Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Employers, Privacy, and the Internet

Recently, I read a news story about a cop who was fired from his job for using a chat room to solicit sex and to email explicit photos of himself while on duty. He was not fired for his actions, which were legal because his target was an adult, but rather for engaging in them while on duty. His activities came to the attention of his superiors because the woman turned over the photos and chat logs to her local police department, rather than simply to ignore and/or block him.

As I read this, I thought back to my own years on the force, and how it was a good thing that it was before the internet era. I freely admit I had sex several times over the years while on duty. And I was not in any way unique among my fellow officers in this respect. I knew another guy who regularly had assignations while on duty -- indeed, we had several women in common.

Before I worked there, an older officer had been having sex in his patrol car and had inadvertently sat on the button that keyed his walkie-talkie. At that time, if you had an open mike, no one else could transmit, not even the dispatcher. But everyone could listen, including every yahoo in the county with a police scanner. This was a potentially dangerous situation because if an important call came in, there was no way for dispatchers to send officers to the scene.

Needless to say, his entire encounter had an audience. Every sigh, every groan, every grunt was heard, unbeknownst to him. The shift commander sent other officers looking for him, racing up and down streets to find where he'd parked the car. This was no easy task, as he'd parked in an out of the way place to avoid attracting attention.

But he was not fired. In fact, he served for many more years until leaving voluntarily when he retired. It was definitely a different world back then -- he'd not have gotten by with it today

The first officer mentioned above, however, dug his own grave with his total lack of discretion. If he'd not told the woman he was a cop, she'd have just put him on "ignore" and blocked him and that would have been the end of it. Indeed, if I were still on the force, I'd not have mentioned the fact on my blog, and no one would have known what I did for a living.

I've seen several bloggers who have had their freedom of speech and blogging privacy compromised when their employers happened upon their sites and objected to the content. I've known several people who had to give up their blogs for this reason, though they sometimes open new blogs making stronger efforts to conceal their identities.

The internet is a double edged sword; it offers people anonymous interactions online, while at the same time making one's private actions easier for employers to trace. Discretion has always been important when engaging in casual sex, no matter the environment, but it's especially important now in the computer age.


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