back to article Scanner snares senior servant

A Federal public servant in Australia's Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism has learned the hard way that a policy against using departmental computers to access pornography goes home with the laptop. In a ruling handed down on Monday (January 31), the Federal Court of Australia has dismissed the 25-year public servant …


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  1. LaeMing Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    The moral of this story is:

    Get a cheap bloody netbook for home use. Yes, a work PC is for work. Duh!

    (Former PC deployment tech for an international organisation - you don't want to know what the internal software/content auditor finds on the users' server space, let-alone their work PCs!)

    1. wim

      the real moral is

      don't bring your work home. Leave your electronic leash (sorry Laptop) at the office and go and have a life outside work.

    2. Anonymous Coward


      Yes, we do!

      " don't want to know what the internal software/content auditor finds on the users' server space, let-alone their work PCs!"

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Many years ago, when I worked in Sydney, there was a shop called 'knobs and knockers' - it sold door furniture for both domestic and Industrial. I don't know if it is still there - I left a rather large number of years ago.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Strange

      This is, of course, the answer to "why not just block the results"?

    2. Richard Taylor 2 Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      It is....

      As the title say

  3. Spender
    Big Brother

    Dude's better off...

    ...without a job from Big Brother.

  4. Nya


    he was only looking for a new ornament for his front door!

    1. Code Monkey

      Architectural Ironmongery

      And there's the real reason he was sacked, for not claiming he was searching for architectural ironmongery.

  5. JaitcH

    Hard to believe, I thought knockers were door knockers

    Having grown up in the UK countryside where every house worthy of the name mansion boasted a custom-cast 'knocker' from Gomme's Forge, Loosley Row near Princes Risborough (UK) so I did a Google and surprise, right at the top were pictures of female apertances.

    At least my naivete was countered when I found door knockers at positions 4 and 7 (A hinged fixture, such as a metal ring or bar, used for knocking on a door).

    What's wrong with the word 'breasts'?

    1. Darryl


      I hope you didn't Google that on your work PC!!

  6. Neoc

    Bottom line

    While I might not agree with the final effect (i.e., sacking the guy instead of reprimands/fines/etc...) the cause is simple:

    You use your employer's resources (any resources), you do it according to *their* rules.

  7. Tron
    Big Brother

    He clearly didn't expect the Australian Inquisition.

    Remember when folk emigrated to Australia for the laid back attitude and the great weather?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Jobs Horns

      Re: Australian Inquisition

      NOBODY expects Australian Inquisition!

      ...I'll come in again.

    2. MarkieMark1

      No-one expects the Australian Inquisition

      Amongst our weaponry are such diverse elements as: fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, an almost fanatical devotion to Ricky Ponting, and nice green & gold uniforms

  8. Ray Simard

    What if...

    ...he was just researching hardware for his front door?

  9. Anonymous Coward

    Dual boot

    My work laptop was dual boot for this very reason.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      re: Dual boot

      It seems to me that if you can dual boot it then the machine's not properly locked down, and your work data is vulnerable unless at least the whole partition is encrypted.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Live CD/DVD/USB is your friend

        At least, that's what I use if I want to use my work laptop for non-work purposes. I recommend Mint (10 or Debian) or Fuduntu (excellent power management and good selection of apps).

        Puppy is also good if you want a persistent setup.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Dual boot

      You may be mistaking someone who is a member of the IT sub-committee for someone who has used a command prompt, knows what a USB port is, etc.

  10. PT


    Install the Firefox "HTTPS-Everywhere" plugin and use for searches.

    1. Fuzz

      You're next then

      of course it was avoidable, the answer being to use your own computer for looking at porn and your works computer for work.

      The software used in this case includes key logging, and also is installed on the laptop so encryption is useless since the software has access to the unencrypted info.

      In any case it's trivial for an employer to be a man in the middle as they can very easily set up their own CA which signs certs for websites on the fly. The root cert can be pushed out over AD.

    2. An ominous cow herd

      Not avoidable

      The logging software captured screenshots... How does a secure connection avoid that?

    3. bob 46

      Works laptops locked down

      A lot of companies lock down work laptops. Where I work, I can't install anything at all on my laptop so making it dual boot, or even installing a plug-in is impossible (actually, even getting firefox on there can't be done)

    4. Lord Elpuss Silver badge


      that is all.

