Hawaii Corporation Counsel: County Internet Records, Not “Scandal”

The following is cut and pasted from the “Desk of Lincoln Ashida“:

County internet records, not “scandal”

Lincoln Ashida

On April 17, 2009, we explained why the County’s internet use records must remain confidential while an ongoing investigation is being conducted into allegations of inappropriate use. Monitoring of County employee internet use has been an ongoing effort for some time. Unfortunately, this process became publicly known as the “County internet scandal” when a Council member opted to report to the media that he had not been granted access to the individual reports for each County department. Sharing of confidential and sensitive information within the County is done on a “need to know” basis. In fact, the internet use reports for our County have not even been shared with the Mayor, but only with the department head of each County department or agency, per the requirements of the County’s existing policy. The Council member averred that his unsubstantiated claim of internet abuse (i.e., excessive web surfing during work hours) had a direct relationship to a lack of productivity, and this was an issue that should be addressed by the Council in their review of the County’s operating budget.

A review of the records from the major departments in our County reveals no evidence of widespread illegal or highly inappropriate internet use. For those isolated cases where there has been inappropriate use, department heads are authorized to conduct their own internal investigation and mete out discipline where appropriate. This is exactly why there were objections to having the Council member peruse these reports. Representatives of the legislative branch are not the appointing or supervising authority of administration employees (and vice versa), and lack jurisdiction to mete out discipline if warranted. You may view the Corporation Counsel’s internet use records for the calendar year 2008 here.

Earlier this week, a summary report on internet use for 2008 was sent to each department head. The department head must decide whether there is any information in these reports that must be redacted before they are released publicly. For example, the Civil Defense Agency has already pointed out that a secure website periodically accessed by them through the Fire Department (this site is identified by a numeric code) contains highly sensitive information and should not be released for fear of creating unwarranted widespread public panic since the information contained therein may not be the most current or updated. It is not a matter of playing “hide the ball.” It is a matter of making sure the County executes its responsibility of ensuring only credible information is released to the public in a timely manner, and to prevent “hackers” and other persons with nefarious interests to create public panic.

Once any redactions to these summaries are completed, the reports will be available to the public for their inspection and review.

Having accepted the Council member’s recommendation, the County’s Department of Data Systems is also compiling detailed reports for the top internet users in each department. These separate reports are not all completed. They will be forwarded to the respective department head for review. The department head may then review the reports and conduct additional investigation if warranted. If it is determined the nature of the sites visited and/or their duration are inappropriate, discipline may be meted out to the employee, along with other corrective action. The reason this must be done on a case-by-case basis is there may be a legitimate work-related reason for visiting certain sites, or for using the internet for extended periods of time. The productivity of the particular employee will also be a factor. Is the employee getting their work done or are they asking for overtime? The software used by the County has its natural limitations; it can only tell you what sites were visited and for how long the internet was being accessed; it can never tell you whether the employee was actively navigating the internet during those times (the internet could have been minimized on their screen) or what else the employee may have been doing. To this end, there is no substitute for each department having appropriate accountability safeguards such as supervision, timesheets, and progress monitoring.

If discipline is meted out by a department head, the detailed internet use records for that particular employee may be withheld from public inspection. State law allows the employer to withhold this information since it involves the significant privacy interest of the employee.

If no discipline is meted out, the detailed report should be released, together with any redactions consistent with protecting the identity of secured sites as explained above.

When will all this happen? Data Systems reports the individual summaries take anywhere between 5-8 hours per employee to run. But since this is an ongoing process, and we recognize and respect the request for information made by the Hawai‘i Tribune-Herald newspaper, the reports will be released once the department head has an opportunity to determine whether discipline is warranted.

When I was a youngster in the 1980’s, “Scandal” was a rock band I listened to on MTV. More appropriately Merriam-Webster defines scandal as “loss of or damage to reputation caused by actual or apparent violation of morality or propriety.” Perhaps an even more appropriate definition by Merriam-Webster is “malicious or defamatory gossip.” The rush to judgment by some in the local media in labeling this investigation as a “scandal” was made without responsible attention to the establishment of underlying facts to support such a claim.

