Legal Adviser or Network Engineer?

It's not uncommon to find IT issues in the courts. Napster's tangle with intellectual property rights and Microsoft's tango with the DOJ regarding anti-trust issues are today's best-known examples

Its not uncommon to find IT issues in the courts. Napsters tangle with intellectual property rights and Microsofts tango with the DOJ regarding anti-trust issues are todays best-known examples. As an IT manager, youre doubly exposed to these issues—through the mainstream media and through coverage in trade journals like eWeek.

This week, in Ethics in IT, we look at trying to keep corporate Internet usage on the right side of the law.

Q With all the talk of copyright infringement, Ive set my firewall to block users access to various file sharing services and sites. Im fearful that my company could be held liable if our users downloaded protected material. While the users have accepted this, what should I do if the owner of the company tells me to allow access to these services and sites?

A Illegal or not, the world sure doesnt need any more copies of "Who Let the Dogs Out?" floating around.

Your experience in IT may qualify you as an expert in technology, but it doesnt make you an expert on intellectual property, copyright law or corporate liability. You may be knowledgeable about these topics, but that still doesnt make you an authority on them.

If your boss wants to invoke executive privilege and override your decision, you should share with her what youve read about the issues. You may even want to provide a copy of some articles and suggest she discuss it with a lawyer. You cant be expected to do more than to provide your opinions, and then let the decision makers make their decisions.

In truth, you may have better success persuading your boss to continue to block questionable sites if you show her the percentage of your Internet connection (read, money) being used to access them, which may also give her an idea of how her employees are spending their time.

If any employer asks you to do something that you believe is wrong, youre always free to refuse and quit/risk your job. I dont think that keeping "Living La Vida Loca" from your users warrants such a drastic step.

To avoid finding yourself singing "Oops ... I Did it Again," follow the corporate maxim that advises us to choose our battles carefully. If she tells you to open up the firewall to Aimster, Napster, Gnutella et al., ask for the directive in writing, and then go ahead and do it.