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A panel will decide today how closely to monitor the use of computers by federal judges and their staffs. Choices range from a proposal for extensive monitoring to no monitoring whatsoever, the demand of some judges. Some privacy advocates had said an original proposal for close checks would have opened the 30,000 court employees, among them about 1,800 judges, to extensive illegal monitoring. Court administrators contend their close-monitoring recommendation was simply to keep employees from spending work time downloading music or pornography from the Internet. Nevertheless, the proposal has been toned down to a less invasive one that is going before the Judicial Conference, the courts’ governing board of 27 judges. The judges, meeting privately today to settle the issue, could accept either level of monitoring or accede to significant remaining objections and ban all monitoring. While still allowing monitoring, the revised proposal would not require employees to give up all expectations of privacy while using e-mail or the Internet. The revised proposal follows a model used by federal agencies. It says employees may use computers for personal business if it is done outside work hours, is inexpensive and does not interfere with agency operations. Employees may not gamble or download or view pornography. The change was among two recommended by monitoring supporter Leonidas Ralph Mecham, director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. They were approved Sunday by the Committee on Automation and Technology, a judges group that proposes policy for the Judicial Conference. Mecham also opposed use of notification on computers that would warn users they were consenting to the recording and reviewing of their activities. Mecham said that method “could unduly alarm judges and other employees about the level of monitoring that is actually being performed.” Mecham said in a letter to the committee chairman that “concerns for the need for privacy appear to have, at least temporarily, taken precedence, for the most part because of widespread misunderstanding and, indeed, worry among judges.” Mecham’s office had already started Internet monitoring, which prompted some judges to protest by disabling monitoring software. One protester, Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, said in an open letter to federal judges that the initial proposal treated employees “as if they live in a gulag,” a forced labor camp. He said its adoption would “betray ourselves, our employees and all those who look to the federal courts for guidance in adopting policies that are both lawful and enlightened.” Kozinski also wants the Judicial Conference to apologize to employees whose Internet activities were monitored and clear the records of any reprimanded. He said there should be an investigation to see if any laws were broken. Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, said Monday he was pleased with the automation committee’s proposed policy changes. “It’s almost been assumed that the more monitoring the better,” he said. “The judiciary has kind of put a brake on this, which is good.” The committee made additional recommendations, including banning court workers from using Napster and Gnutella services to download music. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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