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Jefferson County IT policy draws controversy

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Big Brother can take a back seat for a few more weeks.

The Jefferson County Board of Legislators voted Tuesday night to send its new Information Technology policy back to an ad-hoc committee for review after questions surfaced about a provision in the policy that gives the county the right to monitor any and all voice and data traffic passing through its computer and telephone systems.

Legislator Anthony J. Doldo, R-Watertown, raised concerns about the possibility of listening to sensitive conversations originating from certain departments, including the Sheriff’s Office, the Department of Social Services, and the District Attorney’s Office.

Because computing systems and resources provided by Jefferson County are owned by the county, “Ultimately we have the right to monitor those systems as we deem necessary,” said County Attorney David J. Paulsen.

Attempting to set fears of abuse at ease, IT Director Gregory C. Hudson said, “We’re not doing it on a day to day basis. ... There’s nobody actively listening to traffic.”

But concerns that the policy was not specific enough to govern sensitive situations remained.

Undersheriff Paul W. Trudeau said that an employee came to him with questions about proper protocol if confidential information was inadvertently discovered.

“There should be something in there to protect that confidentiality,” Mr. Trudeau said.

“In law enforcement you think about what could happen. What’s the worst, and work back,” Mr. Trudeau said.

As an example, Mr. Trudeau said, “In law enforcement we do wiretapping, OK, there’s nothing there that says they can’t listen in.”

Legislator Michael A. Montigelli, R-Black River, also raised questions about how the policy might affect people other than county employees.

“Any employee of the county should not have an expectation of privacy, but somebody who’s communicating with a county employee would,” he said.

Legislators determined that the policy needs more specific language to prevent abuse and sent the resolution back to the information technology ad hoc committee.

The IT ad hoc committee is made up of Scott A. Gray, R-Watertown, Philip N. Reed, R-Fishers Landing, and Robert D. Ferris, R-Watertown.

After the meeting, Mr. Reed stressed that the IT policy was a “fluid document” and that changes would continue to be made as technology evolves.

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