look bad and expect to retain your job.
  • No it wasn't (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:15PM (#9855619)
    He wasn't abusing his power. He was doing exactly what he was paid to do: stop computer misuse. His boss was misusing the computer. The only reason he got fired is because he did this to his boss, rather than to some underling.

  • by MindStalker (22827) <mindstalker @ g mail.com> on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:17PM (#9855628) Journal
    Yes, but most importantly, he already informed his bosses supervisors, and was ignored. Obviously his supervisors should have told him more directly that they weren't interesting in knowing what was going on. But the fact that he then turned around with vengence and spied on his boss to "prove" his alligations, speak very negativly of him. I would fire him on the spot too.
  • by theguywhosaid (751709) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:19PM (#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 @10:22PM (#9855655)
    Your post makes no sense at all.

    This guy was doing exactly what he was hired to do. If he'd found a lowbie employee playing games, he'd have been given a pat on the back for his work.

    His only "misdimeaner" was finding his boss guilty of this waste of tax dollars, instead of a minor minion. Bosses never think that rules apply to them.
  • by gwoodrow (753388) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:22PM (#9855656)
    ...where money has always been and will always be more important than justice.
  • Re:Everyone knows (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:23PM (#9855659)

    if you're a sysadmin... should you run crack and crack passwords -- for security? works just fine... unless you crack a superior's password.

    what about MA? can you own a password file there?

    there are lots of crazy things out there... most people are dumb as a rock. it's useless to try to fight the global stupidity.

    use your computer.. buy food.. be happy...

    think an original thought -- go to jail.
    don't do what your masters allows you to do today -- go to jail.

  • by harkabeeparolyn (711320) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:24PM (#9855664)
    Fuck his supervisors. If they were too chummy to act on a legitimate complaint they should be fired as well. We're talking about tax money here; the citizens of Alabama deserve better.
  • by DroopyStonx (683090) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:26PM (#9855676)
    Firing him was most certainly NOT appropriate.

    The guy knew his boss fucked around on the computer all day instead of doing his job and this was known to the employee who got fired.

    He reported this to higher ups and they ignored it. The first mistake here is they should've listened. Since they didn't, the only other option was to take matters into his own hands.

    Even if he wasn't an IT manager of sorts, he did the right thing in proving to higher-ups that his boss is doing nothing but wasting the company's money by playing solitaire and looking at stock market crap instead of working.

    I'm sure there are tons of people out there who are looking for a job and would be more than happy to fill his position and actually do some work.

    They should've fired the boss and gave the IT manager that position (provided it paid more).
  • Playing Solitaire (Score:4, Insightful)

    by eltoyoboyo (750015) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:27PM (#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 leebrownusa (598293) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:31PM (#9855695)
    If you haven't figured it out yet, IT and the people in it are just a resource to be used and abused. If you're not connected up in the food chain then tread carefully. Just a worker bee here.
  • by danharan (714822) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:33PM (#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 tmasssey (546878) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:36PM (#9855714) Homepage Journal
    He reported this to higher ups and they ignored it. The first mistake here is they should've listened. Since they didn't, the only other option was to take matters into his own hands.

    Why, exactly, was his "only other option" to spy on his boss? Why not write the letters to the editor that are now being written for him? Why not put up a website that talks about the issues he's facing, without mentioning names? Why is the next step to spy on his boss?

    Was his boss' conduct reprehensible? Yes. Was it his job to spy on him? Short of a policy expressly giving him permission to spy on his boss (or *anyone* else in the office), his behavior was wrong. And no, " 'to confirm and document' such misuse" [knology.net] is *not* sufficient authorization for spying on *any* user in the office, especially his boss.

    You can get in trouble doing such things, including prosecution under federal wiretapping laws. This is *not* an area where you want to screw around with.

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

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:38PM (#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 GoofyBoy (44399) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:41PM (#9855737) Journal
    Lock down the computer. Remove admin rights and give him only stuff he justifiably needs to do.

    Block access to certain websites.

    If the boss raises these restrictions up, talk to him about how that would be conflicting with official policies. Ask for confirmation in an email if he still objects and want things changed.

    If you work in government these are all things that set the trail for accountablitity and responsiblity (and yes that scares the crap out of people).

    Spying in the workplace, unless its 100% cleared from above, is immoral.

    Could I, as a janitor, put cameras in the woman's washroom because I wanted to prove that too much time was being spent there?
  • by lifebouy (115193) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:42PM (#9855743) Journal
    That, sir, is crap. His employer hired him to perform the mystical art of sysadmining. as far as the employer is concerned, its a black box situation. Much like when a lawyer goes to trial for you. You may know what his strategy is, buy you do not have the experience or knowledge to dictate which laws or previous cases will be referenced. It's not your area of expertise. If his job description included dectecting and reporting computer misuse, then he was fired for doing his job. Frankly, everyone involved in firing him should be fired, because whistleblowers must be protected from this, ESPECIALLY in the government.
  • by bubbasatan (99237) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:45PM (#9855752) Homepage
    Actually, on win2k and later, because solitare is part of the base install, you can't delete it (it regenerates).

    Yes, you can remove solitaire and other games from Win 2k. You must edit sysoc.inf to unhide the Games section of Add/Remove Windows Components. Then you can remove games. I think XP changed the default behavior back to not hiding, but it's a simple task to fix one way or another.
  • by bluGill (862) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:49PM (#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 gumbi west (610122) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:50PM (#9855774) Journal
    He was performing a task that was within his job description. He will win his law suit.

    Every government makes it very clear that your computer can and will be monitored (even though the sys-admins are usualy not up to the task of actually figuring out how to effectively monitor it). i.e. the sys-admin had every right to do this and was acting according to what someone way way higher up would say was good practices to the cammeras.

    that said, I've been around the block enough time that there are four possible real issue here that got him fired.

