Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Facing the sack, civil servants who spend too much time on Facebook and Twitter

Hard day at the office: Authorities are concer
Hard day at the office: Authorities are concerned that some employees are spending too much office time chatting online

By Jason Lewis
Government and council employees using Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites at work or posting inappropriate ­comments from home face being disciplined or even sacked.
One police force censured eight employees last year after it caught them using police computers to chat to their friends online.
A local authority disciplined a member of staff who used the websites to discuss what he was doing in his social life while he was supposed to be off sick.
And another council caught staff using special software to get around a ban on using office computers to tweet on Twitter and ‘update their status’ on Facebook during working hours.
Now, Government departments and quangos, including officials planning the 2012 Olympics, have issued written guidelines to staff detailing their restrictions on using the sites.
They are also paying thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money to outside consultants for courses on the do’s and don’ts of how to behave on Facebook and similar sites.
Last year The Mail on Sunday revealed how Sir John Sawers, the head of MI6, was left exposed by a personal security breach after his wife published intimate photos and family details on Facebook.
This led to all Government staff who were undergoing developed vetting – required if they were to handle top-secret documents – being warned against posting personal details online which could leave them open to blackmail.
Last month the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) distributed a guide to all employees stating: ‘Facebook, Linked-In, Twitter have become very popular ... and offer significant business benefits ... Their use poses risks both to the data on the ODA IT system ... and to the users of the sites and ODA.’
A letter to staff says they are allowed to use social networking sites in lunch breaks but warns: ‘You must not publish content about London 2012.’
Cheshire Constabulary is one of a number of police forces that impose
a total ban on staff using social networking sites on work computers unless it is required for ‘policing purposes’.
The force revealed that breaches of its guidelines have led to eight staff being disciplined over their online activities. Seven took place on police premises while another had been disciplined for their home internet usage, which ‘involved inappropriate and offensive comments’.
Glasgow City Council bans staff from using Facebook and other
similar sites for personal use. It ­disciplined two staff who attempted to get around these restrictions by using special software to circumnavigate the council’s internet ­filtering system.
Meanwhile St Helens Borough Council, in Merseyside, revealed that ‘we have had one instance where an employee has been disciplined for excessive use of the internet, including posting material about their social life on a social networking site when they were off sick’.
Rochdale Borough Council, in Greater Manchester, also revealed it had disciplined a member of staff over their ‘home’ use of social ­networking sites.