Section 7. County Property and Electronic Services Policy

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7.01 SCOPE

This policy applies to all county property, whether tangible or intangible, including desks, lockers, filing cabinets, electronic equipment, media, services, and new technologies as they emerge, including but not limited to, computers, e-mail, telephones, cell phones, tablets, voicemail, fax machines, copiers, radios and wireless devices, wire services, and on-line services, including County Wi-Fi and the Internet, that are:

  • County property;
  • accessed using County computer equipment or your own, via County-paid access methods; and/or
  • used in a manner that identifies the individual as a County employee.

With the rapidly changing nature of technology, this policy cannot provide guidelines for every possible situation. Instead, it expresses the County’s philosophy and sets forth general principles. For more detailed, technology-specific requirements see the IT Security Policies and follow them at all times.

7.02 GENERAL PRINCIPLES

7.021 Use County Assets Wisely

The County’s assets are intended to be used primarily for the benefit of the County. Protect these assets and use them wisely.

7.022 No Expectation of Privacy

You have no expectation of privacy in the workplace, in your work-related conduct, in the use of County-owned or County-provided equipment or supplies, or anything you create, store, send, or receive on the County computer system. Assume that what you do while on duty or using County equipment is not private. Although searches are normally not conducted without a valid reason, all work areas and county equipment, such as desks, files, lockers (even if you provide a lock), computers, devices, and electronic media are subject to search at any time.

7.03 MONITORING PRACTICES

7.031 Generally, we do not monitor electronic information you create or communicate by e-mail, word processing, utility programs, spreadsheets, voicemail, telephones, Internet access, etc. However, we routinely monitor:

a. Usage patterns for voice and data communications (e.g. website accessed, length, time of day) for cost analysis, cost allocation, and to manage the County’s gateway to the Internet. We also monitor the County network and computer systems for security incidents, patterns of unauthorized use, data leakage events, and other malicious activity that may present a potential threat to the County’s information and information resources.

b. To the extent allowed by law, County officials, Department Heads, and others are permitted to review your electronic files, messages, and usage to ensure compliance with the law and current County policies.

7.04 PUBLIC INFORMATION ACT

7.041 Emails, texts, and other electronic communications related to official county business are subject to the Public Information Act (PIA) regardless of where they are stored. Thus, if you use your personal cell phone or tablet to conduct County business or your personal email account to send or receive messages related to County business, that personal device or account may be subject to inspection to respond to a request for information under the PIA. The best practice is to use County email for all County business. If you must use your personal email account for County business, send a copy of the message to your Harris County account. To comply with records retention laws, all County business messages must be stored on a County email account no matter where the email originated.

7.042 If you text anything about County business other than transitory information, copy the text to your county email account. Texts to set up a meeting, say you are running late, or asking someone to call you are examples of transitory information.

7.05 E-MAIL AND INTERNET ACCESS

Harris County provides e-mail, internet access, and access to other electronic forms of communication and information exchange to make communication more efficient and effective and because they are valuable sources of information for government-related work. We may limit and/or decrease Internet connection speeds, block Internet content, and remove Internet access for any individual or group deemed appropriate to enable availability and performance for critical County services.

We do not want to search your personal computer, cell phone, or email account for public information, but if we get a request under the PIA or in a discovery request during litigation involving the County, we may be required to do it.

7.051 Acceptable Uses

These are some of the acceptable uses of information technology.

  • Communication and information exchange directly related to your job.
  • Communication for professional development, to obtain continuing education or training, or to discuss issues related to your job.
  • At the Department Head’s discretion, you can use electronic media for incidental or de minimis personal matters.

7.052 Unacceptable Uses

These are some of the unacceptable uses of information technology.

