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Saturday, February 6, 1999 Published at 02:51 GMT


Sci/Tech

Voyeurs learn 'netiquette' the hard way

Many users are caught out by not knowing computer basics

By Internet Correspondent Chris Nuttall

As more people in the UK are connected to the Internet, the media has been feasting on stories about prominent people exposed for visiting sites they should have steered clear of.

Subtract the highly organised child pornographers from the sum total and you are left, by and large, with smut seekers spotted because they were so ignorant about computers and the Net they never realised they might be caught.

Workers in Parliament, local councillors, public officials, teachers and doctors have all been sacked or suspended for storing or viewing porn.

'Busty women'

But there is more than an element of sensationalism in the reports, and the case of the Plymouth councillor sacked from positions of responsibility for looking at pictures of "busty women" suggests double standards may be operating.

While his fellow Conservative councillors condemned Albert Fry for "totally unacceptable" conduct, council officials said he had been "perfectly innocent" and his behaviour "reasonable for a new Internet user".

The type of pictures he had been viewing was apparently of the sort to be seen every day on page three of the popular tabloid newspapers.

He was discovered when a technician saw the material while carrying out routine maintenance on the computer.

This all fits as one of the standard modes of discovery of porn seekers unaware of the trail they are leaving. A fuller list:

  • Taking the computer to PC World for repair: This is what led to the pop star Gary Glitter being charged for possessing indecent computer images. Staff at PC World in Bristol allegedly found pictures on the PC he had brought in. More tragically, a Japanese businessman hanged himself last year after 1,700 pornographic pictures were found on his computer being repaired at PC World's London centre. He had taken it in because the screen kept going blank, suggesting he had not even grasped the concept of screen savers and energy-saving monitors.
  • Using a computer in a public place: Albert Fry was surfing on a PC in the Conservative Party's room at the Plymouth Civic Centre. It was used by a number of people and information on it was not secure.
  • Using a computer on a network: Some network administrators have software which can monitor the Websites staff are visiting and even check on the content of e-mails.
  • Storing large numbers of images: Large numbers of .jpg or .gif files on a hard disk could mean pornographic images are being stored. Many of those discovered had not tried to rename the files to escape detection nor to use encryption software to scramble them.
  • Not clearing usage records: Sites visited on the Web can be traced in history files automatically created and often going back weeks. Many users do not know how to clear these files in their browsers nor how to clear the caches of Web pages saved for quick access. Adding porn sites as favourites or bookmarks to browsers is a dead giveaway.

More and more organisations are introducing some kind of filtering software, originally intended for children, to prevent their grown-up employees falling to the temptation to visit dubious sites. Blocking access in the first place is seen as the best way to reduce the number of cyberporn scandals.





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