Computer audit results presented to Selectmen

By Jaime Rebhan | Oct 28, 2010

A year-and-a-half and nearly $60,000 later, the results of the controversial town computer audit are in: Several dozen pieces of “inappropriate material” were found among 67 town disks examined, and a number of questionable Internet searches were found on 17 Police Department disks for the five-year period examined by auditors.

“It's very distressing to find that we have any hits [inappropriate activity] at all,” said Selectmen Chair Jane Donahue at a meeting of the Selectmen on Wednesday, October 27, called to discuss the results of the audit, which was presented in summary form to the Board of Selectmen.

The previous Board of Selectmen called for the audit in May 2009, and the computer disks were copied by outside firm Global Digital Forensics during a mandatory furlough day for town employees. Employees had no advance notice of the audit, nor were they or the public given a reason for the audit at the time, beyond the desire of the Selectmen to determine if employees were improperly using town computers.

In February, after the Plymouth County District Attorney's office required that the minutes of an illegal executive session meeting of Selectmen be made public, it was learned that the audit was prompted by the Selectmen's desire to learn who was using town computers to post to Wareham resident William Whitehouse's generally anti-Selectmen website, warehamobserver.com, and who was spending business time on the Internet, among other things.

The audit results were much anticipated, after several delays. The Plymouth County District Attorney’s office seized the computer disks from Global Digital Forensics in the wake of outrage expressed by some town employees and citizens regarding the audit. The disks were returned to the town in March with no finding in regard to the Selectmen. After transferring the disks to Special Counsel, the town was told in June that the audit would be completed in July. The report was then delayed twice by Special Counsel Steven Torres.

The cost of copying the disks was high, however, so auditors only examined Internet usage on the computers, Donahue said.

Special Counsel Torres examined the data on most of the town's computers. The Police Department disks were examined separately, due to the sensitive nature of some of the content.

Torres was charged with determining whether the town's Internet policy had been violated, and determined that it had been. Among other things, the policy prohibits visiting non-work related websites at any time during the work day, including break and lunch times, and downloading “inappropriate” material, Torres said.

No "illegal" material was found on the computers that Torres examined, though one image was questionable, but it could not be determined whether it was illegal. About four-dozen instances of “inappropriate” images were found, he said. He also determined that employees were visiting various online shopping websites and other non-work-related websites. The report summary does not indicate how many employees visited those websites, or how long they spent surfing them.

Torres said that the full report that Andrews has in-hand indicates which employees visited which websites, and how often.

Keith Clark, of New Hampshire IT company Networks At Home, was hired to review the Police Department disks and look for any instances of online shopping, pornography, gambling websites, and “any hits on warehamobserver.com,” he said. (Unlike Torres, Clark was not hired to review images on the disks.)

Some inappropriate search words were found, Clark determined. But Selectman Steve Holmes pointed out that police could have been searching for information regarding their investigations. “You're not saying that our police officers are guilty of anything,” he asked. Clark agreed.

The largest number of improper website searches involved the word "observer," Holmes noted. Clark said that he did not determine whether anyone was posting to any websites, as that was beyond the scope of his investigation.

Town Administrator Mark Andrews said that he would examine all of the data and make disciplinary decisions.

"It's a relief that there is not more [improper use] out there than there is, and unfortunately, there is some," Donahue said.

Comments (2)
Posted by: Gimme Shelter | Oct 30, 2010 20:00

"I am Hammatron 5000"



Posted by: mavis | Oct 31, 2010 08:46

What a waste of money, especially since this was the same time period when employees were getting laid off and town employees were asked to take furloughs. Should town employees shop while they are at work or download porn absolutely not.  Was it worth spending $53,000 to find out 4 dozen images were downloaded over 4 years I don’t think so.

 

If the town was so concerned about internet use they should have invested in soft wear to prevent employees from visiting certain sites. The town’s internet policy should have been made clear to all employees. I have talked to two town employees that thought it was ok to check their private emails as long as they did it on their lunch break. If the town wants to prevent abuse in the future they should update their soft wear. Town employees should be told what the internet policy is verbally and in written form. It might be a good idea to tape the town policy on every computer.

 

The results were not exactly earth shattering, $53,000 down the drain.



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