Online Drug Purchases Create New Worry for Employers

Recalibration ServiceControlling employee drug and alcohol use and developing employer drug and alcohol policies are two activities closely bound to managing worker privacy issues. There is arguably only one subject more complex than maintaining a drug free workplace in an age of high rates of substance abuse by the Australian population. That subject is balancing worker privacy rights with the employer’s need-to-know employee behaviours that may pose a threat to workplace safety. The issue of controlling drug use at the place of employment and maintaining employee privacy has taken on a new dimension in that people, including workers, are increasingly using their workplace internet access to purchase illicit drugs.

Buying drugs online is nothing new for the drug community. The Silk Road website, often called the “eBay for drugs”, and a number of global sites selling pharmaceuticals and synthetic drugs, are increasingly used by substance abusers as sources of illicit drugs. What sets Silk Road apart is the fact it uses masking or encryption software called Tor that makes it virtually impossible to track data. An employee using Tor can order illicit drugs online and have them mailed from overseas or delivered within Australia, and even technology wizards are unable to trace the order.1

Under the Radar

The “dark internet” is a secret network on the web in which people can operate under the radar, so to speak. It is so technologically sophisticated that the Australian Federal Police and a host of global law enforcement officials have been unable to locate the source or the founder who goes by the name of The Dread Pirate Roberts. Recently, a past Silk Road user discussed his experience. In a chilling interview with ABC News – Australia, Ryan West explained he would buy $300 of MDMA and resell it for $2,500 within a day. The drugs were ordered on a computer in his bedroom. The only reason he was caught was due to the fact he had a flourishing business selling the drugs out of his house. If he had bought them online and then posted the drugs when resold, there was a good chance he would have escaped detection.2

If people can simply install encryption software, should employers worry about employees using the workplace as a cover for the purchase of illegal drugs? The sobering answer is: Yes, they should be aware the potential exists. However, employers can protect themselves to a certain extent by developing privacy policies that address anonymous use of employer technology. The privacy policies are then integrated with drug and alcohol policies and strictly enforced using technology, internal controls, and random drug testing.

Small Company Policies Needed to Maintain Duty

Large corporations have the enterprise technology to block employee use of anonymous web proxies and all employee generated data is routinely monitored. Smaller companies often have limited technological capabilities, making it easier for workers to use workstations for the wrong activities. However, all employers need to develop privacy policies that support their duty to maintain a safe workplace. Though there is no common law right to privacy in Australia, the Federal Government has passed a Privacy Act that outlines guidelines for the collection and use of employee personal information and for keeping logs of web browsing activities by staff.3

It is important that smaller companies implement policies that adhere to the highest level the law allows and then train workers on those policies. For example, employees should know that their web browsing activities are logged and that a technical staff member is monitoring the log for all suspicious activity. Though the most technically savvy employees may be able to stay under the radar, most will not have level of knowledge needed to do so. If IT detects suspicious activity, the procedures should require immediate management notification. In addition, the small enterprise needs clear mail monitoring procedures. For example, an employer should retain the right to open any package addressed to an employee with the employer’s address.

Forbidden Activities

Of course, there must be a drug and alcohol policy and random testing program, which are essential to maintain a substance free workplace. As hard core substance abusers look for new ways to buy illegal substances, employers must adapt their policies and procedures. In the case of the dark internet, this means adding monitoring technology when possible and strengthening explicit policies on forbidden activities. Keeping workers informed on workplace monitoring and substance use policies, and potential consequences of policy violations, will promote a drug and alcohol free workplace.

Increasing sophistication of technology creates an imperative for employers, in that they must adapt their drug and alcohol policies to the current state of technology. One of the important steps in this process is adhering to a random drug and alcohol testing program, which helps small businesses overcome technology budgetary restrictions. CMM Technology at offers a variety of drug tests that can detect numerous drugs, including amphetamines and methamphetamines.


1 Duffy, Conor. (2012, December 5). Dealers shed light on dark internet’s drug trade. Retrieved from ABC News – Australia:

2 Ibid

3 Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. (2012, December). Guidelines on Workplace E-mail, Web Browsing and Privacy. Retrieved from the Australian Government – Office of the Australian Information Commissioner:

Tags: , , ,