    1. His documentaition clearly shows that his boss is not needed. Which is to say, if they fired him, they wouldn't even need to replace him (since his job only took 10% of a week). Now, if you did that, then his bosses boss would have one less subordinate, and may not be needed...
    2. His documentation clearly shows that his boss was not doing a good job. This calls into question the ability of his bosses boss to do his job. Implying that he should be fired...
    3. His bosses boss has simmilar computer usage and doesn't want his 'activities' recorded...
    4. His bosses boss is afraid of trying to talk to his boss about why he firred him, because of the appearance of the three above and it all just much cleaner to make this guy a bad seed and get rid of him--removing all questions.
  • by qw(name) (718245) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:53PM (#9855785) Journal
    Being the sysadmin does not grant you the right to spy on another employee even if that employee is your boss. There is a certain amount of trust that an employer has to grant a sysadmin but when that trust is taken advantage of as in this case it becomes abuse.

    Proper channels should have been followed. If his employer was unwilling to take action he should have left it alone. We all work with people who are lazy and unjustly promoted. But that doesn't give us the right to spy on them.

    As a sysadmin I find this guy's behavior pathetic. It's an abuse of his position. I would have fired him, too.
  • by bwalling (195998) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @10:54PM (#9855789) Homepage
    Even if he wasn't an IT manager of sorts, he did the right thing in proving to higher-ups that his boss is doing nothing but wasting the company's money by playing solitaire and looking at stock market crap instead of working.

    He proved nothing except that his boss leaves solitaire open on his computer. If his boss was getting his job done and pleasing his employer, who cares how he did it?
  • by qw(name) (718245) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @11:00PM (#9855813) Journal
    Crap or not. He abused his position because he became obsessed by his boss' loafing. If his job description included secretly installing spyware without having to follow company policy then he might have a case but I doubt it.

    Companies don't need Lone Ranger admins. They promote a Big Brother atmosphere in which they cannot be trusted by those they support nor by those with whom they are employed.
  • by Otter (3800) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @11:00PM (#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.

  • Whistleblower? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pclminion (145572) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @11:01PM (#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.

  • Re:Wow... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by NanoGator (522640) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @11:01PM (#9855824) Homepage Journal
    "this guy got shafted. Canned for doing your job?"

    I'm just going to be up front and tell you I haven't RTFA yet. (in a bit of a hurry, headed to dinner...) So I'm just gonna talk in a general sense here. In other words, this isn't necessarily a direct rebuttal to what you're saying.

    I'm not a manager. In fact, I had a job very similar to what this guy was doing to a much lesser extent. I read what he did and a couple of things bothered me.

    1.) He notified the management, they chose not to act on it. He should have just left it there. It's important to let the big wigs make the decision, as opposed to becoming a virtual vigilante.

    2.) Spyware on somebody above him? Man, that is a MAJOR no-no. When you're a sysadmin, you have access to all sorts of sensitive data. To actively capture it and use it zealously nail your boss, well I tell you what, that'd scare the hell out of me. The whole reason Slashdot isn't a big fan of things like video cameras at every street corner is that anything can be captured to make somebody look like they're doing something illegal. It's discomforting.

    Understanding that I am taking the summary of the article at face value, and that I haven't gotten to the details of the article yet, this is what I think: This guy took it too far. Way too far. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the people above him thought "Geez, what if he caught a screen grab of me looking at porn? I get a bunch of that shit in my email all the time. Was he going to go McBain on me, too?"

    Maybe he was doing his job, but he should have had a little more faith in the higher-ups. Even if it was 'wrong', they're still the ones in charge. He should have just let it drop at the emails. Instead, it appears he took it so far that nobody could really trust him. I mean, if his boss still had a job, how do we know he wasn't getting it done? Maybe he had solitaire open because he was on the phone a lot, and wanted something to keep his hands active? Playing Solitaire may not be the most productive use of time, but it's a stretch to call it abuse until somebody's not doing their job. In this particular case, maybe he wasn't doing a damn thing, but in a general sense, what this guy wasn't so smart.
  • by Lord Kano (13027) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @11:03PM (#9855832) Homepage Journal
    He should sue the state into bankruptcy.

    If this gets before a jury he has the case won. His lawyer just needs to show how he was "looking out for you, the taxpayers and his bosses those 'upper management types' didn't like it".

    If his lawyer does his job properly, he'll never have to work again; unless he chooses to.

    LK
  • by Punchinello (303093) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @11:04PM (#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.
  • Re:Everyone knows (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 31, 2004 @11:06PM (#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.
  • Re:No it wasn't (Score:4, Insightful)

    by NanoGator (522640) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @11:07PM (#9855854) Homepage Journal
    "He was doing exactly what he was paid to do: stop computer misuse."

    Playing Solitaire is not misuse. It's not the best use of time, but it is not misuse. He sent the emails to the higher-ups, they obviously weren't that interested. In other words, he must still have been getting his work done. (Or his job wasn't so consequential, but it's not a syadmin's job to trim the fat.)

    By installing spyware on his boss's machine, he captured and examined data that he is not privy to. What was to stop him from seeing his boss emailing another executive about future layoffs, or the salary of one of his coworkers? His was quite obviously fired due to mistrust. Being his boss might have played into the politics a bit, but I certainly wouldn't hire this guy.
  • by skinfitz (564041) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @11:13PM (#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 @11:14PM (#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 Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 31, 2004 @11:19PM (#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.

  • by Chanc_Gorkon (94133) <gorkon AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday July 31, 2004 @11:22PM (#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.
  • Horseshit (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DesScorp (410532) <DesScorp.Gmail@com> on Saturday July 31, 2004 @11:34PM (#9855965) Homepage Journal
    I live in Alabama, and I've heard a good bit more about this case than you probably have.

    - This guy had complained to his superior's superiors. They apparently didn't care. So this guy's crusade basically ends right there. He did what he should have done, and when those higher ups don't care, you can get pissed all you want, but you don't take matters into your own hands.

    - This guy seems to have a personal beef with his boss.

    - Most people down here (including people that work in IT) think this guy is an assclown.

    This man was doing this to his BOSS. You don't take policy into your own hands against your superiors and expect to keep your job, even for the government. And furthermore, his superior's job didn't involve much computer work. He was basically an admin type that mostly used his comp for email.

