2/20/08 Kyle S. Found this at
http://www.ftc.gov/ogc/coppa1.htm


Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998

TITLE XIII-CHILDREN'S ONLINE PRIVACY PROTECTION
SEC. 1301. SHORT TITLE.
This title may be cited as the "Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998".
SEC. 1302. DEFINITIONS.
In this title:
(1) CHILD.—The term "child" means an individual under the age of 13.
(2) OPERATOR.—The term "operator"—
(A) means any person who operates a website located on the Internet or an online service and who collects or maintains personal information from or about the users of or visitors to such website or online service, or on whose behalf such information is collected or maintained, where such website or online service is operated for commercial purposes, including any person offering products or services for sale through that website or online service, involving commerce—
(i) among the several States or with 1 or more foreign nations;
(ii) in any territory of the United States or in the District of Columbia, or between any such territory and—
(I) another such territory; or
(II) any State or foreign nation; or
(iii) between the District of Columbia and any State, territory, or foreign nation; but
(B) does not include any nonprofit entity that would otherwise be exempt from coverage under section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act (15 U.S.C. 45).
(3) COMMISSION.—The term "Commission" means the Federal Trade Commission.
(4) DISCLOSURE.—The term "disclosure" means, with respect to personal information—
(A) the release of personal information collected from a child in identifiable form by an operator for any purpose, except where such information is provided to a person other than the operator who provides support for the internal operations of the website and does not disclose or use that information for any other purpose; and
(B) making personal information collected from a child by a website or online service directed to children or with actual knowledge that such information was collected from a child, publicly available in identifiable form, by any means including by a public posting, through the Internet, or through—
(i) a home page of a website;
(ii) a pen pal service;
(iii) an electronic mail service;
(iv) a message board; or
(v) a chat room.
(5) FEDERAL AGENCY.—The term "Federal agency" means an agency, as that term is defined in section 551(1) of title 5, United States Code.
(6) INTERNET.—The term "Internet" means collectively the myriad of computer and telecommunications facilities, including equipment and operating software, which comprise the interconnected world-wide network of networks that employ the Transmission Control Protocol/ Internet Protocol, or any predecessor or successor protocols to such protocol, to communicate information of all kinds by wire or radio.
(7) PARENT.—The term "parent" includes a legal guardian.
(8) PERSONAL INFORMATION.—The term "personal information" means individually identifiable information about an individual collected online, including—
(A) a first and last name;
(B) a home or other physical address including street name and name of a city or town;
(C) an e-mail address;
(D) a telephone number;
(E) a Social Security number;
(F) any other identifier that the Commission determines permits the physical or online contacting of a specific individual; or
(G) information concerning the child or the parents of that child that the website collects online from the child and combines with an identifier described in this paragraph.
(9) VERIFIABLE PARENTAL CONSENT.—The term "verifiable parental consent" means any reasonable effort (taking into consideration available technology), including a request for authorization for future collection, use, and disclosure described in the notice, to ensure that a parent of a child receives notice of the operator's personal information collection, use, and disclosure practices, and authorizes the collection, use, and disclosure, as applicable, of personal information and the subsequent use of that information before that information is collected from that child.
(10) WEBSITE OR ONLINE SERVICE DIRECTED TO CHILDREN.—
(A) IN GENERAL.—The term "website or online service directed to children" means—
(i) a commercial website or online service that is targeted to children; or
(ii) that portion of a commercial website or online service that is targeted to children.
(B) LIMITATION.—A commercial website or online service, or a portion of a commercial website or online service, shall not be deemed directed to children solely for referring or linking to a commercial website or online service directed to children by using information location tools, including a directory, index, reference, pointer, or hypertext link.
(11) PERSON.—The term "person" means any individual, partnership, corporation, trust, estate, cooperative, association, or other entity.
(12) ONLINE CONTACT INFORMATION.—The term "online contact information" means an e-mail address or an-other substantially similar identifier that permits direct contact with a person online.
SEC. 1303. REGULATION OF UNFAIR AND DECEPTIVE ACTS AND PRACTICES IN CONNECTION WITH THE COLLECTION AND USE OF PERSONAL INFORMATION FROM AND ABOUT CHILDREN ON THE INTERNET.
(a) ACTS PROHIBITED.—
(1) IN GENERAL.—It is unlawful for an operator of a website or online service directed to children, or any operator that has actual knowledge that it is collecting personal information from a child, to collect personal information from a child in a manner that violates the regulations prescribed under subsection (b).
