Fairhope Mayor Karin Wilson addressed some issues involving key-logger tracking software that was placed on seven city employees’ computers during last week’s Fairhope City Council meeting after questions were raised during the public comments portion of that meeting by Gulf Coast Media.
Gulf Coast Media has previously reported the software was placed on the computers of Human Resources Director Pandora Heathcoe, City Clerk Lisa Hanks, City Treasurer Deborah Smith, Purchasing Department Buyer Randy Weaver, Water and Sewer Superintendent Dan McCrory, Gas Superintendent Robert Rohm and recently retired Electrical Superintendent Jimmy Cluster.
According to confidential sources, the spyware was placed on the PCs by a member of Fairhope’s Information Technology Department at the instruction of Wilson and without notification to the seven employees.
The spyware, SentryPC, enables a user to monitor and control what is done on a computer upon which the software is installed.
“Every activity your users perform on the computer and internet is recorded in real-time and in full detail for viewing — you will know exactly what they did and when they did it,” the SentryPC website stated.
SentryPC is a completely cloud-based computer monitoring system, which raised some concerns among sources regarding the information possibly being logged from some of the Fairhope employees’ computers.
“The city has no control over it,” a source said. “Medical information, HR information, bank account information — it’s all being stored off-site on a cloud network that may or may not be secure. And that’s just the information that belongs to the city.”
The spyware could have also logged passwords, emails and private information from those employees’ personal accounts if they were accessed on those computers.
Wilson claimed the software was installed for the city’s protection.
“This is not spyware,” Wilson said. “It is a monitoring system, and I did put it in and quoted the policy manual. Extra level of security was placed on those computers because they needed more protection for the city, and I explained that in so many words. But, this can be done at the mayor’s discretion. It was done out of the IT budget, which IT has a budget for that and I went on the recommendations based on information that was gathered that this needed to be done to protect the city.”
Wilson did not address a question about why the software had been removed from the affected computers following the report from Gulf Coast Media about the installation.
In a statement on her official Facebook page early last week, Wilson said “All cities and most businesses” have software like the key logging software in place on their computers. Gulf Coast Media contacted every municipality in Baldwin County, along with the Baldwin County Commission and Baldwin County School System and none of them used any key logging tracking software like the one installed in Fairhope.
Wilson then accused Gulf Coast Media Managing Editor Cliff McCollum of being biased in his reporting on that story and others since she had taken office published in The Courier.
“I know that I also said that you, Cliff, have been, for lack of a better word, biased on a lot of your coverage since I’ve taken office, and that is your choice to do that,” Wilson said. “But, it’s also my choice to say that it lacks both sides. I could also say that he’s tried to write other stories that he hasn’t been able to write because after giving him all of the details it just wasn’t worth writing or stirring the pot. I do think it’s unfortunate that you have chosen to do this to the mayor’s office. I don’t see where it’s warranted, and I think that using secret sources is not good reporting.”
Gulf Coast Media fully attempts to contact Wilson and her office for every story that has been written that involves her or her office. Wilson usually declines to comment or respond for those stories, usually releasing a statement after publication to her official Facebook page — which Gulf Coast Media uses to update its stories.