    But it doesn't matter. This was his BOSS. You stay in official channels when dealing with any personel problem, and you ESPECIALLY do this when a superior is involved. It's lamentable that an Alabama state employee is wasting time on a computer, but that doesn't excuse the sysadmin's actions.

  • by blackrobe28 (800788) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @11:35PM (#9855969) Homepage
    Who DOESN'T want to catch their boss/nemesis/whatever doing what they are not supposed to be doing. It is the wet-dream of every IT admin that I know. Think about it: Man complains to his boss' bosses that the man isn't working. The higher ups basically ignore him so he goes on a personal crusade to catch the guy. 7 months later he makes his accusation again but this time he has the indisputable proof! Yeah... sounds fun... even imaginative... the only problem isthat IT'S NOT HIS JOB TO MAKE SURE HIS BOSS IS BEING PRODUCTIVE!!!

    As much as I would love to say that this guy fought the good fight and was canned because he was trying to be a good IT admin, the truth of the matter is that he wasn't trying to do HIS job, he was just trying to show that his boss wasn't doing the job that the admin thought he should be doing.

    Who knows what the supervisor was doing? Perhaps his job didn't really entail the use of a computer.. (Yes those jobs really do exist)... Perhaps the supervisor was actually a good boss who does most of his work on the phone and with a pad of paper. The bottom line is that judging the productivity of the supervisor is the job of an individual's superiors, not one of his underlings.

    On a side note... what IF that supervisor had actually been doing mission-critical or sensitive application work on his computer? Would John Q. Public want some IT admin to have access to screenshots of his SSN, address or medical information? Registration info? Driver's LIC#s? For me... that's the real Asshole-Quotient part of the story.
  • by kcbrown (7426) <slashdot@sysexperts.com> on Saturday July 31, 2004 @11:36PM (#9855974)
    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 superiors.

    Because, after all, management is exempt from any of the organization-wide policies that govern everyone else, and clearly you deserve to be fired if you have the audacity to believe otherwise.

    I mean, you have to be a real moron to believe that the rules should apply to everyone and not just the peons.

    Right?

  • by earthdark (582375) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @11:50PM (#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.
  • by DesScorp (410532) <DesScorp.Gmail@com> on Saturday July 31, 2004 @11:51PM (#9856019) Homepage Journal
    " ...the locals don't see why anyone would want to use one unless they were some kind of godless heathen communist."

    Thanks heaps for perpetuating the myth that we're all inbred idiots in this state. And all becuase you apparently don't like the politics and faith of the people that live here.

    Delta's ready when you are.

  • Re:Wow... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Maestro4k (707634) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @11:54PM (#9856027) Journal
    • Understanding that I am taking the summary of the article at face value, and that I haven't gotten to the details of the article yet, this is what I think: This guy took it too far. Way too far. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the people above him thought "Geez, what if he caught a screen grab of me looking at porn? I get a bunch of that shit in my email all the time. Was he going to go McBain on me, too?"

      Maybe he was doing his job, but he should have had a little more faith in the higher-ups.

    Once you read the whole article (and particularly his site) you'll understand why. The boss playing cards constantly was becoming a major issue within his division. Discipline was becoming impossible because the boss was, well, he was doing everything they weren't supposed to. He has two examples of jokes posted around the place about the boss's game playing by employees in fact.

    He did what he did because the issue had gone way beyond just a "I think the boss isn't doing his job" to a "the boss isn't doing his job and it's so obvious no one else wants to do theres." Higher-ups had continued to ignore it and wouldn't solve the situation. Something had to be done. Even though he was fired the situation was finally solved, it's a crying shame for Alabama taxpayers that it had to reach such a point. The boss should have long since been reprimanded for his behaviour, if not fired.

    Frankly if I lived in Alabama I'd be livid. The taxpayers were paying this guy's boss to do nothing buy play card all day. The sheer quantity of the screenshots showing him playing games pretty much tosses out the "Maybe he had solitaire open because he was on the phone a lot, and wanted something to keep his hands active?" idea that you presented. He was simply being paid to, well, not work.

    One thing I thought of since I've dealt with environments where games shouldn't be played (University computer labs) is why didn't he just change the permissions on them? It sounds like they were in an NT or Active Directory domain, it's pretty unlikely the boss had administrator access since this guy was the designated support person for his division (he has the policy on support personnel up too, it says one person in each division/dept. will be granted administrator access for their part of the domain tree). He could have avoided this mess and forced the issue with the higher-ups by simply changing the permissions on solitaire to be administrator only or even nobody. It's likely the boss wouldn't have pushed the issue too hard as it would make him look bad trying to get access to a game restored. The guy could have also locked access to solitaire on all computers in his division to make it a policy issue, not a direct confrontation of his boss.

    Still the whole situation shows there's some serious waste going on in ALDOT. Alabama taxpayers should raise hell with them on that at least.

  • by twitter (104583) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @11:54PM (#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) * on Saturday July 31, 2004 @11:55PM (#9856032) Homepage
    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 base3 (539820) on Saturday July 31, 2004 @11:59PM (#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.

  • Re:Wow... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 01, 2004 @12:00AM (#9856055)
    1.) He notified the management, they chose not to act on it. He should have just left it there. It's important to let the big wigs make the decision, as opposed to becoming a virtual vigilante.

    His notifications to upper management was nothing more than standard, vapid comments about ineffective management (such that virtually every drone makes regularly). There was virtually nothing actionable, and his attempts to fall back on that as a defense are weak and transparent.

    When you're a sysadmin, you have access to all sorts of sensitive data. To actively capture it and use it zealously nail your boss, well I tell you what, that'd scare the hell out of me.

    Indeed. His boss could very well have been evaluating division salaries, writing a bonus recommendation letter for Vernon (the overzealous sysadmin), or a wide range of other private matters. Sysadmins have a sad case of god complex (I have been in several positions where I consulted on infrastructure to contain the power of the sysadmin -- one they knew the sysadmin was going through the payroll files, for instance, based upon "in the know" comments he made to other employees).