    5. The Vociferous Time Waster

      Nice try

      Doesn't work if the security software has a client side plug plugin which most do.

    6. Anonymous Coward

      What a pointless posting

      1. Being a work laptop, it's probably using IE

      2. HTTPS-Everywhere will encrypt the connections. It won't stop the logging of the addresses or the logging of what content is actually displayed in the browser, and stored in the browsers cache.

      Point is - he shouldn't have been using hiw WORK laptop for what he was doing!

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      That depends on what technology your employer uses for monitoring/filtering web traffic.

  11. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Big Brother

    "The pornography itself seems to have been mild enough."

    No-one should care whether it's mild or whatever.

    There seems to be a lot of "trust" in the state bureaucracy. Are they afraid of leakers? I guess getting fired counts as a win.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Door Appendages

    Perhaps he was doing his bit to save the planet by finding the cheapest quote for replacing the door furniture. Knockers are surely greener than doorbells?

  13. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Good for your arm muscles

    My last work policy banned me from using work laptops or phones for personal use - even when on a trip. So every business trip I had to carry two laptops and two cellphones with me.

  14. Pablo

    That's insane

    “Pirated software and/or material; racist material; pornography; or LINKS TO SUCH MATERIAL.”

    So even if he really had been searching for door knockers, he would have still been fired when some of Google's results inevitably pointed to the other kind?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I'm a federal public servant in Australia (hence posting anonymously) and I'm very surprised to hear that a 25 year old is in the Senior Executive Service. Almost all people in the SES only received their promotions to that level after the age of 35 at the very least. Is the journalist absolutely sure that he's got the age right?

    1. Elmer Phud Silver badge

      Missed a bit?

      "The program, which takes a snapshot of a user's desktop every 30 seconds, was then used to unearth the internet history of the man with a 25-year career with the public service. It uncovered his usage even though he had deleted his browser history."

      From Sydney Morning Herald (I just googled the department and looked at news)

  16. Anonymous Coward


    I must admit I did read the whole article, but did he then go on to click any naughty links? If he simply looked up "knockers" then looked at DIY stores, then he has a case for unfair dismissal I assume.

    I would have hoped even in this case the company would have looked at the whole trail, from sending the search term to the number and type of further links clicked.

    Work policies are in place for a reason, they are to protect the company or organisation's reputation. Silly example, you work a well known company, surf a little bit of the naughty stuff during your lunch break. The owners of the naughty site then spot the IP, reverse lookup then decide to call up the company HR dept to report that one of their employees is looking up porn on the website and unless the company coughs up some money, they will take it to the papers. Bloody stupid example, but possible I suppose. I have worked in companies where employees have done something stupid, caused others from outside the company to make threats against other employees, Police are called in and the original employees are sacked, to ensure the company protects it's reputation and the safety of its existing employees.

    Most companies are OK with a bit of personal surfing to online stores, eBay, even maybe a little Facebook if that's your bag, just to in the name of keeping employees happy and being fair, but looking up porn? If your company is stupid enough to not have a web filter at the gate, like Websense for example, then you need to keep your nose clean and use some common.

  17. TRT Silver badge

    So good...

    to know the spirit of Benny Hill lives on.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    fair enough to the ruling but why would you bother lugging a work laptop home if you couldn't use it at home? If they needed something done out-of-hours, then tough.

  19. Richard 51


    So if we worked in Australia's public sector by reading this article with its liberal sprinkling of the word "Knockers" we would all be walking to the dole office.

  20. Bilgepipe

    Bang To Rights

    Don't use your works computer for viewing anything dodgy. I'm amazed there's even an argument about this. It doesn't matter where you are and it's not about "Big Brother" - it's your employers computer and the use of it comes under their rules.

    What next - bank robber unfairly fired for using works van in heist?

    1. Ted Treen
      Big Brother

      What next, indeed!

      " robber unfairly fired for using works van in heist.."

      Wouldn't be unfair - heists are inherently illegal.

      "Worker unfairly fired for using works van to pop to the newsagents for a lad's mag" would be a closer analogy, and of course the fairness would be questionable - by some, at least.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Surprised no one has suggested it already, but this could have been avoided:

    1) buy a USB pendrive, around 4GB would be sufficient (maybe larger if you've planning for a mild to unhealthy internet addition),

    2) point your employer's Spyware 360 TM infested browser here:

    3) click "download", and while waiting for it to arrive, click the 'USB stick' and 'Windows' options and follow the simple instructions.

