Official says some Vt. workers misused computers

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Vermont state employees have watched NCAA basketball online, loaded virus-infected pornographic images onto state computers and used the Web to conduct fraudulent eBay commerce, according to an internal Agency of Human Services document obtained by The Associated Press.

Human Service Commissioner Rob Hofmann sent an e-mail to agency workers this week citing a half-dozen examples of inappropriate use of state computers. He told workers a website blocking and monitoring system is being placed on state computers.

Among the examples were:

— Bringing computer network speed to a crawl by using scarce bandwidth to watch afternoon NCAA March Madness.

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— Loading a thousand pornographic images onto a state computer.

— Connecting to pornography sites, downloading images and, in the process, introducing a computer virus that started hacking into a local bank computer system.

— Using state computers to run small businesses on taxpayer time.

“This is the type of behavior that we are committed to eliminating,” he said of the incidents, some of which happened in recent months and others as long as six years ago.

Officials have said before that state workers have been caught using state computers to view pornographic websites while on duty. But details have been hard to come by.

Last month, the state Department of Human Resources denied a Freedom of Information Act request filed by The Associated Press that sought information about disciplinary actions taken against state employees for viewing pornography and/or visiting pornographic websites from state computers.

Steve Collier, general counsel for the Department of Human Resources, said privacy concerns trump public disclosure of the details of those cases. Even if the state could produce disciplinary records, he said, the information would be incomplete since some resign before they can be disciplined.

Hofmann said the misuse is committed by a small number of state workers, and managers do not have time nor inclination to scrutinize the incidental personal use of the Internet by their staffs.

“It is highly regrettable to potentially tarnish the fine efforts of the majority of our staff, by having to acknowledge the incredibly outlandish actions of a few employees,” he said.

The state is installing the $120,000 software that will block certain websites and is capable of monitoring state workers’ Web activity.

But some lawmakers have questioned the expense in the budget-cutting year and say it’s offensive to workers.

“In an era when we’ve cut over 800 positions from state government, reduced salaries, and people are on pins and needles as it is, I think it sends the wrong message that you can’t trust your work force,” said Sen. Vincent Illuzzi, a Republican representing Essex and Orleans counties, who is also a part-time county prosecutor.

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