After some suspicious online activity sourced back to the King County Housing Authority following a public records request, a local man filed another public records request for staff’s web browser histories, and was surprised by what he found.
“There seemed to be quite a bit of time spent on, for instance Craigslist researching auto and RVs, time on RV World,” Todd Hodgen tells KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson Show, “then sports, pages for diets, just a lot of stuff that didn’t seem related to the job at all.”
Hodgen requested the browser history info after he saw that someone from the King County Housing Authority had viewed his Linkedin profile shortly after he’d filed the initial public records request.
“It’s not illegal to go research me, but it’s illegal to use what they learn to filter what they provide to me. I’m always wanting to make sure that what is given to me is everything that I’ve requested and it’s not filtered based on who I am or what I’m doing.”
He said he wanted the browser history for the whole staff or from the person that viewed his Linkedin profile. He’d be fine with the browser history from the computer on the day his profile was viewed.
“I received a phone call from a member of their staff saying, ‘That was me that did that. I wasn’t looking for anything personal. I just wanted to see if you were an attorney or not,'” says Hodgen. “That raised that question of ‘why would they want to know that.’ That implies that they want to filter what they send to me.”
After reviewing the browser history, and finding a number of things that didn’t appear to be work related, Hodgen decided to file two complaints; one regarding the viewing of his Linkedin profile, and the other regarding apparent time spent viewing non-work related websites.
“I would say easily an hour or two hours and beyond that that was spent on stuff that appeared to be personal,” says Hodgen. “I believe it points to an issue of lack of management or oversight of staff and a lack of controls on what they’re able to browse during their work day on government computers and networks.”
Hodgen promptly received a response back to his complaints.
“They said, ‘We’ve investigated and we had our attorney call the Attorney General’s office to discuss if what they did was legal or not legal.’ And they came to the conclusion that since he didn’t use it to filter information to me, that it was perfectly legal for him to do that.
“They said, ‘He’s an exempt employee, so he’s not an hourly employee, so he’s judged more on the productivity for his day.’ And they had spoke to his supervisor and they were content that he was performing his workload during the day.”
Despite employee pay status, hourly or salaried, Hodgen and Dori agree a government worker spending a good deal of time browsing personal items at work is a concern.
“I said if 25 percent of the day is wasted, you put that across their 330 employees, then they have 80 extra people on staff that they don’t need, or they could be a lot more productive,” says Hodgen.
Dori plans to reach out to the King County Housing Authority to hear what they have to say about this case.