    The whole reason Slashdot isn't a big fan of things like video cameras at every street corner is that anything can be captured to make somebody look like they're doing something illegal. It's discomforting.

    Humorously many of the visitors to Slashdot are doing so on paid hours, and some of them probably have an overzealous sysadmin on a crusade, carefully logging all of the details in hopes to prove that regardless of output, clearly the employee is ineffective because they read that story on Star Wars III. The problem with this is that just because we're not doing something visually productive, it doesn't mean that we're not mentally preparing or ruminating over some piece of mental data -- ultimately our productivity can be measure in the solutions and projects we provide in a given period of time, not whether we have vi or solitaire on our screens. Indeed, given that the person being monitored was a manager, it is entirely conceivable that he was doing the best thing that he could do at times - assessing the situation and deciding that his intervention wasn't currently needed, and retiring to a game of solitaire. Big fucking deal. Ultimately his higher ups rank him based upon the results of his division, not whether he was a busybody filling his day with make work, carefully micromanaging his charges.

    This sysadmin, Vernon, sounds like a sad, pathetic, jealous prick that has no comprehension of boundaries, and feels that he's on some sort of personal crusade to save us all. I find it unbelievable that he releases the information that he has (illegally released information - the guy is basically spreading proprietary internal state information publicly. I'll be surprized if he doesn't end up going to jail for this) and truly believes that he's in the right - this wanker won't get a job administering anything more advanced than a toilet plunger in the future.
  • by Flower (31351) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @12:10AM (#9856100) Homepage
    I did RTFA. He deserved to be fired imnsho. He violated an employee's privacy without consent of HR or legal. What happened if he pulled a screenshot with confidential data on it? What precautions was he taking to make sure that data remained safe? I don't buy his "policies and procedures" link. That memo doesn't detail that the sysadmin has carte blanche to install spyware on anybody's computer at whim for "monitoring purposes." Also, he takes unapproved software and installs it on a production network.


    Why didn't he advocate eliminating games from the workstations? That way the wasted productivity is gone and no one gets singled out. Where is the real AUP? And no matter what he says items g and j do not give him the right to install spyware without approval.

    I guess they forgot m. Use common sense.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 01, 2004 @12:10AM (#9856103)
    True, but from the other direction, monitoring a goverment computer is a great way to get yourself thrown in jail. They do not appreciate people who break into their systems or record potentially sensitive information. If you want to talk generalities, I'd say you'd have to be an idiot to install a logger on a gov't computer and not expect an unpleasant response.
  • by DissidentHere (750394) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @12:11AM (#9856105) Homepage Journal
    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 waste in government and when someone tries to do something about it they get canned.

    Simply put, if you're getting your job done and still have a lot of time to play games (or troll /.) while at work then you're under-utilized and at risk, fat ready to trim.
  • Re:Horseshit (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Junior J. Junior III (192702) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @12:15AM (#9856120) Homepage
    Your attitude really scares me. But then, you did say you are from Alabama, so that probably explains a lot of it.

    Do you seriously think that a boss like that is someone worth sticking up for? Someone you'd want to follow? Christ, no wonder this country is so fucked up.
  • by randyest (589159) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @12:26AM (#9856156) Homepage
    Man, I can't believe I'm reading such drivel from otherwise intelligent people. Maybe you missed it -- it's a government office, not a company/business subject to competition and market forces that will kill it in due time if it's too wasteful!

    It's government here -- you know, that thing that produces nothing yet can perpetuate itself by just spending enough to get another 20x-too-big budget the next year, no matter how worthless 80% of the employees are?

    Proper channels should have been followed. If his employer was unwilling to take action he should have left it alone.

    Hey -- "his employer" is us! (If you live in the US, particularly Alabama.) So, if the (possibly also solitaire-playing usless leech) boss of the boss in question chooses to do nothing we should all just suck it up? What the fuck are you saying, that government isn't accountable to the people, and shouldn't be? No protection should be afforded to whistleblowers [osc.gov] who expose the wholesale robbery of everyone?

    Wow. Just wow.
  • by srleffler (721400) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @12:36AM (#9856204)
    I think you missed something. The data collected by the sysadmin don't show that the boss was working only 10% of the time. They show that less than 10% of the time he spent on the computer was for work. If his job actually doesn't require him to use the computer for anything other than the occasional email, it wouldn't be too surprising that the screen capture utility would mostly see the computer being used for non-work-related activities. Note that the utility was programmed not to take screenshots when the computer was idle.

    One statistic I found interesting in the admin's explanation of the screenshots: "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." Was the boss supposed to be doing these things? On the computer? It seems rather odd that his superiors wouldn't notice if he never did any of these tasks. It makes me wonder if the screenshot utility is working correctly. e.g. suppose a bug in the utility causes it to stop working whenever the electronic document management software is running. Depending on the boss' working habits, the result might well be that you only get shots of him not working.

  • by cyberworm (710231) <cyberworm@gmail . c om> on Sunday August 01, 2004 @12:37AM (#9856211) Homepage
    I think one thing that I haven't seen mentioned in this thread, is that not only is this guy an employee, but also a taxpayer. It seems to me that while he held a position of trust, he also was in a position to stop a waste of tax money. His tax money, as well as the community as a whole. While his methods are questionable, the fact that the government didn't care about the boss's waste of time and money is horrible. Seems like paying someone to play solitaire is a BIG waste of money.

    Perhaps someone can clarify where the line is drawn between a concerned citizen and a disinterested employee.

    Someone had mentioned , "what if he see's his fellow employee's salary?"

    Well, if this is a government position, isn't that info already public knowledge? As well as layoffs or any other such issues?
    In a public office there really shouldn't be any secrets right?
  • Re:Horseshit (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jeffasselin (566598) <cormacolinde@@@gmail...com> on Sunday August 01, 2004 @12:42AM (#9856228) Journal
    This guy had complained to his superior's superiors. They apparently didn't care. So this guy's crusade basically ends right there. He did what he should have done, and when those higher ups don't care, you can get pissed all you want, but you don't take matters into your own hands.


    I'm so fucking tired of this "out of my hands" attitude I see all the time.