As ever, if you have any comments or questions on the above or any matter, please feel free to email our office at Lashida@co.hawaii.hi.us, or call me at (808) 961-8304, extension 118. This message was posted on June 3, 2009, at 2:00 p.m.

Dear Lincoln Ashida… The Hawaii County Internet Scandal?

I sent the following email off to Hawaii Corporation Counsel Lincoln Ashida this evening…

He seems to be very open and has responded to most of the Bloggers that have inquired about this investigation.  His most recent reply looks like it was over at Poinography.

So I figure while us “Bloggers” have his attention, I’d toss him a bone to chew on:

…I have a couple questions regarding this Internet “Scandal” that is going on.

1. Do you consider visiting blogs on county time Internet Abuse?
2. Do you consider responding to newspaper articles in the comment section Internet Abuse?
3. What do you think the punishment should be for violators of the above if they were found to be visiting sites deemed not appropriate to county business?

In the April 29th Hawaii Tribune you stated:

…The investigation has focused on whether employees accessed inappropriate sites, conducted illegal activities while working or simply spent too much time surfing the Web, Ashida said…”

4. My question then… How will you separate employees who surfed on County time on their own personal laptops and wireless providers during county work time?

5. Do these county employees get a “pass” on this whole investigation simply because they have their own laptops and internet providers?

Punishing one employee for surfing the web on county time only because you can find out about their use and allowing others to simply slide because you can not bust them seems a bit unfair to me.

I look forward to hearing your response… (and it will be posted on my blog if you choose to respond)

Thanks to this investigation… the number of visits to my blog has tumbled and I provide more information then something like what you addressed in the newspaper.

“…The Internet should not be used for non-county purposes,” Ashida said. “However, the policy (that employees sign) does recognize there might be some times when the use would be permitted.” For example, an employee could research product recalls or to learn about swine flu outbreaks, he said…”

I hate to say it Mr. Ashida… but my blog, as well as others, can  provide more valuable resources to the counties workers then our own newspapers can provide at times.

I look forward to your reply,

Damon Tucker

(just realized I forgot to number 4 and 5 on the email… hope he answers all 5 questions)

More Thoughts on the County Employee Internet Scandal

So this County Employee Internet Scandal is getting pretty interesting.  I think it was Aaron Stene who first coined it a “Internet Scandal”.  I’m pretty sure I was first to bring attention to the fact that Yagong was calling for this investigation.

The newspapers have picked up on it pretty good but have missed some key things that have come out.  Yesterday I found Lincoln Ashida’s response to this whole thing,  but I didn’t really get much chance to say anything about what I thought of the response.

The Department of Data Systems declined to provide the Council Member the records, explaining that an ongoing investigation into this alleged abuse is ongoing. Unfortunately, subsequent blog entries and even an editorial written by a journalist professional characterized the conduct of County employees as pervasive…

I had to backtrack a bit to find it, but I believe he’s talking in particular about this post by Tiffany Edwards “Best If County Shares Details Of It’s Workers Internet Usage Investigation

The word that Ms. Hunt used was “Tight-Lipped”:

“Blame it on the county being tight-lipped about its “investigation” into county worker internet usage…”

So if anyone is using the word pervasive… it’s Mr. Ashida himself.

Investigation into internet abuse in the County began in mid-2008 and has been ongoing. One employee has already been disciplined and his case remains pending with an administrative agency. There are other potential cases that remain under investigation. This is what the County can disclose at the moment:

So Mr. Ashida is also dropping a clue as to who may have been busted.  We now know that a guy has been disciplined.  Talk about getting hit twice… He’s already been disciplined and his case remains pending?

…The records compiled by the Department of Data Systems are highly sensitive, and have not been shared outside of their department with any County department, agency or person, other than on a need to know basis. This is because many County officer and employees (including the Council) may be called as witnesses in future cases…

So what qualifies as a “need to know basis”?  Sounds like Mr. Ashida has already pinpointed the Council already if you ask me by making a statement like this.  I mean come on Mr. Ashida… you could have picked on any county employee but you just had to pinpoint the council?

