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Grossly Offensive

Week of March 7, 2002
Somebody is being attacked.

Recently a swarm of automotive employees have been given the sack for sending pornography through their corporate email systems. The Register has dutifully reported on it here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. This is part of The New Threat. We've seen it before and we are going to see it again. And it is a threat.

As a rationale for sacking people at Rolls Royce, head of communications Martin Nield called the confiscated materials 'grossly offensive'.

But 'offensive' implies 'offence', which in turn implies 'attack', and unless Mr Fuddy-Duddy decides he wants to pry he won't encounter this type of email which he implies is attacking him.

One thing is for sure: Whoever is sending and receiving this correspondence doesn't feel like they're attacking anyone and doesn't feel attacked. Perhaps the pictures being distributed are in fact 'grossly disgusting' and the whole point of the exercise is for the lads to have a laugh. It is certainly within the protection of 'free speech' to produce anything at all and publish it, disseminate it, and have a laugh or whatever over it (although most cultures today would limit this 'free speech' when it comes to child pornography of course).

And it may not be appropriate for employees to spend paid working time culling the Internet looking for new pictures to send around to the lads. Employers may feel like they're being cheated out of the salaries they're paying.

But any employer put to the wall on this one would have a hard time citing statistics which show how much work time is actually wasted with these activities. For while four out of five emails may very well be wasted on sending 'grossly offensive' pictures back and forth, it certainly isn't going to take much time for the average grunt to open the email, take a look, say 'yuck' and close it again.

Mr Fuddy-Duddy everywhere is not interested in wasted work time. To think so would be to miss the whole point. Mr Fuddy-Duddy is trying to censor his fellow human beings. And the greater issue here, the reason this rant is necessary, is that in so doing, in prying into areas where he has no right to be, in violating principles of decency, in sacking people for something as intangible as this, he is bringing on the Orwellian Nightmare all over again.

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