    "It's not my business, I did what others said I should do" is the lamest, worst excuse human beings use to justify laziness, corruption, even genocide. "It's not my job to do X" si in the same damn category. If people instead try to do a bit more in such situations, tried to go further, took responsibility for what they did and saw instead of endlessly trying to avoid it at any cost, the world would work a lot better...
  • by Naum (166466) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @12:53AM (#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.

  • Re:A few thoughts (Score:3, Insightful)

    by randyest (589159) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @12:53AM (#9856268) Homepage
    Thirdly, no one likes a snitch.

    When it comes to my otherwise paying the salary of a leech, I love a snitch.
  • by prockcore (543967) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @12:56AM (#9856280)
    the fucktwit COO was single handedly decimating moral through out the ranks.

    Well, decimation does have a tendency to reduce moral.
  • by thebdj (768618) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @12:59AM (#9856292) Journal
    There is absolutely no expectation of privacy when using computer provided to you by your place of work. Anyone who seriously expects privacy might want to reconsider sending those e-mails about how much they hate their boss.

    I have worked in an semi-administrative position in IT for quite some time and often see users get quite flustered by the information that we can gather on the users. I have even heard of instances where they have complained to their bosses only to be told that IT was well within their rights.

    The simple fact is that this guys boss should not have been spending so much time with non-work related materials. I know that where I work now this would never fly but I suppose that is the difference between private industry and civil service.

    But I do hope this guy gets off. There was no spying or spyware involved. He was performing his job which was monitoring company run resources and making sure that they were being used for work and not for pleasure. At one point we had and ISA server for the IT department that allowed us to avoid the proxy that blocked certain websites. Because of our boss's lack of productivity the server "broke" and never did get repaired.

    In the world of IT the sysadmin truly has more control than just about anyone within a company or organization. I think sysadmins should do this more often because in the end the money wasted from lack of productivity is coming from someones pocket and I am sure they would love to know. In this case the man gets shafted because the money wasn't coming from the higher ups pockets but from the tax payers. Times like this I hate government.
  • Re:A few thoughts (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 0x0d0a (568518) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @01:01AM (#9856298) Journal
    Please keep in mind that this guy's boss is not an ordinary employee -- there are no free-market checks in place on this organization becoming wasteful. Instead, he is employeed by the taxpayers of Alabama. If 70% of his time is spent playing solitaire, and 20% checking the stock market, and 90% of his pay is being wasted, I'd say that the citizens of Alabama have a right to be a bit irritated.

    I agree that the use of monitoring software makes me uncomfortable. However, as far as I can tell, no laws or policies were broken. I don't know whether the sysadmin should be allowed to keep his job, but I find it appalling that the guy's *boss*, the time-waster, is still porking on the taxpayer's dime.
  • by 10101001 10101001 (732688) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @01:32AM (#9856393) Journal
    Yea, it's almost like he was the sysadmin or something. The fact is, her being his wife should have no bearing on him doing his job. It would actually be *worse* that he was unwilling to monitor his wife's computer usage. As has been pointed out several times during this thread, governmental computer use is never supposed to be for personal use. Ie, it really shouldn't matter that it was his wife since any other user would be doing the exact same thing. But yea, lets label him a control freak. Oh, and look at all those police officers busting marijuana users: total control freaks. It's not like it's their job to bust people or our job to make marijuana legal (by not voting for people anti-marijuana)..
  • by tftp (111690) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @01:34AM (#9856397) Homepage
    It seems rather odd that his superiors wouldn't notice if he never did any of these tasks

    Excellent point! The only explanation is that he was never asked to work on such documents. Otherwise there would be screenshots of his Outlook with these emails. This also explains why his email responses were just short "I concur" - the boss was obviously not the decision-maker in the discussion and only wanted to sign off on something that was already decided by other.

    So his job was simply to manage the department, and that can be done without any computer. I do some management myself, and I tell you, there are days when I can't even come close to my own computer, so busy I am talking to other people. In fact, the only thing a manager is required to do is to enable his people to work most efficiently.

    With regard to some comments that suggest that if the boss was given a computer, he should use it. That's ridiculous. A computer is a part of anyone's workplace, as a chair is. And in fact he did receive and send some email now and then.

  • by shiftless (410350) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @01:42AM (#9856418) Homepage
    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?

    Yes, because as an Alabama taxpayers, I am paying for this asshole to play Solitaire.
  • by wayward (770747) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @01:48AM (#9856433)
    The part about Blake spying on the other people too is creepy. I'm curious about this Australian hacker, though. There was one document on the site saying that maybe the department should get someone trained in basic security. This suggests that ALDOT might not have the most knowledgeable folks. This makes me wonder whether they were really capable of determining that an incident was definitely the result of spy software.
  • by afidel (530433) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @01:51AM (#9856438)
    Yes, if part of my job as a sysadmin is to monitor and report abuse then most certainly installing software designed to do just that is apropriate. Near me a city IT employee was cleaning a departments computer which was not functioning correctly, in the course of investigating the problem he ran across spyware and found out that it had been installed by a porn site that was in the browser history. The result of the insuing investigation was that the fire chief and several of his employees were fired for abuse of city resources in violation of written policy. When you are abusing the publics trust by goofing off on the job despite it being a violation of policy which you undoubtedly signed you should be fired, not the guy doing his job and catching you.
  • by kevlar (13509) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @01:56AM (#9856456)
    This guy should have been fired. He blew the wistle on some guy being lazy and when he couldn't get anyone to acknowledge it, he installed invasive spyware on someones work computer. This douche doesn't have that authority. Is he the Lazy Police? No! He's a fucking admin.

    What this shows his employer is that he's willing to completely violate someones privacy for his own gain (in this case, recognition of weeding out lazy shitheads) and that he can't be trusted (not even by his superiors!!).

    This guy is a complete shithead.
  • by mark-t (151149) <`markt' `at' `lynx.bc.ca'> on Sunday August 01, 2004 @02:15AM (#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.

