The US federal courts have approved recommendations to relax guidelines for monitoring the internet use of judges and court employees, in a move similar to how private businesses monitor employee web use.
The principal policy-making body for the federal court system, the Judicial Conference of US Courts, a 27-judge panel led by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, noted jurists and court employees should have some internet activities monitored, but not email.
Steps have also been taken to block traffic from companies such as Gnutella, Napster, Glacier and Quake.
"In carrying out routine administrative, operational and maintenance responsibilities, should instances of possibly inappropriate use of government resources come to the attention of the management of the court unit or the Administrative Office, established Judicial Conference notification policy will be followed," the Administrative Office statement said.
According to the policy, inappropriate use refers to creating, downloading, viewing, storing, copying or transmitting sexually explicit material.
In addition, materials related to illegal gambling, illegal weapons, terrorist activities and other nefarious activities are prohibited.
Up until now there has been no monitoring policy governing the computer use of the 30,000 court employees, including 1800 judges.
A report by the Privacy Foundation estimates that just over one in three US employees, or 14 million employees, who use the internet at work have their internet or email use under continuous surveillance.
Worldwide, the number of employees under similar surveillance is estimated at 27 million.
Although an initial proposal would have required judges and their employees to agree to unlimited monitoring of their email and web use, the Federal JudgesAssociation said monitoring would threaten judicial independence.
Earlier this month, Leonidas Ralph Mecham, director of the Administrative Office of the US Courts, had recommended revisions to the policy. His office had begun limited internet monitoring, which prompted some US Circuit judges to disable the monitoring software.
Members, who were scheduled to vote on the policy at the time of the US terrorist attacks, voted the approval by mail.
They also ordered a study to see if court districts could handle their own internet access without threatening security.
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