US Judges join online snooping protest

A panel of US judges better known in the technology industry for their role in the landmark court battle against Napster is at...

A panel of US judges better known in the technology industry for their role in the landmark court battle against Napster is at the fore of another technology debate.

Judges from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco are protesting at the use of software that monitors employee Internet activity within the federal court system - including that of the judges. One expert said the protest could have broad implications for all online employees.

In a move to express their anger over the use of such technology, a council of senior Ninth Circuit judges ordered IT staff to disable the monitoring software from the computers of about 10,000 judges and federal employees in May.

In addition to freeing the Ninth Circuit from the watchful eye of their employer, the snooping blackout spread to the computers in the Eighth and Tenth Circuits, which are tied to the same network, affecting about one-third of the nation's federal court system.

The week-long protest caught the attention of a group of the nation's top judges, who will meet to discuss the issue next month, a spokeswoman for the Ninth Circuit confirmed.

Judges from the Ninth Circuit have been speaking out against the use of invasive technology since 1998, when snooping software was first installed on federal court system computers.

An estimated 14 million employees in the US, or about one-third of the nation's online workforce, have their Internet or e-mail use continuously surveyed.

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