  • Re:Everyone knows (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jayp00001 (267507) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @02:20AM (#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:2, Insightful)

    by HBI (604924) <kparadine@gma i l . c om> on Sunday August 01, 2004 @02:29AM (#9856540) Homepage Journal
    Obviously not.

    At the facility I work for, the standard logic is that "No one ever got fired for incompetence. Plenty of people got fired for security breaches, though"
  • Re:Horseshit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by @madeus (24818) <slashdot_24818@mac.com> on Sunday August 01, 2004 @03:01AM (#9856608)
    This guy had complained to his superior's superiors. They apparently didn't care. So this guy's crusade basically ends right there. He did what he should have done, and when those higher ups don't care, you can get pissed all you want, but you don't take matters into your own hands.

    Actually, in a corporate organsation you could easily find that your required to take additional action such as informing someone more senior who represents the investors (e.g. a non executive director) and you tell them that company policy is not being followed. You may find you are legally required to ensure that company policy is followed through or you can lose your job. In this case there are no 'non executive directors', but there are investors - the taxpayers of the state of Alabama.

    This was his BOSS.

    So? Are you suggesting that cover ups and failure to follow offical policy (as far as following the offical complaints proceedure and enforcing the existing policy prohibiting such use of equipment) simply were not criminal enough to be worth him drawing attention to or that 'your boss' can engage in whatever criminal acts he likes, including misuse of public property and/or funds, and that you should be complicit out of some kind of automatic respect for someone in your organisation who happens to be in a higher pay band than you are?

    It's taxpayers money. If it was a private enterprise it would be investors money. I shouldn't need to remind you that employees have a fiduciary (and, in the case of corporate enterprises, frequently legal) responsiblity to that organisations investors. Senior employees can be personally liable and can face not only fines but jail time for acting against the interests of an organisation they are explicitly employed to represent the interests of.

    If someone is jerking around like this guys boss in a company I've invested in, or if my local government representatives where up to this (which I'm quite sure they are) as an investor/taxpayer I'm damn sure I want to know and I'm sure I want the senior executives who've tried to sweep this under the carpet and who have failed to act in the manner in which there were hired to exposed and fired (it's their job to ensure this sort of thing doesn't go on, it's not a charity, if they can't do the job for which they are very well paid they should be slung out on their ear).

    You stay in official channels when dealing with any personel problem, and you ESPECIALLY do this when a superior is involved

    I say you obay your fiduciary and legal obligations to taxpayers/investors FIRST and if that's contrary to 'staying within the little white lines of company policy' SCREW THEM (after all they [both this guys boss, and his seniors] have already thrown the rule book out the window and are using it to shaft this guy, and all the state taxpayers and more fool you if you let them continue).

    What your suggesting is that he be complicit in a system which is supressing evidence of corruption in a government organisation (the act of corruption being not the act of the origional employee, but complete failure to take any action to enforce the organisations existing policy when complaints were made). What you are suggesting is that he 'stays within the box' and acts in the best interests of his management, even if thats not in the best intrests of taxpayers/investors.

    In short, what you are suggesting is completely immoral.

    I say screw that, rat on the bastards and tell everyone who'll listen.

    It's you - the taxpayer and investor in this service - that's getting screwed by these incompotent lazy slobs, and it's only the very people being ratted on for being incompotent lazy slobs that are trying to cover it up to save their own fat underworked and overpaid behinds.
  • Re:Whistleblower? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Skapare (16644) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @03:08AM (#9856623) Homepage

    Yes, he reported it to higher ups, who never said "that's something we allow him to do". Instead, they ignored the report. So the SA backed it up with evidence. That finally got the action that should have been done the first time around. So clearly the boss's boss was lax in dealing with the matter in the first place. Had the boss's boss been doing his job, none of this would have taken place (besides the boss being told to stop being lazy on the job).

    There were no boundaries overstepped here. The SA's job included monitoring the network for any form of abuse, waste, or other inappropriate use. Virtually every government entity has rules of conduct that not only say such waste is wrong, but that they waive privacy on government owned computers, too.

    The two bosses should be fired and the system administrator restored with full back pay and back benefits. He was doing his job.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 01, 2004 @03:32AM (#9856685)
    Jesus, talk about a God complex.

    And they wonder why companies are outsourcing IT with these kinds of attitudes? Hell, I'd outsource the lot of you and good riddance.
  • Re:Everyone knows (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cmallinson (538852) * <c AT mallinson DOT ca> on Sunday August 01, 2004 @03:40AM (#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.

  • by inkswamp (233692) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @03:44AM (#9856712)
    Sounds like something more than solitaire and concern for laziness was going on here. If I thought my boss were wasting time and making thing more difficult for me, I would sit down and talk to him and I know he would hear me out and take me seriously. Then again, I get along really well with my boss. That's one of my criteria in working any job. If you can't talk to your own immediate supervisor about something like that, then you shouldn't be working where you're working. The solution to this guy's problem reeks of resentment and hostility and it sounds like the solitaire playing was the straw that broke the camel's back. I bet there was a lot of bad blood in this work environment. He's better off without the job whether he knows it or not.

  • Re:Everyone knows (Score:3, Insightful)

    by swdunlop (103066) <(swdunlop) (at) (gmail.com)> on Sunday August 01, 2004 @03:57AM (#9856741) Homepage
    If you are a security administrator for your company -- yes, you can, but you need to have some common sense when it comes time to revealing your findings. I think it's safe to say that the sysadmin did not take proper precautions to protect his credibility as an impartial auditor.
  • Re:Everyone knows (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TeraCo (410407) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @04:01AM (#9856745) Homepage
    Like getting permission to do the audit first?

    Even when it is your job to do security stuff like that, you should run it by the person in charge of security for the company. (In my company, all the security people have 2 bosses, they report to someone in IT who signs their paychecks etc, and they have a logical boss who is the head of security for the company.) Safest way to do things I think.

