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CLARIFYING WHAT IS ACCEPTABLE
 
 


The internet is a vast store of varied information, but one which is more or less completely uncontrolled and unmanaged. While a lot of the content on the internet is very useful, there is also a degree of content that is misleading, incorrect and/or illegal, simply because members of the public are free to put forward any opinion they choose. Although the internet is often likened to a library, it isalso quite different. A conventional library gives its users unrestricted access to content which has been filtered. The internet, on the other hand, can give unrestricted access to completely unfiltered content, including pornographic sites, sites which encourage gambling, and sites which promote racism or violence.

One method of control you may want to consider is using filtering software which restricts internet access. Filtering software either uses keywords to restrict access (so, for example, a site in which the content contains the word "sex" could be rendered inaccessible), or sites can be blocked by address. The problem with the first method is that many legitimate sites can inadvertently be blocked, including biology sites or those dealing with sex education. The problem with the second method is that there are so many site addresses, and they change so fast and often, it is simply not possible to keep up. Filtering software can therefore never be more than a partial solution.

Although pornography is an obvious example, similar issues will arise with sites considered to be of a racist or violent nature, or with political sites. Is your businesses going to allow freedom of access to these, or will they be filtered/banned in some way? You would probably think it perfectly alright to let users access the web site of the Democratic Party, the Conservatives, or political parties. But what about the National Front, or the Socialist Workers Party? What will you do if you find someone looking at a site which describes how to make a bomb? Looking at a site about bomb making is not illegal, but it might not be something you want your organization to promote. On the other hand, there can be perfectly valid reasons for accessing these types of sites. Whether or not to filter content, and if so which content to filter, is a complex issue. Some companies will choose to give their users unrestricted access to the internet, working on the principle that its users are responsible, and that it is not the organizations role or right to filter content, since that can be construed as censorship. Other companies will choose to filter content, on the basis that they have a responsibility to protect users from inappropriate material. Your decision is likely to depend on your user base - an organisation employing primarily adults might well have a different policy than one which is based in a youth club.

It is very easy to come up with lots of examples of inappropriate use, but difficult to write these down in an AUP in advance, so most organizations will probably have some sort of catch-all clause within their AUP, such as "Viewing or downloading offensive, obscene or inappropriate material from any source is strictly forbidden. The storing and transfer of such images and/or text using company equipment is also forbidden". Precisely how this is defined can be a little tricky – what is offensive or inappropriate to one person might not be to another – but at least you will have a framework in which to make decisions if necessary.