As government jurisdictions and agencies across the country provide access to the Internet for their employees, questions arise about policies for employee use.
Most jurisdictions and agencies already have a policy that covers network use and e-mail. To avoid duplicate or inconsistent provisions, it is best to approach the development of an Internet use policy within the context of existing policies. In addition, regulations may need to be developed to assist employees in implementing the policy. The need for detailed regulations is particularly evident in areas affecting public records and confidentiality.
WHY INTERNET ACCESS?
When Internet access is provided to government employees, it is important to make it clear that access is for a limited government purpose and all activities using the Internet should be work-related -- research, participation in mailing lists or newsgroups and correspondence.
Many employees will need guidance in determining what activities are work-related and the impact of the Internet on their productivity. The Internet can be addicting, particularly mailing lists and newsgroups. Group electronic communication can contribute to cross-jurisdictional sharing of creative ideas. But employees can lose track of the amount of time they devote to such activities and it is easy to rationalize that such activities are in furtherance of their job. This is primarily a training and personnel management issue, but the policy should emphasize restraint in group communication activities.
Most policies also enumerate the kinds of activities that would not fall within the limited governmental purpose. These include commercial, political and lobbying, collective bargaining and illegal activities. Personal use is also prohibited, but most jurisdictions and agencies will allow a small amount of private electronic communication for personal reasons. Fundraising activities, unless they are government approved or sponsored, are also generally prohibited. Employees should be made aware in training that their e-mail address provides an easy way to discover if they are using public resources for inappropriate purposes.
WHO HAS ACCESS?
To reduce misuse of public resources, jurisdictions and agencies may want to restrict access to only those employees who can demonstrate a work-related reason to have it. This can be done on either an individual approval basis or through an analysis of job classifications with the option of individual approval.
EXPECTED MANNER OF COMMUNICATION
Many policies contain a laundry list of prohibited, inappropriate speech, such as "offensive and abusive speech, flaming, etc." A more effective and positive approach can be captured in one simple statement: "Employees are expected to communicate in a professional manner that will reflect positively on them and [the jurisdiction or agency]."
With a greater number of employees communicating via e-mail, mailing lists and newsgroups comes the concern that a statement by one employee may be perceived by the recipient as an expression of official policy. One approach to handling this concern is to require the use of a disclaimer when an employee's views may not necessarily represent those of their jurisdiction or agency. A more restrictive approach would be to dictate that all viewpoints expressed must be in accord with official policy. This would substantially limit the benefits derived through cross-jurisdictional information sharing.
Another approach is to provide a cautionary statement in the policy and trust that employees will understand the limits of their communication in various contexts. Regardless of approach, it is clear that employee training should include instruction on how such issues are to be handled.
E-mail is a public record and subject to public record regulations with respect to inspection and disclosure, and scheduled retention and disposition. Unfortunately, from the information services perspective, excess mail storage is a system administration nightmare, leading to the recommendation of provisions such as: "delete your mail on a regular basis." The Internet policy must be in accord with the