  • by Flower (31351) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @04:02AM (#9856747) Homepage
    Explain to me how he will win. The state will bring up the issue that he wasn't authorized to install the software. If the state has a privacy law that will be brought up. The final nail will be the state getting an expert on the stand detailing the alternatives to grabbing screen captures and how what he did was the antithesis of industry best practice. By the time they're done with him a paper MCSE will look good by comparison. And all over a boss playing solitaire. Not bilking the taxpayer out of millions, not over fondling an intern, no drug charges, no kickbacks for shoddy contractors. Just someone wasting time playing a computer game and not even a pornographic one at that. WhooHoo! What a whistleblower this sysadmin is!

    He's sunk.

  • Re:Wow... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 01, 2004 @04:06AM (#9856751)

    I find it unbelievable that he releases the information that he has (illegally released information - the guy is basically spreading proprietary internal state information publicly. I'll be surprized if he doesn't end up going to jail for this)

    I find it unbelievable that you condemn his actions. He was reporting a government employee who was basically being paid to do nothing. Who do you think pays that do-nothing's salary? You and me -- the taxpayers -- that's who. If I were a citizen of Alabama I'd be really pissed right now to find out about this. And I sure as hell would not be pissed at the whistleblower.

    Government employees are my employees. The whistleblower deserves a promotion for reporting this waste of my money.

  • by Qrlx (258924) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @04:25AM (#9856776) Homepage Journal
    As a salaried employee, there is no clock. Just get your job done, regardless of how long it takes.

    Now, if this supervisor job only takes four hours a week, that's not his fault, is it? Perhaps by his apparent ineptitude he's worked this sysadmin into such a lather that the rest of the office has doubled in productivity and no longer has slashdot.org as their homepage.
  • by awehttam (779031) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @04:39AM (#9856799)
    How would this guy know if upper management ignored him or not?

    For all anyone knows his boss was called in and asked about his computer usage, justified it and satisfied the powers that be.

    It's not like this Admin has any right to be kept in the loop.

  • by Flower (31351) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @04:42AM (#9856807) Homepage
    A jury trial isn't going to save him. There is a lot here that we don't completely know about but after seeing the posts about him not only spying on his boss but his boss' boss and his wife the State is going to skewer him. He wasn't taking the high road and once that comes out it isn't going to be David v. Goliath but some peon with a grudge abusing his position.

    The biggest problem with the current /. story is every link is from the sysadmin's position. I've gone over them and as a fellow sysadmin I think his stance is extremely flawed. It is disturbing to see the extremes this guy went through to "gather evidence" and how far he reaches to justify it. We also don't have a clue as to what management was actually doing in regards to the supervisor and quite honestly there's no reason for the sysadmin to know either. For all we know management was preparing the proverbial D-ring binder of Doom on the boss.

    No. Call me whatever. But I don't think this guy's case is as good as you make it out to be.

  • Re:Everyone knows (Score:3, Insightful)

    by golgotha007 (62687) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @04:44AM (#9856812)
    Even when it is your job to do security stuff like that

    any sysadmin who knows anything about ethics would no that is is never your job to do security stuff like that.

    from the article:
    Although it was clearly my responsibility as a computer system administrator "to confirm and document" such misuse

    wrong! here, you are so off the marker it's pathetic.

    and...
    ALDOT took the position that I was guilty of "the unauthorized monitoring of the use of your supervisor's computer".

    damn straight. don't let the door hit your ass on the way out.
  • by BasharTeg (71923) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @04:58AM (#9856833) Homepage
    OH NOES (http://www.ohnoes.org)

    It seems like the parent to this post just told all these morons who don't like the idea that someone can and will monitor their computer at work if they fuck around. You can talk a lot of shit about sysadmins having a "god complex" but a whole lot more network users, bosses or workers, have a "fuck around on the internet complex." If you want to argue that it isn't "right" for the admin to invade their privacy, that all depends on whether the company or agency's use policy explicitly grants the admin the power to monitor, but I submit to you that the individual who is dicking around on company time is a worthless deadweight bastard who either: (a) is useless and should probably have their position eliminated or new responsibilities assigned, or (b) is wasting time because they know that other employees are going to pick up the work load they're slacking on. Often in business, there isn't any direct way to measure productivity in numbers, so it's hard for upper management to find those slackers and bring them in line.

    Again back to the beautiful parent post which hands all of you naysayers a big cup of shut-the-fuck-up, I suggest you READ your company's computer use policy. Any company I've admined for has had the same policy describing the right and responsibility of the admin to monitor the network for people wasting our time and resources. And as a stockholder in my company, I certainly have an interest in doing so. I have presented evidence in two different companies to have a total of five people terminated for recreational use of computer resources, each and every time having warned the individual and reiterated the company policy AND informing them that I am monitoring their computer.

    You fuck around, you get caught. Don't blame the admin for catching you fucking around, unless you're going to blame the security guard for catching theives too.

    You know if that damned security guard hadn't been invading my privacy by watching those damned security cameras...
  • Re:YOU CALL THAT (Score:2, Insightful)

    by k8to (9046) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @05:21AM (#9856868) Homepage
    And just becuse it's possible doesn't mean it's not awful. As your post amply demonstrates.
  • misleading data... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by elf (18882) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @06:25AM (#9857002)
    The tool he used to spy on his boss showed that 70% of the time he was using the computer was playing solitaire. So what? 0% of the shots showed him to be using the computer for work. All this tells me is his job doesn't require him to be using the computer.

    The spy software shut itself off when the computer was in-active, so it's hard to gage from this data how much of the guys day at work was spent playing games. Maybe he used his computer for 15 minutes a day while drinking a cup of coffee everyday and played some games during that time. Maybe he goofed off all day. We don't know. It's impossible to tell from the data given.

    I also have to question this guy's motives, did he really want to fix the problem or was it more personal. At no point did it seem like he confronted the supervisor about his "problem". Instead he immediately tried to leapfrog him and get him fired.

    Assuming Vernon (the sysadmin) was actually doing his job, and not spending all of his time on this vendetta, I hope he wins the wrongful termination suit. Firing him over this seems to have been overkill. He should have been reprimanded and warned like they did with the game playing supervisor.

