Cyber Safety

Wyoming Conference

Safe Sanctuaries Training Committee

Safe Sanctuaries and Cyberspace

The internet and portable devices allow people to stay in contact with each other more easily than at any other time in the history of civilization. Some incredible ministry can take place using modern technology, but as with all forms of ministry there are some inherent risks involved with the use of electronic communications. However, following basic Safe Sanctuaries procedures can help to minimize those risks. Here are some recommendations:

There is no such thing as privacy on the internet.

Consider anything and everything on the internet as public information. There is no such thing as privacy once something hits cyberspace.

Receive parental/guardian permission.

In addition to general permission to participate in your ministry, it is advisable to receive parental permission prior to:

  1. emailing a child and youth
  2. calling, texting, or sending data to a child or youth?s cell phone (keep in mind "free" minutes and data plans vary tremendously even with the same carrier)
  3. posting photos online.

NEVER post easily identifiable information online.

As tempted as you might be to post a contact list for your youth group on your website, just don?t?even if you do have parental permission! We do not want to make it any easier for perpetrators to find our children and youth.

  1. Easily identifiable information includes such things as full name, phone number, physical address, birthday, e-mail address, website, and even the full names of parents/guardians.
  2. Using the Blind Carbon Copy (BCC:) field in an e-mail allows you to send a message to the participants in your ministry without the worry of e-mail addresses being broadcast?especially if it?s something that may be forwarded to someone beyond the group. Recipients only see their own address. Be sure to include parents/guardians in on any mass e-mails sent to participants.
  3. Don?t put too much of your own easily identifiable information online either. As the old saying goes, "trust in God, but lock your doors." While you certainly want to be accessible to the children and youth in your ministry, it is important to add safety to the equation as well?not only for your personal safety, but theirs? as well. It is easy to "connect the dots". Make a business card or magnet to give to those involved in your ministry instead.
  4. Limit what is communicated in electronic prayer requests. When placing a child, youth, or vulnerable adult on an electronic prayer list, consider using only first names. If someone must know the last name or the mailing address of the individual, have her or him call the church office or a designated contact person.

Limit individual communications with children and youth.

You play an incredible role in the faith journeys of young people and so, from time to time, you may be contacted by individuals. You may even feel compelled to initiate communications. It is important to have a clear communications policy in place and to make sure participants and parents/guardians are informed of such a policy.

  1. Conduct any communications in a professional manner. (Even though you may be a sounding board for a youth having a bad day, the reverse is not true.)
  2. Save all communications you have with children and youth (i.e. instant messages (IMs), chat room conversations, e-mails, etc. Do not use a technology without first knowing how to save this information!) Having an electronic "paper trail" can be important.
  3. If you are uneasy about any topic addressed in an e-mail or an e-mail in general, send a blind carbon copy to a parent/guardian (if appropriate) or another trusted adult. Honor privacy, but not secrecy. Having established guidelines before this happens can be of great assistance in such cases.
  4. If abuse is divulged electronically, follow standard reporting procedures. 5.

Obtain copyrights for all photos you post online and use safety precautions when posting.

Most photo-sharing sites provide users with the opportunity to copyright photos, but it is not necessarily something that happens automatically. It is especially important to obtain a copyright for any photo posted directly on a church/ministry website. Keep in mind that copyright laws are not necessarily universal and can get rather complicated. Also be aware that if you took the photo while acting in a formal capacity, the church or ministry may be the actual copyright holder.

  1. When posting photos, refrain from using names and never use last names.

  2. Check photos for vulnerable/compromising situations and to make sure they uphold your mission. For instance, photos of the youth group pool party should be carefully screened to make sure everyone is covered. And you probably don?t want to post photos with the kid wearing the "I?m with stupid" t-shirt with the arrow pointing right toward you?Also check to make sure nametags are not distinguishable.

