Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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11/29/2006
04:44 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
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If An IT Manager Finds Kiddie Porn On The Company President's Computer, Should He Call The Cops?

That's a question posed to the New York Times's "The Ethicist" column. The columnist, Randy Cohen, has a completely insane response: The IT manager should remain silent. The questioner writes: "I am an Internet technician. While installing software on my company's computer network, I happened on a lot of pornographic pictures in the president's personal directory, including some of yo

That's a question posed to the New York Times's "The Ethicist" column. The columnist, Randy Cohen, has a completely insane response: The IT manager should remain silent.

The questioner writes: "I am an Internet technician. While installing software on my company's computer network, I happened on a lot of pornographic pictures in the president's personal directory, including some of young children - clearly less than 18, possibly early teens. It is probably illegal and is absolutely immoral. Must I call the police? I think so, but I need my job."

The Ethicist responds:

It is a crime to possess child pornography, and understandably: the sexual exploitation of children is reprehensible. Yet you have no legal obligation to contact the police, nor should you. The situation is too fraught with uncertainty. These photographs might depict - legally - not children but young-looking adults. The images could be digitally altered. Your boss may have acquired free (albeit illegal) images rather than bought them and provided a financial incentive to those who harm children. Someone other than your boss may have downloaded the pictures.

As citizens, we all have an obligation to call the cops when we see strong evidence that a felony is being committed. Cohen is wrong. The IT manager has an obligation to call the cops.

Does the IT manager risk his job? You bet he does. Is it possible that the president is innocent? I suppose, but it's unlikely.

I don't envy that IT manager. He's risking losing his job, and making a powerful enemy too. I hope I'm never in that position myself. And I also hope that, if I ever do find myself in that position, I have the courage to do the right thing despite personal risk to myself.

Child molestation is wrong. If you possess child pornography, you're contributing to child molestation. If you look the other way at other people's kiddie porn collections, you're contributing to child molestation. That's not hard to figure out, is it?

Certainly, child pornography laws and child molestation laws have been abused to witch-hunt innocent people. The U.S.'s Child Online Protection Act is too broad. Attempts to ban child pornography have been too sweeping, and would stifle legitimate discussions of sexual issues, as well as classics like Romeo and Juliet.

But that's not what we're talking about here. We're talking about a powerful person who's using his position to obtain actual kiddie porn. And that's just plain wrong. This is an issue that all reasonable people should agree on, liberals, conservatives, and libertarians alike.

For further insight, I called my colleague [John Foley.](http://informationweek.com/authors/showAuthor.jhtml?authorID=1099) He did extensive reporting on issues like this last year.

He points out similarities between the Ethicist's discussion and a real-life criminal prosecution. Robert Johnson, chairman and CEO of the well-respected New York financial information and document services firm, was charged last year with possessing child pornography on his company computer. He pleaded guilty this year

Foley notes that the Ethicist's IT manager may be putting himself in legal jeopardy by remaining silent; some states have laws requiring people to report others who possess child pornography.

The IT manager should, at minimum, contact his company's human resources department and corporate counsel to notify them of the problem, Foley says. Ethicist's IT manager may not be the only person who knows about this; the cops may already be on the case. By failing to inform his company about the porn, the Ethicist's IT manager is depriving the company of an opportunity to get ahead of the investigation and minimize damage to the company from the action of a lone predator. The Bowne case was the result of a Department of Homeland Security investigation into an international child porn conspiracy; Bowne found out about it when the DHS investigators knocked on the door.

In Foley's earlier article, he quotes some down-to-earth advice:

Businesses and IT departments need to be prepared. Parry Aftab, executive director of WiredSafety.org and an InformationWeek columnist, recommends setting up a procedure for dealing with the stuff before it happens. Best practices include having up-to-date Web-monitoring software, letting employees know what to do if they encounter child pornography, and making it known that violations will be reported to law enforcement. If a senior executive is involved, managers should be prepared to approach another executive in a position of influence, such as the general counsel or director of human resources. "You set up a process," Aftab says, "in the same way you report sexual harassment."

Here's some additional reading:

What do you think? Should the IT manager go to the cops? Should he go to his company HR department or legal counsel? Or should he just keep his mouth shut? Leave a message here and let us know.

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