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The government worker, the e-mail, the Nazis and the blogger

commentary Most staffers in 21st century organisations who have access to a work computer have violated their workplace's Internet useage policy.Whether it's forwarding a Christmas-themed Jpeg of a lass clad in a Santa Claus-inspired bikini, checking a Hotmail account or shopping for that gorgeous pair of boots on eBay.

commentary Most staffers in 21st century organisations who have access to a work computer have violated their workplace's Internet useage policy.

Whether it's forwarding a Christmas-themed Jpeg of a lass clad in a Santa Claus-inspired bikini, checking a Hotmail account or shopping for that gorgeous pair of boots on eBay.

Admit it. You've done it.

Those minor sins are outlawed by some IT departments and management teams to stop staff procrastinating and keep them focussed on their job. But let's look at political e-mails.

Some workplaces are fairly liberal with their Internet usage policies and some aren't. Several days ago, ZDNet Australia reported that an individual using a VicRoads e-mail address wound up in hot water when they fired off an anti-immigration e-mail to a bunch of mates. It wound up on a popular left wing blog, outraging readers.

For VicRoads, it was a big deal. There's no question the e-mail would have offended many in the community, particularly Muslim immigrants and their children. The fact that it was deemed worthy of discussion by participants in the Neo-Nazi forum Stormfront.org would seemingly confirm it as "racist", despite the message itself reading, sadly, like a fairly typical tabloid opinion piece.

That the message originated from someone on a government payroll struck a chord with the blog readers. It's doubtful the same level of ire would have been directed at the staffer had the e-mail been fired off from a Hotmail address, even if it was transmitted from a government computer.

The fact that it came from a government e-mail address is indeed serious. A failure to discipline the staffer would be seen as an implicit acknowledgment that the views expressed in the message were in line with the views of the organisation. But that is quite beside the point.

Even a sublimely written and logically argued e-mail that rallied against Muslim immigration would not have been acceptable. Indeed, an argument for increased Muslim immigration would not have been acceptable. It wasn't the sentiment of the message or even the vitriolic and simplistic way the argument was put forward that bothered people, it was that it was political in the first place.

So where does this leave the IT manager? No organisation should have in place a policy that forces it to become the judge of what a reasonable argument is, and which political themes are suitable for discussion using work computers.

In order to mitigate any argument about what is or isn't acceptable, and to dispel staff paranoia over bias and corporate censorship, it's essential that IT policies forbid the transmission of any politically themed content.

In other words, to avoid offending staff and anyone who interacts with an organisation, blanket bans must be placed on the discussion of anything likely to stir passionate debate. The specifics of the debate are completely irrelevant. Political debates have no place in most organisations, and certainly not at VicRoads. If the staffer wants to discuss their views, let them do so on their own time using their own equipment.

What do you think? Should IT policies forbid the transmission and discussion of all things political? E-mail us at ZDNet Australia and give us your feedback.