lock.jpgI’m all about protecting a worker’s privacy and freedom of speech, but if you’re surfing and downloading porn for eight hours a day at work you may have gone too far.

Wondering why the government hasn’t been able to reign in Wall Street? It turns out that some top employees at the Securities and Exchange Commission, the government agency that’s supposed to be keeping an eye on Wall Street, were surfing dirty photos instead of dirty dealings.

This from the Associated Press:

The SEC’s inspector general conducted 33 probes of employees looking at explicit images in the past five years, according to a memo obtained late Thursday by The Associated Press.

The memo says 31 of those probes occurred in the 2 1/2 years since the financial system teetered and nearly crashed.

In one instance:

A senior attorney at the SEC’s Washington headquarters spent up to eight hours a day looking at and downloading pornography. When he ran out of hard drive space, he burned the files to CDs or DVDs, which he kept in boxes around his office. He agreed to resign, an earlier watchdog report said.

People like this make it harder for the rest of us. News of these bozos comes at a critical time because the Supreme Court just took up a case involving worker privacy. Such extreme abuse of employer equipment and time as seen at the SEC isn’t going to help.

I wrote about the privacy case the high court began hearing oral arguments on earlier this week in my column on MSNBC.com.

Jeff Quon, a California SWAT sergeant, was given a pager from his employer, the Ontario Police Department. He was later found to have used the device not only for work but also for pleasure, often sending sexually explicit text messages to his wife and his mistress.

Quon’s employer found out about his personal use of the pager after an investigation looking into excessive texting at the department.

Quon; his wife Jerilyn, who is also a police officer; his mistress, April Florio, who is a department dispatcher; and another sergeant, Steve Trujillo; sued the department, the city of Ontario, and the paging service company, Arch Wireless Operating Company, for violating their privacy rights.

A lower court decided in the employees’ favor in 2008; the defendants appealed. Now the highest court in the land has decided to hear the case, and privacy advocates and labor law experts are waiting to see how the court will decide.

The story got some heat from people who believe employees shouldn’t have any rights when it comes to personal use of equipment at work.

David Walker, a reader, wrote:

The employer is paying for your time. He/she has a reasonable expectation that you will be pursuing company business, NOT your own personal business/play/etc. on his/her dime and certainly not with equipment provided for business purposes.

The behavior of the plaintiffs here is wrong at virtually every level. They’re cheating taxpayers, cheating on their partners, and where does this stop?

This is just plain warped. I don’t even want to hear the cops’ interpretation of “To protect and to serve.”

While I do agree people should be concentrating on their jobs and not abusing the equipment they’re given, the cop in this case was told he could pay for the overage charges on the phone, so he had an expectation of privacy. He figured, I pay, I can use the pager to text anyone, including my mistress.

But will anyone even listen to the details of this case when situations like the one at the SEC come to light?

We have a lump-everything-into-a-big-fat-ball-of-generalizations mentality when news events occur. I hope the horny cop gets a fair shake in this mess.

I know, it’s weird for me to be defending a two-timing guy but the case goes beyond the sleaziness of this one individual. We spend so many hours working today in the office, at home, on the road, that personal time and work time have unfortunately been intermingled. The workplace has to adapt to this and give workers the common decency of not snooping on emails about a doctor’s appointment or even a sex text.

We all have to relieve stress in some way. A lot of times it’s lust that does the job. What’s wrong with that if what you’re doing is legal and you’re not sexually harassing your coworkers? If you’re getting your work done who cares. (Yes, in the case of the SEC employees, it seems getting work done was not a top priority.)

Why can’t we just go back to firing people because they don’t do their jobs?

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