SEC workers investigated for porn-surfing

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While the inspector general recommended disciplinary action up to and including dismissal, the SEC ultimately gave the employee a reprimand instead, records show.

Mr. Nester declined to discuss individual disciplinary decisions, saying supervisors examine the situations on a case-by-case basis and that sanctions generally range from counseling to dismissal.

He said disciplinary action isn’t based on the number of “access denials” alone. He said denials are just one of several indicators of abuse and don’t always reflect the number of times an individual seeks to view inappropriate Web sites at work.

“In fact, a single click onto one Web site that itself may not be blocked can trigger up to dozens of ‘access denial’ hits, one for each banner or ad on the Web page that might be blocked by our software, even if the individual has not clicked on to any of the banners or ads on that page,” Mr. Nester said.

Still, fraud specialist Nicole Bocra, a former special investigator for the National Association of Securities Dealers who owns and operates a private investigative firm in Virginia, said even the most sophisticated Internet filters won’t work all the time.

“People are always going to find a way around it,” she said.

Aside from the obvious lost productivity, companies also have an incentive to block employees from perusing such sites because of the risk of potential computer viruses, she said.

One employee caught snooping estimated that he had been spending part of his workday looking up pornography for more than a year, though he added that he tried not to let it affect his work.

“I justified it because I would work late and I rarely would put in for any kind of comp time or anything like that,” he said.

In another case, investigators found that an SEC headquarters enforcement employee had received 406 access request denials for pornographic sites from February to April last year. He was suspended for three days, records show.

Managers proposed a one-day suspension in another case involving a regional office branch chief who had received 271 access denials for pornographic sites during work hours.

Other employees resigned before being formally disciplined. One was a worker who told investigators he’d looked up pornography at work about twice a week for up to two years.

It’s unclear what, if any, post-employment benefits that employee or other SEC workers caught looking up pornography at work are entitled to receive after retirement.

“We are not aware of any law that permits us in these circumstances to reduce the benefits of an employee who resigned in lieu of termination,” Mr. Nester said.

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