STAFF and councillors of the Southern Downs Regional Council (SDRC) could be banned from using social networking sites such as Facebook during work hours in a proposed crackdown on personal use of ratepayer-funded computer systems.
The ban is part of a draft information technology (IT) security policy presented to councillors yesterday, coincidentally in the same week as local controversy has emerged over teachers and personal images online.
As well as the ever-popular Facebook, other networking and online chat services which could end up being off-limits on ratepayer time include MySpace, Twitter, Skype and MSN Messenger.
The draft policy prepared by officers – which councillors will mull over for a month – makes it clear use of such services while councillors and staff are on duty should not be permitted “unless approved by the Manager Information Technology”.
Limited personal use of the internet while on the job would be sanctioned as long as it does not interfere with “work performance”, but those on the public payroll would be warned that “unreasonable or excessive personal usage would constitute a breach of this policy”.
It is also strongly recommended that employees and councillors do not use the council email system for “personal or sensitive messages” and must not use the internet or email to harass or abuse anyone or to download or distribute pornography.
The draft policy also urges staff to avoid “unauthorised release to the public” of confidential council information, splitting it into “high risk” and “confidential” categories, with the former being material which could cause “severe damage to council if disclosed or modified”.
The presentation of the policy follows the release last week of new research showing nearly 75 per cent of Aussie workers admit they spend more time watching YouTube videos at work than using the internet for legitimate research purposes.
The survey by Dynamic Business Magazine also shows more than a third of workers spend at least an hour on Facebook every day while on the boss’s time.
But on the flipside, a recent Melbourne University study of 300 workers showed productivity actually rose nine per cent among those free to surf the internet at work.
A council spokeswoman yesterday confirmed no disciplinary action had been taken to date in relation to employee use of the internet or email on work time.
Mayor Ron Bellingham said it was appropriate that councillors take time to fully digest the proposed IT policy, but admitted to “some scepticism about the integrity” of online networking sites, while not ruling out the SDRC creating its own Facebook presence.
Other Queensland councils, such as Logan City, already have their own Facebook site which is regularly updated with council news.
But Cr Bellingham backed the view of managers that online activities were not appropriate during work hours.