Internet Policies and Strategies

October 1, 2001 · by Paul Doherty

While the prospect of monitoring what Web sites they have visited or curtailing access to specific Web sites or might be distasteful, failure to properly manage employee use of the Internet can leave employers open to liability on several fronts.

Choosing an Internet strategy can set your internal Intranet strategy. When applied in this manner, I like to call it the “The Internet inside out.” The burgeoning use of the Internet presents our employees with a valuable tool for research and information gathering. But for employers, it also presents a critical need to develop policies and procedures governing how, when and why their employees are using it. While the prospect of monitoring what Web sites they have visited or curtailing access to specific Web sites or might be distasteful, failure to properly manage employee use of the Internet can leave employers open to liability on several fronts.

Many misuses of the Net can happen in your business. There are emerging cases where an employee downloaded pornography using company equipment, exposing the company to a harassment suit by another employee who saw it. The issue of copyrighted material that can be republished without consent of the original author exposes your company to liability. The situations and cases like these are increasing and management must find ways in which to reduce its exposure to risk.

One way to begin reducing risk is to purchase tools that curtail Internet access. There is a high demand for products and strategies that allow businesses to monitor use of the Internet and block out specific sites that are highly unlikely to be business related. These tools all work in a similar manner. The software monitors and filters Web site access by different categories that can include online merchandising, sex, gambling-related sites and criminal skills.

Another way is to adopt a policy restricting use of the Internet to activities consistent with the objectives of the business and the work assignment. By analyzing the URL accesses off your Web server, you can see who did not follow policy and you can take appropriate action. By setting this policy it is also good to allow employees to use the Internet for their own purposes after business hours or during lunch, as long as their activities don’t involve obscene language or images. This personal usage promotes and encourages employees to become familiar with using the Net. A good first step in setting up this policy is to direct your employees interest rather than simply setting them free on the Net. If you imagine the Internet as a big library, you want to have a recommended reading list of Web sites that are useful resources. So instead of having a policy that says, “Don’t, don’t, don’t,” you should create a list that says, “Here are the resources you can get if you do this.”

One recent Internet policy violation at a large engineering firm led to disciplinary action against the employee. To discourage their employees from circulating confidential material, most companies have long-standing policies regarding disseminating company information outside of the company, whether via letters to the editor, interviews with the press or meetings with other business people. But they are finding that it’s necessary to remind employees who might be seated alone at a computer inside the company not to share sensitive business information with outsiders. The problem isn’t the Internet. The problem is that sometimes its possible that people exercise poor judgment when using the Internet and they can end up sharing company information with a worldwide audience. The Internet itself is an excellent tool, but you should communicate to your employees to use it wisely.
—Paul Doherty

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