Court: Web at work not private

If you're surfing the Net from work, click with care: Your employer has the right to monitor your online activity.

And if you're an employer who doesn't pay attention to your end-users' Internet activities, it's time to protect yourself by tightening the reins and steering your employees away from seedier destinations on the Web.

The Ninth U.S. Court of Appeals Tuesday upheld the conviction of a man from Montana who was arrested for "receiving obscene material on his work PC," the San Francisco Chronicle reports. "Receiving obscene material," in this case, refers to accessing child pornography.

The 3-0 ruling confirms that companies have the right to keep a close eye on how workers use company equipment and Net access. Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlan writes: "Social norms suggest that employees are not entitled to privacy in the use of workplace computers, which belong to their employers and pose significant dangers in terms of diminished productivity and even employer liability."

The case dates back to January, 2001 when Jeffrey Ziegler was busted for having child pornography on his work computer. The FBI discovered the files with the assistance of the IT admin at Ziegler's place of employment, Frontline Processing.

Prior to Ziegler's arrest, Frontline had notified its employees that their online activities were subject to monitoring. And that kind of precaution is prudent, according to titled "Risky Business: What Must Employers Do to Shield Against Liability for Employee Wrongdoings in the Internet Age?" by Nicole J. Nyman from the Shidler Journal of Law, Commerce and Technology.

"To take a proactive part in the battle against inappropriate employee Internet activity, employers should put procedures into place to educate and monitor employees. If it can be demonstrated that the employer took affirmative steps to prohibit illegal activity, liability for employee actions is much less likely," Nyman writes.

The report includes some valuable advice on how to educate employees and reduce the risk of litigation for your company.