These records will ultimately be released, once all investigations are completed…

Doug over at Poinography thinks differently
…the portion of the investigation that “includes sites currently being visited in order to establish trends” may reveal other alleged cases of abuse, which would lead to further “ongoing” investigations preventing the release of the data, which could again reveal other potential cases of abuse, ad infinitum. Long story short: investigations of this nature are never “complete.” Following Ashida’s argument to its logical conclusion, we’ll never have access to these data…

I think once the penalties are handed… were definitely going to hear why eventually.

…The investigation includes sites currently being visited in order to establish trends. This also involves forensic examination of hardware and downloading of saved content…

No one said that they were investigating current usage in the papers.
Forensic examination… downloading and saved content??? Hope people weren’t downloading any itunes on company time. People think that is pretty harmless and others think that because they are paying for the itunes that they can… but simply put… that is also a No-No.

I’ve heard others talk about it’s ok to browse sites like Amazon during lunch breaks… well in reality… that’s not allowed either… so those that were… could be in trouble for doing that… EVEN IF IT’s on your breaks… If your using County Computers and infrastructure to do it… then you’re breaking the Counties Policy on Internet Use… which I still have not been able to find a copy of… Is there a formal written copy or policy somewhere that can be found?

Disclosing the records would identify particular individuals who may not be eventually charged administratively or criminally.

Wait a second, I thought we already went over what Public Records are with the Noelani incident. The public should be able to view the sites of ALL COUNTY WORKERS… not just those that are charged with something.

…No doubt the public is entitled to view these records. The sole issue is one of timing…

And Doug blogged about the timing as well:
…Unless there is a plan to halt internet access by County employees altogether at some point, the “proper timing” argument for the release of the data is, if not a red herring altogether, going to be a real challenge…
I love how Mr. Ashida ends it…

…Once the investigations are completed and final decisions are made on administrative and criminal charges, the records will be released…

…We are also committed to being fair to all persons involved in the investigation, and not do anything that would jeopardize its integrity.

Jeopardizing the integrity of the investigation… Let me think about this one… Mr. Ashida is blogging about the case as it’s going on… is that ethical in itself?

My Guess at the Top 10 Internet Sites Visited by County Workers in the Year 2008

Here is my guess at what the top 10 websites visited by Hawaii County Employees are:

  1. Google.com
  2. Yahoo.com
  3. Homepage of whatever branch of  Government they work for
  4. Honoluluadvertiser.com
  5. Hawaiitribune-Herald.com
  6. Westhawaiitoday.com
  7. www.bored.com
  8. www.fail.com
  9. hunterbishop.com
  10. Howtokilltime.com

Anyone else want to throw out a guess at what would be a popular website for county workers to visit?

Hawaii County Employees Internet Scandal!!!

I blogged about Council Member Yagong looking into the records of county employees a few weeks ago here.

The Big Island Chronicle blogged about it on the same day here.

I then thought about it and blogged my thoughts about how this was a no-brainer here the next day.

Big Island Chronicle followed up with Hunter Bishop recently and got the following response from him:

“Tiffany, The information you requested is part of an ongoing county investigation. The information will be made available to the public when the investigation is completed. Let me know if you have any further questions. Aloha, Hunter”

In today’s West Hawaii Today, Nancy Cook Lauer writes:

Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi acknowledged Friday that his office is investigating “very serious” and possibly illegal abuse of Internet access on county computers.

Kenoi said the investigation goes back to January 2008 and includes the potentially illegal use of county computers for political activity, as well as other serious abuses.

“We are not going to tolerate this type of behavior,” Kenoi said. “We anticipate action will be taken in the future” that could include employee termination and even prosecution.

The mayor did not know when the investigation will conclude. He declined to say what other kinds of Web sites employees may have inappropriately been accessing…

More Here

Just yesterday, I made the following comment on Tiffany’s Blog:

I was wondering why my page visits dropped a bit in the last few days. I wonder if a memo got circulated reminding county employees of what types of internet sites they should and shouldn’t be accessing while on county time?

“…If there was any illegal or abusive behaviors regarding Internet usage, six months of history is more than enough for disciplinary action, legal action or investigative conclusion,” Yagong said in an April 10 letter to Kenoi.

In other words, unauthorized and/or illegal usage has stopped dead in its tracks. Releasing the report would have zero bearing on any ‘ongoing investigation’ as you can’t investigate illegal usage that has voluntarily and abruptly stopped cold…