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Civil servant fired for googling, um, 'chest'

An Australian civil servant googles a rude colloquialism on his government-issued laptop. Snooping software catches him and a court upholds his firing, despite the fact that he was googling from home.

Men, sometimes, cannot help themselves. This, it seems, includes civil servants.

I am moved to this dour view of life by the case of an Australian civil servant who took his government-issued laptop home.

The Sydney Morning Herald tells the tale of this man, a senior government employee, who, once at home, chose to google the word "knockers".

This, for those of you not influenced by English colloquialisms, is a pejorative word used by little English boys to refer to women's chests.

Unfortunately, the Australian Government has in its employ a program called Spector360, which tends to come down hard on, its Web site proudly declares, "all employee Internet and desktop activity whether they are in the office, traveling or working remotely on both Windows or Mac OS."

This official, a 25-year veteran, works at the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism. Or should I say, worked. For he was fired after Spector360 discovered his slightly rude search.

Surely governments can allow their staff a little online downtime. Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

You might have thought that the official decided to argue that he was merely investigating the limits of energy and tourism resources in Australia.

But, no. Instead, he reportedly argued that Spector360 was a gross invasion of his privacy. Or, perhaps, an invasion of his gross privacy.

He said that the pornography he had downloaded was legal, that he was using his own personal Internet connection, and that the laptop had been given for his personal, as well as public, use.

There was, moreover, no evidence that anyone else had seen the result of his googling.

The judge found for the government. He reportedly said that the civil servant knew about Spector360. He was also troubled that, initially, the civil servant had claimed the pornographic download was, um, accidental.

But, he also offered an alluring glimpse of promise to others who might inadvertently (or not) use work computers for domestic relaxation.

For the judge, perhaps sighing deeply, reportedly said: "Some might think that the resources of the commonwealth could be much better utilized on activities apart from the zealous pursuit [of the public servant] over something he did in his own home which was not against the law."

Some might interpret this as meaning: "Look, these cases are stupid. People are people. I don't want to be the one who tells the government and corporations to lay off, but hopefully another judge will. Thank you. I am going home now to surf the Web on my own very personal computer."