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No porn and no games: Computer usage rules for TDs and Senators

No social networking for some people working at Leinster House in addition to the installation of picture scanning software which looks for ‘inappropriate content’ usually indicated by ‘certain flesh tones’.

Computers are a bit different from the days when this lot occupied Leinster House
Computers are a bit different from the days when this lot occupied Leinster House
Image: Photocall Ireland

PICTURE SCANNING SOFTWARE is being installed on the PCs and laptops of TDs and Senators at Leinster House to ensure that no inappropriate material is being viewed by members or their staff.

It is one of a range of new measures that have been introduced by the Houses of Oireachtas this summer in relation to its ICT (Information and Communications Technology) facilities following an audit carried out by the professional services firm Mazars.

On foot of this first ever audit, an Acceptable Usage Policy memo was circulated from the office of the Ceann Comhairle, Seán Barret, on 21 June with members urged to read and sign the memo and special ICT sessions also organised for members.

The document – which you can view in full here – outlines computer usage rules for TDs, Senators and their staff at Leinster House with some of the more notable restrictions including those on use of social networking for some civil service staff, no games and no use of popular internet browsers like Google’s Chrome or Mozilla’s Firefox.

The document outlines five measures being taken including the application of the Acceptable Usage Policy, the placing of a footer/disclaimer at the bottom of all outbound email memos, the application of size limits to emails, the installation of an intrusion detection and prevention system, and the installation of software, PixAlert, to monitor PCs and laptops for inappropriate content.

“Implementation of this measure will help to provide members and their staff with protection against any future allegations that they have been using the internet inappropriately,” the document states in relation to the installation of the PixAlert software which scans “certain flesh tones” on images to determine their appropriateness.

The terms of the document came into force immediately and all members were asked to read, sign it and return it to the head of ICT at the houses of the Oireachtas.

Strong passwords and data protection

A number of security systems are already installed on the ICT system at Leinster House including the blocking of “certain categories of websites”, anti-virus software and anti-spam software. All laptops and offsite technology such as laptops are also encrypted.

Websites that are classified as “social networking” are also blocked for certain civil service staff unless access to such sites is required for work purposes.

The document reminds members to be mindful of the content of their emails and ensuring that Data Protection laws are adhered to including not sharing passwords, writing down passwords and leaving them in plain sight, and using unencrypted hard drives and USB sticks with Oireachtas PCs and laptops.

Members are urged to ensure they have a strong password containing three or four character types and are urged to change their passwords regularly.

The document also contains guidance on what members or their staff should not do including play computer games, store personal material not connected to their employment, participate in “mass non-business related mailings such as chain letters” or upload or download material which may be in breach of copyright or could be threatening, slanderous, abusive, indecent, obscene, racist, illegal or offensive.

The document also states: “[Members and staff should not ] use the system to request, store or transmit material that could be construed as being harassing, abusive, threatening, harmful, vulgar, pornographic, obscene or invasive of another’s privacy.”

Members are also told that when using the internet they should not visit sites which contain “obscene, pornographic, sexist, racist or other objectionable material” or for “commercial gain or profit” indicating that online gambling is ruled out.

Email restrictions

Limits have also been imposed on outbound emails with a size of 20 megabytes or over which are delayed for sending until after 10pm, traditionally when the Dáil adjourns if it is in session. An email which has a size of 50 MB or over is automatically deleted.

The document states: “There have been several occasions when internal mail servers have collapsed because one person has sent a memo to all other internal email accounts – typically a collapse occurs when the memo transmitted contains a large attachment.”

The restriction on the downloading of software means that those working in the Oireachtas computers are restricted to using Internet Explorer 8 or higher on their Oireachtas PC and cannot download increasingly more popular browsers such as Chrome or Firefox.

Use of other popular software applications such as the video-chat application like Skype or Twitter clients such as Tweetdeck would also be blocked by this measure.

The Oireachtas said that the audit of ICT facilities was “routine” and part of “good governance” although it was the first of its kind. In addition authorities said that the installation of the Pix Alert software did not arise from any specific incident.

A spokesman for the Oireachtas said: “PixAlert has been in use on PCs used by civil servants in the Oireachtas for several years. One of the Mazars recommendations was that a security policy applicable to all users of Oireachtas ICT facilities should be developed, and adopted by the Commission.

“A part of the development process involved consultation with members, and it was during this consultation that some of the members indicated that they would like software protection on their Oireachtas computers, in exactly the same way as civil servants are protected.

“By providing PixAlert, the Commission is also assisting members in their duty of care as an employer – this tool helps them to ensure that no inappropriate material appears on their monitors.”

Read: TDs rarely use tablet computers that Leinster House already provides

Read: 16 of the weirdest questions ever asked in the Dáil

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Hugh O'Connell

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