(2) DISCLOSURE TO PARENT PROTECTED.—Notwithstanding paragraph (1), neither an operator of such a website or online service nor the operator's agent shall be held to be liable under any Federal or State law for any disclosure made in good faith and following reasonable procedures in responding to a request for disclosure of per-sonal information under subsection (b)(1)(B)(iii) to the parent of a child.
(b) REGULATIONS.—
(1) IN GENERAL.—Not later than 1 year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Commission shall promulgate under section 553 of title 5, United States Code, regulations that—
(A) require the operator of any website or online service directed to children that collects personal information from children or the operator of a website or online service that has actual knowledge that it is collecting personal information from a child—
(i) to provide notice on the website of what information is collected from children by the operator, how the operator uses such information, and the operator's disclosure practices for such information; and
(ii) to obtain verifiable parental consent for the collection, use, or disclosure of personal information from children;
(B) require the operator to provide, upon request of a parent under this subparagraph whose child has provided personal information to that website or online service, upon proper identification of that parent, to such par-ent—
(i) a description of the specific types of personal information collected from the child by that operator;
(ii) the opportunity at any time to refuse to permit the operator's further use or maintenance in retrievable form, or future online collection, of personal information from that child; and
(iii) notwithstanding any other provision of law, a means that is reasonable under the circumstances for the parent to obtain any personal information collected from that child;
(C) prohibit conditioning a child's participation in a game, the offering of a prize, or another activity on the child disclosing more personal information than is reasonably necessary to participate in such activity; and
(D) require the operator of such a website or online service to establish and maintain reasonable procedures to protect the confidentiality, security, and integrity of personal information collected from children.
(2) WHEN CONSENT NOT REQUIRED.—The regulations shall provide that verifiable parental consent under paragraph (1)(A)(ii) is not required in the case of—
(A) online contact information collected from a child that is used only to respond directly on a one-time basis to a specific request from the child and is not used to recontact the child and is not maintained in retrievable form by the operator;
(B) a request for the name or online contact information of a parent or child that is used for the sole purpose of obtaining parental consent or providing notice under this section and where such information is not maintained in retrievable form by the operator if parental consent is not obtained after a reasonable time;
(C) online contact information collected from a child that is used only to respond more than once directly to a specific request from the child and is not used to recontact the child beyond the scope of that request—
(i) if, before any additional response after the initial response to the child, the operator uses reasonable efforts to provide a parent notice of the online contact information collected from the child, the purposes for which it is to be used, and an opportunity for the parent to request that the operator make no further use of the information and that it not be maintained in retrievable form; or
(ii) without notice to the parent in such circumstances as the Commission may determine are appropriate, taking into consideration the benefits to the child of access to information and services, and risks to the security and privacy of the child, in regulations promulgated under this subsection;
(D) the name of the child and online contact information (to the extent reasonably necessary to protect the safety of a child participant on the site)—
(i) used only for the purpose of protecting such safety;
(ii) not used to recontact the child or for any other purpose; and
(iii) not disclosed on the site, if the operator uses reasonable efforts to provide a parent notice of the name and online contact information collected from the child, the purposes for which it is to be used, and an opportunity for the parent to request that the operator make no further use of the information and that it not be maintained in retrievable form; or
(E) the collection, use, or dissemination of such information by the operator of such a website or online service necessary—
(i) to protect the security or integrity of its website;
(ii) to take precautions against liability;
(iii) to respond to judicial process; or
(iv) to the extent permitted under other provisions of law, to provide information to law enforcement agencies or for an investigation on a matter related to public safety. 1815
(3) TERMINATION OF SERVICE.—The regulations shall permit the operator of a website or an online service to terminate service provided to a child whose parent has refused, under the regulations prescribed under paragraph (1)(B)(ii), to permit the operator's further use or maintenance in retrievable form, or future online collection, of personal information from that child.
(c) ENFORCEMENT.—Subject to sections 1304 and 1306, a violation of a regulation prescribed under subsection (a) shall be treated as a violation of a rule defining an unfair or deceptive act or practice prescribed under section 18(a)(1)(B) of the Federal Trade Commission Act (15 U.S.C. 57a(a)(1)(B)).
