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May was an interesting month for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, but it escaped public notice until this week. It seems that federal judges, of all people, have gotten riled up about the monitoring of employee computers. Specifically, their own. The New York Times broke the story on Wednesday, reporting that a group of judges believe computer monitoring at work is an invasion of privacy, and possibly illegal under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, like wiretapping. They ordered staff to shut off the monitoring software for a week. “The shutdown affected about a third of the country and about 10,000 court employees, including more than 700 active and semiretired judges,” said The Times, and it peeved the bureaucrats at the Administrative Office of the Courts in Washington. Like any employee-monitoring boss, the administrators talked about worker productivity. “As much as 3 to 7 percent of the judiciary browser’s traffic consists of streaming media such as radio and video broadcasts, which are unlikely to relate to official business,” read a March memo obtained by The Times. And, er, some court employees have been disciplined for looking at smut. The Judicial Conference of the United States, which makes rules for courts, will meet on Sept. 11 to sort this out. Privacy advocates hope the case will set a precedent against employee monitoring, said The Wall Street Journal, but they may be disappointed. “Experts in workplace law say the legality of such monitoring is widely accepted,” The Journal explained. “Broad surveillance by system administrators is explicitly permitted under the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act and has been upheld by several courts, and Congress has rejected attempts to craft a new policy.” But was that before Congress discovered MP3s? Related Articles from The Industry Standard: Is Napster Too Guilty for a Trial? Recording Industry Turns the Screws in Napster Case Microsoft: Let’s Forget This Ever Happened Copyright � 2001 The Industry Standard

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