    5 minutes later and the bosses spyware is safely confined to machine's hard drive which you'll never need to mount outside of the office again. Better still, the pendrive stays with you and will work just as well in the laptop your next employer gives you! Now that's beautiful.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      You missed a bit ...

      4) Discover that your machine is properly locked down and won''t allow you to boot from anything but the hard drive, and that you can't modify the MBR.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        4a. sounds reasonable to me.

        4b. why would you want to modify the MBR if you are booting from USB/CD?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          re: why would you want to modify the MBR?

          Having established (4a) that BIOS won't let us boot from CD/USB, we want to install a bootloader that allows us to circumvent that.

      2. 42


        Find the relatively easty method of unlociong the bios optios and dual boot.

        I have yet to meet a laptop where I could not unlock the bios with a bit of fiddling.

    2. Woodgar

      Re: Pendrive

      "Now that's beautiful."

      No, that's wilfully circumnavigating security measures and is a sackable offense.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bit of a catch all clause.

    "links to such material."

    If downloading a link to "such material" is a sackeble offence, it's just a matter of time before the inevitable happens and some "link to such material" appears during a browsing session.

    If they keep tabs of anything done on these entrapment laptops, they can use it as leverage against any employee in the future.

    It might be trivial for us enlightened Reg readers to avoid such arsery, but your average office bod wouldn't stand a chance.

    Fuck that. Fuck them! Australia: You suck.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good job he does not live in Reading

    There was a shop called "Knobs and Knockers" in Reading some years ago but that closed down, however this shop opened recently.

  24. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Yet another who confused his work laptop with *his* work laptop

    The idea that someone could take home a substantial piece of company supplied hardware and get the idea it was his to play with as he liked is pretty stupid when you think about it (unless you're a sales rep with a company car).

    No one would think about doing this with a dumb terminal.

    I'm quite impressed this department takes its access control so seriously (a lesson the UK civil service could learn from. The House of Commons, MoD and NHS in particular come to mind). Although you have to wonder weather they'd have come down so hard on a more senior staff member.

    As for company installed spyware I don't think most people have *ever* felt it's benign. Understandable and sensible perhaps. I'd say it's more about how much staff would trust management with such information.

    Fail because given he knew the PC was not his and he knew it had monitoring software on it he still *did* it.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother


    Would I also get fired if I was using my work laptop to shop for kitchenware?

  26. drewsup

    spread the word

    a live, small,free,linux distro, ( DSL,Puppy), can now save your job!

  27. A for Anonymous
    Thumb Down


    Australia: where the kind of (legal) porn you fancy can get you in trouble.

    My image of Australia could hardly be any worse. With a censored Internet, greedy politicians that blacklist far more than just porn, and now this, it reeks of puritanism so much I would think twice before even visiting as a tourist.

  28. Joe K
    Thumb Down

    I've seen this 1st hand before...

    ....and we'll see it a lot more, as cash-strapped councils and businesses look desperately for a way to get rid of old-timers without having to pay redundancy money.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bootable Linux CD

    is the simple answer to how to break rules.

    But the rules remain, and, as has been said, he knew them and, simply, should not have been breaking them.

  30. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

    Knockers, door

    Hmm, must try this as search term..

  31. Kubla Cant Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    When they want to sack you, they will

    There's a subtext to this story.

    Even in the world of penpushers, it's surprising that a valuable and long-serving employee would be sacked for browsing "mild pornography". An unofficial warning or an official reprimand would be more proportionate.

    It looks as if they were on the lookout for a pretext to get rid of him - either for valid reasons or through vicious office politics. I've worked in an IT department that was occasionally asked to check login and door pass records to help build up a dismissal case against an employee.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Banned from accessing racist material? In Australia?

    How would they recognise it?

  33. Mike Shepherd

    '...a logging...environment...that flagged keywords such as “knockers”'

    With drought, global economic meltdown, devastating floods and now the worst cyclone for 30 years, it's interesting that civil servants still spend Australians' money on stuff like this.

  34. LaeMing Silver badge

    I recall our very own Edna Everage had something to say on the matter a few decades back:

    Something along the lines of: "every girl should ignore the ockers, 'cause every woman has her knockers"

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