December 22, 2010

Warning: No privacy on Assembly computers

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Legislative leaders on Tuesday approved a strengthened policy on use of General Assembly computers that emphasizes there is no right to privacy in the use of these systems, and that their use can monitored by IT staff.

At a meeting of the Legislative Policy Committee, made up of committee chairs and the presiding officers, Senate Minority Leader Allan Kittleman worried that computer use could be monitored without a person’s knowledge.

Karl Aro, executive director of the non-partisan Department of Legislative Services, emphasized that “it is not a matter of playing Big Brother,” and “there would have to be a complaint” for the IT staff to monitor a computer.

“I would hope there would be probable cause,” Aro told Kittleman.

Misuse of Assembly computers can include running a personal business or conducting campaign activities on the machines. Aro said that with about 1,000 personal computers in use in the legislative complex, the IT staff would not be randomly monitoring them.

But Kittleman said, “I think everyone should get notice that they’re monitoring my computer.”

The new language was in a revision of General Assembly personnel guidelines (page 30 in the book; 46 in the link) last approved in 2004.

The revised guidelines also tightened rules for legislative staff seeking to run for the General Assembly themselves. The old rules said that staff who file for legislative office can no longer work for the Assembly. The new rules say that a staffer who engages in any kind of campaign activity, including fundraising or having a campaign website for themselves, cannot work for the legislature.

There was a brief flap earlier this year when Kathy Szeliga, chief of staff to state Sen. Andy Harris, began running for a delegate seat but had not yet filed for office. Senate President Mike Miller wanted her to resign or have Harris fire her, but Szeliga said she was following the guidelines she had been given.

Szeliga eventually resigned after filing and was elected as a Republican delegate in District 7.

The revised personnel guidelines also require members of the General Assembly to get approval of the legislature’s ethics counsel if they rent lodging during session from something other than a hotel or property management company. The issue came up in the campaign this year when it was found that Del. Joe Bartlett, a Frederick County Republican, was having the legislature pay his girlfriend rent when he stayed in her home.

—Len Lazarick
Len@MarylandReporter.com