Law officers disciplined for bad behaviour online

More than 70 staff at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the Metropolitan Police Service have been sacked or disciplined in the past 18 months for misusing the internet and social networking sites, according to official figures released today in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.

More than 70 staff at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the Metropolitan Police Service have been sacked or disciplined in the past 18 months for misusing the internet and social networking sites, according to official figures released today in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.

The MoJ sacked four officials and issued final warnings to three for misbehaving on sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and carpeted more than 40 for internet and e-mail offences.

The Met has launched disciplinary proceedings against 28 police officers for breaching rules on social networking sites.

Met and MoJ staff are banned from social networking sites for personal use during working hours. This includes blogging, video and photo sharing, and posting comment. However, senior managers permit some officers access for professional reasons.

Online experts said more must be done to stamp out internet misuse in public bodies. Keith Crosley, director at e-mail security specialist Proofpoint, said it was worrying that some who work in the UK's two leading law enforcement agencies are bringing them into disrepute and possibly risking operational security by their online actions.

The officials are supposed to be upholding the rules and regulations, not breaking them, he said.

Internet misuse

Some 18 Met officers received written warnings for misusing social networking sites, five were given "words of advice" and four a "formal misconduct" charge. The force took no further action against one. The Met also sacked one civilian staff member and disciplined four for similar offences in the past 18 months.

In addition to the staff sacked or disciplined over social networking breaches, the MoJ reported that 41 staff were subject to disciplinary action for breaches of IT security policy. The incidents include misuse of e-mail, internet browsing, and incorrect use of passwords and login details.

The information came from a Freedom of Information request from PR firm Lewis Communications over misuse of social networking in the past 18 months. The query followed a number of stories that indicated the misuse of the internet by police and civil servants.

Breaking company rules

Crosley said the Met and MoJ were not alone in dealing with these issues. People post a lot of information about themselves and their employers on Facebook, he said. Staff are breaking company rules on the use of social networking sites, leading to data breaches.

"Proofpoint's own research has found that 17% of organisations have investigated a leak of confidential information via a social networking site, and 10% have disciplined an employee for violating social networking policies in the past year," he said.

"Restricting access is clearly not the way forward as it is impossible to stop people using social media tools at work," he said. "It makes more sense to educate employees about the risks, rather than implement an outright ban."

 

Scotland Yard's guidelines on how to behave on social network sites 

 

  • While it is a personal decision, for security reasons it is suggested that staff do not disclose their position as an MPS employee or officer. Whatever the decision, one should avoid disclosing personal details which may be used for identity theft, or to identify one's home address or other sensitive details. Do ensure that the privacy settings available on social networking sites are used.
  • Irrespective of whether you disclose your position, you must do nothing which risks bringing the MPS into disrepute or compromising its effectiveness or the security of its operations or assets. To do otherwise might lead to disciplinary and/or legal action, with potentially serious consequences.
  • If disclosing your association with the MPS, staff must consider whether it is appropriate to discuss their role within the MPS, as any information that may compromise police operations or investigations or which breaches the Official Secrets or Data Protection Acts must not be divulged.
  • Staff must not divulge any official MPS information, including information obtained through your work for the MPS, nor expand upon MPS information already available in the public domain.
  • If staff disclose that they work for the MPS, then it must be made absolutely clear that any views expressed do not represent the official position of the MPS but are the views of the individual.
  • Staff must not use any MPS logo or other copyrighted material.
  • Staff may accept payment for their own material produced away from their MPS employment, provided that this has been officially registered and sanctioned as a business interest, and providing the material does not in any way relate to policing. Failure to register and obtain a sanction for a business interest may result in formal disciplinary action being taken.
  • Under no circumstances must staff bring the reputation of the MPS into disrepute by making derogatory comments regarding MPS policies/procedures/operations or any other activities.
  • In accordance with the MPS Equality Policy and SOP, staff must not display offensive images or make offensive comments, or in any way harass, intimidate, bully, victimise or discriminate against others.

 

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