Local Politics

Audit: ESC worker pirated movies at work

Posted August 26, 2010 10:50 a.m. EDT
Updated August 26, 2010 6:35 p.m. EDT

— An employee of the North Carolina Employment Security Commission illegally downloaded and copied movies on his state computer, according to an audit released Thursday.

The computer systems analyst was fired last October, and his supervisor was suspended for two weeks in November, ESC Chairwoman Lynn Holmes said in her response to the audit.

A tip to the State Auditor's Office hotline launched the investigation into the unidentified computer analyst's activities a year ago. Auditors examined computers in his section and found that he had installed software that strips the copyright protection codes off DVDs and allows illegal duplication.

The computer analyst also had stacks of blank DVDs on his desk, and auditors found more than a dozen movies and several video games were stored on his computer. He told investigators that he stored “a bunch” of movies on the computer, and when he was asked to clarify how many, he responded, “more than one and less than 1,000," according to the audit.

He told investigators that he downloaded movies for co-workers and even used a shared system within the ESC computer network for a while before a manager ordered him to stop and to remove the files from his computer.

Investigators advised him he was breaking federal copyright laws by copying the movies, but he said he thought his activities were within the law. “I understand the copyright thing," auditors quoted him as saying. "The way I view copyright laws, this is my personal use. If I make copies for friends, then that is my personal use.”

The Digital Millennium Act prohibits removing copyright protections from movies.

Auditors also said the computer analyst violated the ESC's computer use policies by installing the unauthorized software and using the computer for his personal business.

The man's supervisor denied any knowledge of the movie pirating, although investigators found the same software on his computer. They noted he deleted a folder containing hundreds of movies from his computer after the state audit began and that he had installed a program to block access to the computer.

Holmes, who was named ESC chairwoman in March, said the agency has since beefed up its monitoring of employee computer use.

Still, the audit's findings didn't sit well with some of the unemployed seeking help from the ESC.

"It upsets me that, as hard as I've worked for a job over the last two years, somebody's taking advantage of a government job and would do that on the side," Larry Maye said.

Maye said he hopes the audit doesn't make people think poorly of the ESC.

"That's a slap in the face to the people I dealt with (Thursday) because they work very hard for their money," he said.

Holmes called the incident isolated but said she understands the frustrations of people seeking work when they hear about employed people taking advantage of their jobs.

"This was a serious matter, and we're taking it seriously," she said. "Our management team last year immediately took action and began a process for making sure we have internal controls in place to make sure this doesn't happen again."