Canadian Civil Servants Routinely Abuse Internet Access

A confidential report revealed tens of thousands of hits to sites of questionable nature.
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Canadian government employees attempt to access websites containing pornography and other illicit–or even illegal—content thousands of times per month, say published reports.

A confidential report focused on how Ontario’s more than 60,000 civil servants use their work computers reveals tens of thousands of hits to sites with content described as “illegal or questionable,” “drugs,” “racism and hate,” “militancy and extremist,” says the Toronto Star.

In addition, the report says there are more than 40,000 attempts each month by civil servants to circumvent Ontario’s computer security system, as well as 145 million hits a month on websites focused on sports, entertainment, travel, shopping, games and real estate originating from government computers.

There are also about 15 million monthly visits by government computers to streaming video sites, and to large Internet services that carry television and video content, the report says.

There are also dozens of investigations each month into computer-related fraud, extortion, disclosure of confidential government information and “operating a business,” according to the report.

However, there are legitimate business reasons for ensuring the civil service has liberal access to the Internet for both professional and personal productivity, says Ron McKerlie, deputy minister of Ministry of Government Services, which is responsible for monitoring civil servants' Internet use. Nonetheless, those government workers who abuse the privilege are monitored and caught, he said.

Punishment has ranged from a suspension and a docking of pay to a couple of former civil servants who were fired and referred to police for investigation, McKerlie said. “In my 2 1/2 years on the job, there have been three cases where it's been really ugly stuff where the police have been involved and very serious charges laid,” he added.

Along with social networking sites including Facebook and YouTube, websites with illicit content are blocked from access on the government’s computer network. But an assessment reveals that one month during 2009, government staff attempted to visit “proxy avoidance” services—websites that provide users a way to slip past corporate firewalls—nearly 50,000 times.

It is unclear from the reports how many of those attempts were successful or how many other attempts were not detected at all by government computers. Among the blocked attempts were more than 80,000 visits to “illegal or questionable” sites; more than 7,500 to sites listed under the category “drugs;” more than 3,500 to “racism and hate;” and more than 500 to “militancy and extremist” sites. The destination for about 20 per cent of all blocked sites is consistently pornographic or “adult” content.