- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The work computer of one regional supervisor for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission showed more than 1,800 attempts to look up pornography in a 17-day span: “It was kind of distraction per se,” he later told investigators.

But he wasn’t alone. More than two dozen SEC employees and contractors over roughly the past two years have faced internal investigations after they were caught viewing pornography on their government computers, according to records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and other public documents.

The activities of porn-surfing SEC workers, a small fraction of the overall work force, have been serious enough to warrant a mention in each of the past four semiannual reports sent to Congress by the SEC’s office of inspector general.

In response to the open records request by The Washington Times, the inspector general’s office provided more than 150 pages of records and transcripts on the investigations, but declined to identify the employees involved. The office noted that disclosure of the employees’ names “could conceivably subject them to harassment and annoyance in the conduct of their official duties and private lives.”

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Allan Bachman, education manager for the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, said such problems are hardly unique to the SEC. He also said the findings are troubling aside from “the egregious nature of what they’re doing.”

“They’re simply just stealing time,” he said. “They’re getting paid to do something that they’re not supposed to be doing.”

SEC officials said the inspector general’s investigations began as a result of the agency’s “sophisticated surveillance and filtering system” aimed at uncovering abuse of government computer resources.

“Any level of misuse of government resources for inappropriate purposes is a matter of serious concern, which is why the SEC provides regular and comprehensive training on the proper use of the Internet,” SEC spokesman John Nester said.

“Indeed, each of the cases investigated … was detected by our surveillance systems and referred to the inspector general for investigation,” Mr. Nester said.

In the case of the regional supervisor, the inspector general found that during a 17-day period, he received about 1,880 “access denials,” wherein the computer system blocked his attempts to view Web sites that were deemed pornographic.

The supervisor later told an IG investigator that despite the blocked attempts, he still had been looking at pornography at work up to twice a day and it had “probably occurred for a long time.”

SEC records also provide insight into how some employees were able to bypass the Internet filters inside the SEC that were supposed to keep pornography off government computers.

One worker said the computer system blocked him from visiting some Web sites but that he was able to look up blogs containing pornographic images.

“I would click on it and it went to a blog and it wasn’t blocked,” he told investigators. “And that’s how it started.”

Story Continues →