  • Knowingly transmitting, retrieving, or storing any communications that are discriminatory or harassing; derogatory toward any individual or group; obscene; defamatory or threatening; “chain letters”; or for any other purpose that is illegal or against County policy.
  • Use for any personal profit or political gain.
  • Use for purposes not directly related to your job whether before, after, or during normal business hours, unless your Department Head allows minimal personal use.
  • Use to copy, retrieve, or forward copyrighted material (such as software, database files, documentation, articles, graphics files, and downloaded information) unless you have the right to copy or distribute such material.
  • Attempts to read, “hack” into other systems, or “crack” passwords, or breach computer or network security measures.
  • Use that attempts to hide the identity of the sender or represents the sender as someone else.
  • Development of programs designed to harass other users or infiltrate a computer or computer network or to damage or alter hardware or software.
  • Deliberately wasting computer resources or unfairly monopolizing resources, including, but not limited to, sending mass mailings or chain letters, spending excessive amounts of time on the Internet, playing games, engaging in online chat groups, printing multiple copies of documents, or otherwise creating unnecessary network traffic. Because audio, video, and picture files require significant storage space, files of this or any other sort may not be downloaded unless they are business-related.
  • Use for online games and gambling, music, and movie downloads.

7.06 SOCIAL MEDIA POLICY

We understand that social media can be a fun and rewarding way to share your life and opinions with your co-workers and family and friends around the world. However, use of social media also presents certain risks and carries with it certain responsibilities. To assist you in making responsible decisions about your use of social media, we have established these guidelines.

7.061 Guidelines

Social media can mean many things. Social media includes all means of communicating or posting information or content of any sort on or via the Internet. Ultimately, you are solely responsible for what you post online. Before creating online content, consider some of the risks and rewards that are involved. Keep in mind that any of your conduct that adversely affects your job performance, the performance of fellow employees, or otherwise adversely affects vendors, contractors, or others affiliated with the County, may result in disciplinary action up to and including immediate dismissal.

7.062 Know and follow the rules

Make sure your postings are consistent with these policies. Inappropriate postings that include discriminatory remarks, harassment, or threats of violence or similar inappropriate or unlawful conduct will not be tolerated and may subject you to disciplinary action up to and including immediate dismissal.

7.063 Be respectful

Always be fair and courteous to fellow employees and interns, vendors, contractors, or others affiliated with the County. Keep in mind that you are more likely to resolve work-related complaints by speaking directly with your co-workers or by discussing issues with your supervisor than by posting complaints online. Nevertheless, if you decide to post complaints or criticism, avoid using statements, photographs, video, or audio that reasonably could be viewed as malicious, obscene, threatening or intimidating, that disparage co-workers, vendors, contractors, or others affiliated with the County. Examples of such conduct might include offensive posts meant to harm someone’s reputation or posts that could contribute to a hostile work environment on the basis of race, sex, national origin, disability, religion, age, or any other status protected by law or County policy.

7.064 Be honest and accurate

Be honest and accurate when posting information or news about the County. If you make a mistake, correct it quickly. Be open about any previous posts you have altered. Remember that the Internet archives almost everything; therefore, even deleted postings can be searched.

Never post any information or rumors that you know to be false about the County, your co-workers, vendors, contractors, or anyone affiliated with the County.

7.065 Maintain confidentiality and clearly identify opinions as your own

Maintain the confidentiality of information the County holds that is private or confidential. Do not post internal reports, policies, procedures, or other internal business-related confidential communications.

Express only your personal opinions. Never represent yourself as a spokesperson for the County without authorization. If you write about the County, be clear and open about the fact that you are an employee and make it clear that your views do not represent those of the County. It is best to include a disclaimer, such as, “The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Harris County.”

7.066 Using social media at work

Refrain from using social media while on working time or on equipment we provide, unless it is work-related and authorized by your manager. Do not use your County email address to register on social networks, blogs, or other online tools for personal use.

7.07 RETALIATION IS PROHIBITED

We will not take negative action against an employee for reporting a possible violation of this policy or for cooperating in an investigation. Any employee who retaliates against another employee for reporting a possible violation of this policy or for cooperating in an investigation will be subject to disciplinary action up to and including immediate dismissal.

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