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01.30.08

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Silicon Valley News Notes

Swimsuit Issues

We all know that statistics lie, especially when they don't back up your position. San Jose City Councilman Pete Constant certainly wasn't too happy with the data presented at a recent council committee hearing that showed the city's libraries are relatively free of sexual misconduct and lewd behavior. This only weakened his argument that San Jose needs Internet filters to block porn sites in the city's libraries. The city's chief librarian, Jane Light, said that over the last two years there have only been three reported arrests for any incidents of sexual nature at the various libraries, and about two dozen arrests for sexual offenses and disorderly conduct at the King Library during that same time period. That's fewer than 5 percent of all arrests at the King Library. "It's fair to say the libraries are safe public places," Light said. She pointed out, in not so many words, that men have been roping the pony to library materials since long before the Internet existed—although the sexiest examples she could think of were Sports Illustrated and art books, which just seems so 1981. Blocking porn sites, which could also block legitimate websites, won't necessarily put an end to lewd conduct, Light said. At that point an agitated Constant jumped in with his own research and data that he says shows a much higher number of incidents of sexual misconduct at the libraries, including a rape in early 2007. He came down on Light for not moving swiftly enough to address what he believes is a real need for porn filtering at the libraries. "I get that feeling we are dragging our feet and wasting time," Constant said. "I have done a lot of independent research and I don't feel honestly we are going down a path to find a solution."

How to Avoid Our Scandal Issue

One last 2008 resolution for Silicon Valley managers and supervisors: this is your year to brush up on delicate office politics so you don't get sued, fired or skewered in the newspaper. After Colleen Wilcox and Gerald Silva lost their jobs last year, locals were left shaking their heads over how a school superintendent and city auditor didn't have a better sense of what was expected of them around the office. Both Wilcox and Silva themselves claimed to be caught completely off-guard by allegations of harassment. Even allowing for the overblown Merc coverage, how were these managers oblivious to the serious and widespread dissatisfaction among their employees? Santa Clara County Counsel Ann Ravel told Fly that the casual workplace culture in the Silicon Valley tends to blur boundaries. She recommends that even a friendly workplace environment not be allowed to get too friendly, as some comments—even with the best intentions—can come across as inappropriate in the workplace. San Jose City Attorney Rick Doyle also points out there's a huge disconnect between the workplace culture people watch on shows like Seinfeld and Friends, and how people are supposed to act in real life. His advice? Pay more attention to your organizational training manuals. Chances are they already tell you everything you need to know about preventing sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

Oath of Offices

Speaking of '80s retro, don't you miss the Cold War sometimes? It had all the best paranoia. But don't worry, because according to tech-industry leaders, we could be seeing a comeback of that pre-Glasnost staple, the loyalty oath. A new proposal by a U.S. Commerce Department advisory committee would force Silicon Valley tech companies to screen foreign nationals and conduct an "assessment of probable loyalty"—and they're not happy about it. The proposed regulations, spurred by fears that foreign nationals working here could ferry sensitive information back to their homelands, target workers with access to cutting-edge technologies. Tech Net, the Palo Alto–and-D.C.-based political lobbying firm that monitors government policy on behalf of Silicon Valley companies, hosted a conference on the topic in Santa Clara last week, at which National Foreign Trade Council President William Reinsch said the new rules would result in "what, in essence, is a loyalty test." Greta Lichtenbaum, an attorney with the law firm O'Melveny & Myers, points out that the proposed regulatory changes could help local companies by keeping proprietary information out of the hands of nations that have little respect for trade laws. She points to the case of two Chinese men who were indicted in 2006 for allegedly stealing trade secrets from NetLogics Microsystems. She concedes, however, that one of those men was in fact a naturalized American citizen. "My only concern is that it seems very subjective," she says about the proposed loyalty test. In fact, many Silicon Valley companies that rely on highly trained high-tech workers from around the world who have flocked here in recent years fear that the new regulations could lead to a clamp-down on tech exports, and badly hurt their position in the global economy. Meanwhile, some anti-proliferation groups are concerned about other aspects of the proposed rules, which could weaken some export controls.


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