Seventh-Day Adventist Church

Internet Law and Safety

Internet Law and Safety

By Gerry Chudleigh

The Office of General Counsel (OGC) of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists has issued four documents for webmasters of church-owned websites. These statements are designed to be customized by such entities as churches, schools, summer camps and publishing houses.

1. Sample Notices of Ownership

A statements of ownership accomplishes several important functions: it declares that all the content on the site is the property of the sponsor of the site and of the Seventh-day Adventist church, it lets visitors know that the names "Seventh-day Adventist," "Adventist," and "SDA" are registered trademarks of the church, that the names are used on your site by permission, and that they cannot be used by anyone else without permission. And an ownership statement declares that while the sponsor has made a best effort to provide accurate information, mistakes are possible and the sponsor assumes no liability for the visitor's use of information found on the site.

2. COPPA (Children's Online Privacy Protection Act) Compliance Statement

COPPA was enacted by the United States Federal Trade Commission to prevent commercial Web sites from unfairly gathering marketing information from children under 13, then using that information to sell to the children without the permission of their parents, or selling the information to others without first obtaining permission from the parents. Click here for the COPPA requirements. The FTC plainly states that COPPA does not apply to not-for-profit sites, (see Question 17), but both the FTC and the OGC strongly recommend that all church sites comply with COPPA requirements anyway, for at least three reasons:

(1) Because it is simply the right thing to do. It means treating others the way we wish to be treated. Contacting the parents respects the privacy of the children and affirms the responsibility of parents.
(2) Because it is church policy. The OGC says that even though the FTC will never bring an action against the church, a private party could conceivably sue the church and might win, if a jury decides that notifying parents before gathering information from their kids is the generally accepted standard.
(3) Because a site that invites the participation of kids will look unprofessional and ill-prepared if it does not involve the parents. Parents will expect to see that your church site is as interested in parental involvement as the other sites their children frequent.

It is important to note that the COPPA rules do not prevent any website from gathering information directly from children or from displaying that information on the website -- or from doing anything else -- as long as it is done with the permission of the parents (as defined in the COPPA regulations).

3. Image Release Form

When a photograph of a person of any age is used to report news, such as how much fun members had at the recent church picnic, or to show members building a church in Peru, a release form is not required. But if the same photo is used as a design element on the site (or in print), then the photo cannot be used without a signed release. For a more complete discussion of this issue, click here.

4. Protecting Children Online

The Office of General Counsel has not released specific guidelines about protecting children from online predators but they do suggest that church and school leaders should be careful to not put on websites information that will enable predators to contact children or teens online. This is especially important for teens participating in interactive sites, including social networking sites, blogs, bulletin boards and any other sites that ask or permit children under the age of 18 to enter contact information, such as an email address, that will then be visible to the public. There is no evidence that simply publishing a child's photo and name on a non-interactive site poses a risk. For further discussion of this issue click here.

Click here for Internet Law and Safety PowerPoint Presentation