Let’s get one thing straight from the get-go: Nobody thinks using a work computer on work time to exchange off-color graphics or look for a “companion” is a good thing. But should a user go to jail for it? That’s what happened when
the boss of an Ohio man discovered the employee uploaded a nude photo of himself and hired a dominatrix online when he was supposed to be working.
The story — in brief:
In April of 2006, Richard Wolf worked at the Shelby City Wastewater Treatment Plant,where he had access to a work computer. His boss at the plant found a nude photograph of Wolf on that city-owned computer.
His boss passed the problem up the line to another supervisor, who called the police.
Their investigation found that Wolf spent 100 hours on the clock cruising adult-themed Web sites, where he was looking for — and ultimately found and hired — a professional dominatrix.
Wolf fessed up to using his work computer inappropriately and said that his behavior was “unethical and wrong.”
The zealous local prosecutor charged Wolf with a number of crimes, including “Unauthorized access to a computer.” Under Ohio law, this is a felony. Wolf was convicted and sentenced to 15 months in prison, ordered to pay a $5,000 fine and ordered to pay restitution of $2,392 to the city for the 100 hours of wages.
On another charge, one count of solicitation (for soliciting a prostitute), Wolf was sentenced to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
The “hacking” law under which Wolf was charged was originally intended to convict malicious thieves who inappropriately access sensitive records outside the scope of their job responsibilities. For example, a bank employee who accesses and sells a credit card database.
It’s hard to imagine that lawmakers envisioned sending to prison lonely, frustrated guys looking for love in all the wrong places.
While Wolf surely deserved to lose his job for slacking off at work and using his work computer for tasks totally unrelated to his job, did he deserve to have his life ruined too?
All this points to the very real need for companies of all shapes and sizes to create detailed acceptable use policies that instruct supervisors on how to handle misuse of company technology.
If Wolf’s supervisor had clear direction on how to handle a problem like Wolf, the case might not have gotten out of hand.