Legal: The potential dangers of using computers and how to avoid them

Employer-owned computers

The golden rule is – never forget that the employer’s computer is the employer’s computer.
It is vital for teachers to familiarise themselves with the employer’s rules and to comply strictly with them.

In addition to the strict rules, it is prudent to apply a cautious common sense approach. For example, it would almost inevitably be inappropriate and imprudent to use an employer-owned computer to access a sexual site (even if it is legal), e.g. an adult pornographic site not involving child pornography.

Secondly, it should never be forgotten that an employer’s computer can be accessed by the employer. It is very easy to forget that the computer belongs to the employer and for the personal relationship which we tend to develop with computers to blind us to this fact.
Our standard recommendation to teachers is to use a private computer not connected to the employer’s computer system in any way for private matters, except for rare and occasional short communications, such as sending an email to the family from the employer’s computer saying that you will be late home that evening because of a staff meeting.

Teacher-owned computers connected to the employer’s computer system

It is prudent to apply all of the advice in the previous paragraph in this situation.
Teacher-owned computers not connected to the employer’s computer system
Here it is important to bear in mind that if allegations are made against a teacher to the police, for example of sexual assault or grooming or accessing inappropriate sites, then police executing a search warrant can seize and remove the computer. If they find evidence of other offences, that is, offences other than those suspected offences which led to the issuing of the search warrant, then they can use that evidence in respect of the other offences. There are now wide-ranging state and federal provisions prohibiting accessing “child exploitation material”, (which is very widely defined). Great care needs to be taken in accessing any sort of sexual or pornographic site, even on a teacher-owned computer.

The dangers of dating sites

Teachers are at great risk when using dating sites for making contact (perhaps at the initiative of the student rather than of the teacher) with a person who is a student either in the school in which the teacher is employed or in another school operated by the Department of Education and Training. The department takes the view that contact with a student in this way, even if the student is not known to the teacher and not a student in the school in which the teacher teaches or has taught, may raise issues which can lead to serious disciplinary outcomes. While this view is contestable, it is extremely prudent to behave before the event on the assumption that it might be correct.

Dating sites are particularly dangerous, because some young people are quite skilled at presenting themselves on such sites as if they are older than in fact they are, and may be sexually experienced to a surprising degree.

Andrew Knott

Tresscox Lawyers

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 121 No 3, 15 Apr 2016, p31