  3. Use low-resolution photos whenever possible and slightly blur/pixilate photos. If Joe?s grandma in Arizona would like a copy of that stunning photo of him carrying an orange underneath his chin you may provide her with a sharper high-resolution copy directly.
  4. Block "save photo as" options on websites (ask a web savvy person for assistance)
  5. Limit access to photos by employing the use of a password (see the "Cybersafety in the Church" section on the next page for some password tips.)
  6. Obtain additional permission to use photos elsewhere (i.e. a youth worker journal or website, local paper, etc.)

Exert caution when using social networking sites.

Social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, 7Villages, Xanga, Friendster, and the like are popular with youth. While most of these sites restrict use to individuals over the age of thirteen, this can be hard to enforce. Dealing with social networking sites is a popular topic of discussion amongst adults who work with youth?both in and out of the church. This is a new phenomenon and so it is important to proceed with caution. If you already have an account or are considering establishing account, consider the following:

  1. Limit who can see your profile. This is especially important if you are "friends" or "contacts" with youth. When this option is used, most sites require you to accept a friend request prior to someone being able to see your profile. Keep in mind though, that people in the same "network" may still be able to view your full profile unless you limit their access as well.
  2. Restrict who can be your friend. Even if your church or ministry allows you to be "friends" with youth on social networking sites, it is still prudent to use judgment in accepting requests from youth. It is also wise to allow youth to request to be "friends" with you first, rather than vice versa. If you
  3. Use higher level security features even if you have a restricted profile (such as requiring your approval of all comments posted to your site.)
  4. Do not post anything to your social networking site that you would not want attached to your resume or printed in the church newsletter or bulletin. (The same goes for blogs.)
  5. Remove inappropriate comments, photos, etc. You may need to remind friends and family that you are involved with youth ministry and that impressionable eyes may view your profile.
  6. Encourage youth to follow these same guidelines.

Refrain from giving out passwords to personal or church accounts

Passwords to personal and church accounts should only be given out in rare circumstances. If you find it necessary to give grant someone access to an account (i.e. someone needs to make an update on the church website.), either create a separate user name and password for that person or change the password as soon as that person is done with his or her task. ((see the "Cybersafety in the Church" section on the next page for some password tips.)

Cybersafety in the Church

It is becoming more and more common for churches to offer computer and/or internet access to members and guests. It is vitally important to have at least some basic safety measures and procedures in place.

Computer Labs or Stations

Some churches or ministries may have a computer lab or allow members and guest to use a centrally located computer. Here are some basic guidelines to follow:

  1. Keep computers in plain view
  2. Provide adequate supervision for computer labs (especially when children and youth are using the lab)
  3. Establish and post rules
  4. Make sure computers are running up-to-date anti-virus software
  5. Create a User Agreement that everyone using a lab or station must abide by Software is available that requires a user to acknowledge this agreement prior to logging on to a computer. At the very least, have users sign a paper copy and keep this on file.
  6. Use filtering software to keep users from accessing inappropriate sites or programs For instance a church would be wise to restrict access to pornographic, gambling, illegal music downloading, and file sharing sites. A church may also restrict access to instant messaging programs, social networking sites, and sites that are deemed incompatible with the mission of the church.
  7. Wireless Access. Broadcasting a wireless internet signal brings with it additional risks. However, having access to the internet almost anywhere in a church can open up some great learning opportunities for children and youth (and adults too!). Implementing some basic safety measures can help alleviate some of the risks.
  8. Use encryption software or devices to scramble information being transferred using the signal
  9. Use a strong password for your server (see section C below for password tips) This will also help keep random internet "poachers" at bay
  10. Password Security

Password strength

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Strong ILoveJesus08

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Cybersafety Links Information on Children?s Online Privacy Protection Act Safe Families website Checklist for Implementing an Online Safety Program in Your Computer Center offered by Safe Families Sample Acceptable Use Policy for Computer Centers offered by Safe Families A Microsoft website that allows you to test the strength of passwords Touted as "The World?s Largest Internet Safety and Help Group" site Series of articles on how to secure wireless networks