Unauthorized Use of Government Computers

Unauthorized Use of the Internet

If your job duties require you to have a computer and access to the internet, chances are you have checked your personal e-mail or Facebook page, used your work e-mail address to send personal messages, or have surfed the internet while at work. While these may seem like harmless uses of your employer's resources, depending on what is accessed and when, a federal employee can be charged with misuse or unauthorized use of government property.

The Chief Information Office Council has recommended that Federal Agencies grant their employees the privilege of personal use of government property, including computers, internet connections and e-mail accounts in a limited capacity, as long as said use does not create an additional expense and does not interfere with the official business of the Agency. Based on this recommendation, most Agencies have adopted policies that allow federal employees to use their government computer and internet access for personal use during off duty hours. Generally, off duty hours are considered to be before or after the workday (subject to business hours); during lunch or scheduled break periods; or on holidays or weekends.

Government computers and the internet access thereto are under the control and custody of the Agency and your personal use of the same implies that they have your consent to disclose any information you store or pass through that device. Therefore, a supervisor has the right to read, monitor, access or record any personal information you may store on a government computer. With that said, common sense should tell you that it is wise to limit your personal use of your government computer and only store or view information that you would otherwise share or disseminate to your co-workers and supervisors. In addition, you should be careful not to use your government computer for actives that are otherwise prohibited by standing Agency policies. Such activities include, but are not limited to, viewing websites with sexually explicit or pornographic content, distributing e-mails that are offensive to co-workers based on race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, or engaging in illegal activity such as gambling.

Failure to adhere to Agency policy regarding the use of your government computer could result in a revocation of your internet access and e-mail privileges or an adverse action such as a suspension or even termination, depending on the nature of the misuse. A federal employee can appeal an adverse action to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) in an effort to reverse the adverse employment action. Litigation before the MSPB is complex and time-sensitive. It is prudent for federal employees with an MSPB attorney to avoid potentially prejudicing their case.