(d) INCONSISTENT STATE LAW.—No State or local government may impose any liability for commercial activities or actions by operators in interstate or foreign commerce in connection with an activity or action described in this title that is inconsistent with the treatment of those activities or actions under this section.
SEC. 1304. SAFE HARBORS.
(a) GUIDELINES.—An operator may satisfy the requirements of regulations issued under section 1303(b) by following a set of self-regulatory guidelines, issued by representatives of the marketing or online industries, or by other persons, approved under subsection (b).
(b) INCENTIVES.—
(1) SELF-REGULATORY INCENTIVES.—In prescribing regulations under section 1303, the Commission shall provide incentives for self-regulation by operators to implement the protections afforded children under the regulatory requirements described in subsection (b) of that section.
(2) DEEMED COMPLIANCE.—Such incentives shall include provisions for ensuring that a person will be deemed to be in compliance with the requirements of the regulations under section 1303 if that person complies with guidelines that, after notice and comment, are approved by the Commission upon making a determination that the guidelines meet the requirements of the regulations issued under section 1303.
(3) EXPEDITED RESPONSE TO REQUESTS.—The Commission shall act upon requests for safe harbor treatment within 180 days of the filing of the request, and shall set forth in writing its conclusions with regard to such requests.
(c) APPEALS.—Final action by the Commission on a request for approval of guidelines, or the failure to act within 180 days on a request for approval of guidelines, submitted under subsection (b) may be appealed to a district court of the United States of appropriate jurisdiction as provided for in section 706 of title 5, United States Code.
SEC. 1305. ACTIONS BY STATES.
(a) IN GENERAL.—
(1) CIVIL ACTIONS.—In any case in which the attorney general of a State has reason to believe that an interest of the residents of that State has been or is threatened or adversely affected by the engagement of any person in a practice that violates any regulation of the Commission prescribed under section 1303(b), the State, as parens patriae, may bring a civil action on behalf of the residents of the State in a district court of the United States of appropriate jurisdiction to—
(A) enjoin that practice;
(B) enforce compliance with the regulation;
(C) obtain damage, restitution, or other compensation on behalf of residents of the State; or
(D) obtain such other relief as the court may consider to be appropriate.
(2) NOTICE.—
(A) IN GENERAL.—Before filing an action under paragraph (1), the attorney general of the State involved shall provide to the Commission—
(i) written notice of that action; and
(ii) a copy of the complaint for that action.
(B) EXEMPTION.—
(i) IN GENERAL.—Subparagraph (A) shall not apply with respect to the filing of an action by an attorney general of a State under this subsection, if the attorney general determines that it is not feasible to provide the notice described in that subparagraph before the filing of the action.
(ii) NOTIFICATION.—In an action described in clause (i), the attorney general of a State shall provide notice and a copy of the complaint to the Commission at the same time as the attorney general files the action.
(b) INTERVENTION.—
(1) IN GENERAL.—On receiving notice under subsection (a)(2), the Commission shall have the right to intervene in the action that is the subject of the notice.
(2) EFFECT OF INTERVENTION.—If the Commission intervenes in an action under subsection (a), it shall have the right—
(A) to be heard with respect to any matter that arises in that action; and
(B) to file a petition for appeal.
(3) AMICUS CURIAE.—Upon application to the court, a person whose self-regulatory guidelines have been approved by the Commission and are relied upon as a defense by any defendant to a proceeding under this section may file amicus curiae in that proceeding.
(c) CONSTRUCTION.—For purposes of bringing any civil action under subsection (a), nothing in this title shall be construed to prevent an attorney general of a State from exercising the powers conferred on the attorney general by the laws of that State to—
(1) conduct investigations;
(2) administer oaths or affirmations; or
(3) compel the attendance of witnesses or the production of documentary and other evidence.
(d) ACTIONS BY THE COMMISSION.—In any case in which an action is instituted by or on behalf of the Commission for violation of any regulation prescribed under section 1303, no State may, during the pendency of that action, institute an action under subsection (a) against any defendant named in the complaint in that action for violation of that regulation.
(e) VENUE; SERVICE OF PROCESS.—
(1) VENUE.—Any action brought under subsection (a) may be brought in the district court of the United States that meets applicable requirements relating to venue under section 1391 of title 28, United States Code.
(2) SERVICE OF PROCESS.—In an action brought under subsection (a), process may be served in any district in which the defendant—
(A) is an inhabitant; or
(B) may be found.
SEC. 1306. ADMINISTRATION AND APPLICABILITY OF ACT.
