A story from Massachusetts concerning a former school official agreeing to pay a fine for using school computers to run unauthorized background checks on celebrities, pro athletes, and politicians underscores the need for employers to have policies prohibiting workers from searching files and databases without a bona fide business necessity.

According to reports on Boston.com, a former school official in Lawrence, MA agreed to pay a $5,000 fine for his use of the school district’s computers to conduct approximately 400 unauthorized background checks on various people including major league baseball players David Ortiz and Johnny Damon, actors Michael Chiklis and Hugh Laurie, and Governor of Massachusetts Deval Patrick. In the settlement, the ex-school official admitted to violating a conflict-of-interest law by repeatedly running unauthorized background checks to access the personal information of hundreds of people in a manner not related to his job and for his own private purposes, according to the Boston Globe.

In this Age of Information, such “unauthorized browsing” by employees could lead to embarrassing stories such as this, and employers dealing with the personally identifiable information (PII) of consumers – such as names, birth dates, addresses, and social security numbers – should have written policies and procedures to instruct employees on appropriate and inappropriate use of consumer information. Such documentation should include a statement of appropriate use as being limited to business purposes only and include a prohibition on unauthorized browsing.

The acceptable use of technology is an important aspect of doing business today. Rules concerning the use of technology can protect businesses from identity theft and fraud, virus attacks, compromise of network systems and services, and legal issues. These rules would also help protect consumers, employees, partners, clients, and vendors.

Employment Screening Resources (ESR) – a leading Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA) that provides background checks – protects the personal information of consumers with an “Anti-Browsing” policy that prohibits unauthorized browsing. For information on background checks, as well as the appropriate use of consumer PII, visit ESR at https://www.esrcheck.com.