  • Re:The worst part (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ohreally_factor (593551) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @06:53AM (#9857045) Journal
    I'm sorry to repeat what others have said to similar comments such as yours from others who failed to RTFA, but this wasn't a company, it was a branch of government. If you pay taxes, then you're paying the bills and, more or less, signing the pay checks.

    In this case, it's the people of Alabama that are paying the salaries of all involved.

    So, I guess maybe the worst part is that you feel the need to comment on things you might have informed yourself about but didn't. What is it that they call people who have opinions about things of which they are willfully ignorant? I forget, but I think it was a combination of opinionated and clown.

    I guess what makes your comment even more pathetic is that you've used this as an opportunity to put forth some sort of pro-business/anti-government rant. There are times and places for such arguments, but your using it here shows you to be a knee jerk ideologue.
  • Re:Everyone knows (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mpe (36238) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @07:44AM (#9857121)
    The sysadmin's decision to "spy" on his boss was a poor one, regardless of the scenario.

    Wouldn't it have been simpler to remove the game and block the websites?

    Whatever the bosses story you have to ask yourself "Exactly what was the sysadmin attempting to accomplish?"

    The story is clear on this. He wanted to raise a complaint about another employee abusing the computer system.

    If his boss was such a poor performer, his failures would have made themselves evident over time.

    Not if there are politics involved.
  • Re:The worst part (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DrVxD (184537) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @08:48AM (#9857249) Homepage Journal
    The worst part is that you didn't RTFA

    > Government has precisely ZERO place involving itself.

    Except, of course, that this was a GOVERNMENT JOB. So I think the government DOES have a place involving itself.
  • by CaptJay (126575) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @08:48AM (#9857251) Homepage
    Let me get this straight. You are proud that employees of the company you worked at successfully blackmailed directors into leaving?

    What did it really accomplish? Those guys just quit, and will have another job in no time, maybe even a better pay, and they get to keep doing nothing while you get to work in an unstable, morose work environment, and you're still helping those at the top of the company make money out of your efforts.

    No, you are not the first to have that kind of problem in any power structure. And over decades, people tried all sorts of means, and the "right" one still works best.

    If you do not like your work environment, your bosses, or you feel the company is screwed up, you simply leave, explaining why. You find a better position elsewhere. Start your own company while you're at it. If something illegal is going on, you denounce it as you leave. I know, I know, it requires more effort. But think about it: you get to work somewhere you like more, and your (ex-)company has to spend resources to hire your replacement. What's more, if harming a company is your goal (it shouldn't), if many employees quit "en bloc", the company has a severe problem on their hands, and C*O's will start looking for people to blame as their revenue plummets. Then the problem boss gets fired (as opposed to quitting gracefully), and has more difficulty finding another job.

    But then, it requires a quality that's sadly in severe decline in the technlogy industry: personal integrity.
  • by stwrtpj (518864) <p@stewart.comcast@net> on Sunday August 01, 2004 @09:30AM (#9857375) Journal
    Could I, as a janitor, put cameras in the woman's washroom because I wanted to prove that too much time was being spent there?

    You're attempting to bolster a weak argument by making a analogy that is totally inappropriate to the discussion at hand, which tends to invalidate your entire line of reasoning.

    This is not at all apropos to the situation because the janitor does not have it in his power or job description to look for people "wasting their time". He has a responsibility to clean the building and perform regular maintenance.

    Now, if that janitor actually did have it in his contract that he was to actively insure people were not loitering about and were putting in their eight hours worth each day, and he chose to monitor bathroom useage, while I would find this a bit dubious a method to use, you know perfectly well that placing a camera INSIDE the bathroom would not be needed; you simply said this for shock value and to make those that disaggree with you seem like they approve of spying on the ladies' room.

  • Stupid Twit! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by reallocate (142797) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @09:37AM (#9857392)
    Installing spyware on your boss's computer is tantamount to secretly videotaping what goes on in his office.

    This guy's assertion that his job included looking for computer abuse doesn't cut it. Did his job description specifically give him the right o use software to monitor the computer activities of any employee or manager? If not, he's toast.

    (And, yes, employers do it all the time, but most make it agreement to that a condition of employment.)
  • No Clear Answer (Score:2, Insightful)

    by stevemm81 (203868) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @09:56AM (#9857444) Homepage
    The diversity of opinions here goes to show how controversial the guy's actions were. Employers are naturally conservative, so if the guy's actions were this close to "the line," it's no wonder he got fired.
  • strongly disagree (Score:4, Insightful)

    by phats garage (760661) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @11:22AM (#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 Vengeful weenie (627760) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @01:42PM (#9858388)
    You're probably right about the history between these two individuals. Sometimes you can get into a situation where personalities are more of a force than wants or responsabilities.

    Let's face it this was not a security audit, this was a vendetta.

    The sad and ironic thing is that the sysadmin got himself fired from a job where it's probably impossible to get fired for incompetence (civil service) by violating a privacy law. I've worked in the government, it's got a good chunk of lazy sacks of shit; I'm sure that his boss is one of them. Too bad, he'll be the one with a nice pension after thirty years service.

  • Re:Everyone knows (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TWX (665546) on Sunday August 01, 2004 @07:49PM (#9860093)
    "So how do you propose he should have done it? By asking his boss if it's true he plays Solitaire 70% of the time in office?"

    By going to the state level director of audit services, or whatever their department is called, to get a formal audit started by that director, who would then elicit help from the IT department. If Audit Services wouldn't do it, then it's dead unless he wants to make it a political issue or go to the Governor's office.

    Remember, in Government things are nasty. People backstab, store up information for use later, sabotage others, and make and break temporary alliances all of the time. It's made worse because government doesn't have to turn a profit to remain funded, it gets increasingly out of control to the point of utter ridiculousness. Internal battles that would ultimately force a private company under (or force change) don't get stopped in government. Also, it's generally difficult to terminate people. They pretty much have to outright break the rules (which obviously they considered this IT director to have done) for someone to lose a position. Things frequently build up to almost crucible-level insanity and remain there. If the IT person doesn't like the situation he's welcome to seek employment elsewhere. That's just the way it seems to work.

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