(a) IN GENERAL.—Except as otherwise provided, this title shall be enforced by the Commission under the Federal Trade Commission Act (15 U.S.C. 41 et seq.).
(b) PROVISIONS.—Compliance with the requirements imposed under this title shall be enforced under—(1) section 8 of the Federal Deposit Insurance Act (12 U.S.C. 1818), in the case of—
(A) national banks, and Federal branches and Federal agencies of foreign banks, by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency;
(B) member banks of the Federal Reserve System (other than national banks), branches and agencies of foreign banks (other than Federal branches, Federal agencies, and insured State branches of foreign banks), commercial lending companies owned or controlled by foreign banks, and organizations operating under section 25 or 25(a) of the Federal Reserve Act (12 U.S.C. 601 et seq. and 611 et seq.), by the Board; and
(C) banks insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (other than members of the Federal Reserve System) and insured State branches of foreign banks, by the Board of Direc- tors of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation;
(2) section 8 of the Federal Deposit Insurance Act (12 U.S.C. 1818), by the Director of the Office of Thrift Supervision, in the case of a savings association the deposits of which are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation;
(3) the Federal Credit Union Act (12 U.S.C. 1751 et seq.) by the National Credit Union Administration Board with respect to any Federal credit union;
(4) part A of subtitle VII of title 49, United States Code, by the Secretary of Transportation with respect to any air carrier or foreign air carrier subject to that part;
(5) the Packers and Stockyards Act, 1921 (7 U.S.C. 181 et seq.) (except as provided in section 406 of that Act (7 U.S.C. 226, 227)), by the Secretary of Agriculture with respect to any activities subject to that Act; and
(6) the Farm Credit Act of 1971 (12 U.S.C. 2001 et seq.) by the Farm Credit Administration with respect to any Federal land bank, Federal land bank association, Federal intermediate credit bank, or production credit association.
(c) EXERCISE OF CERTAIN POWERS.—For the purpose of the exercise by any agency referred to in subsection (a) of its powers under any Act referred to in that subsection, a violation of any requirement imposed under this title shall be deemed to be a violation of a requirement imposed under that Act. In addition to its powers under any provision of law specifically referred to in subsection (a), each of the agencies referred to in that subsection may exercise, for the purpose of enforcing compliance with any requirement imposed under this title, any other authority conferred on it by law.
(d) ACTIONS BY THE COMMISSION.—The Commission shall prevent any person from violating a rule of the Commission under section 1303 in the same manner, by the same means, and with the same jurisdiction, powers, and duties as though all applicable terms and provisions of the Federal Trade Commission Act (15 U.S.C. 41 et seq.) were incorporated into and made a part of this title. Any entity that violates such rule shall be subject to the penalties and entitled to the privileges and immunities provided in the Federal Trade Commission Act in the same manner, by the same means, and with the same jurisdiction, power, and duties as though all applicable terms and provisions of the Federal Trade Commission Act were incorporated into and made a part of this title.
(e) EFFECT ON OTHER LAWS.—Nothing contained in the Act shall be construed to limit the authority of the Commission under any other provisions of law.
SEC. 1307. REVIEW.
Not later than 5 years after the effective date of the regulations initially issued under section 1303, the Commission shall—
(1) review the implementation of this title, including the effect of the implementation of this title on practices relating to the collection and disclosure of information relating to children, children's ability to obtain access to information of their choice online, and on the availability of websites directed to children; and
(2) prepare and submit to Congress a report on the results of the review under paragraph (1).
SEC. 1308. EFFECTIVE DATE. Sections 1303(a), 1305, and 1306 of this title take effect on the later of—
(1) the date that is 18 months after the date of enactment of this Act; or
(2) the date on which the Commission rules on the first application filed for safe harbor treatment under section 1304 if the Commission does not rule on the first such application within one year after the date of enactment of this Act, but in no case later than the date that is 30 months after the date of enactment of this Act.




2/20/08 - Zuhair found this at:
http://familyinternet.about.com/b/2008/01/14/new-social-networking-guidelines-for-kids-safety.htm</span>
New Social Networking Guidelines for Kids' Safety
This past year has seen massive growth in the area of online communities. Unfortunately, the growth has been faster than anyone anticipated and we're just beginning to understand some of the negative repercussions for kids. MySpace, in particular, has had a lot of criticism over their policies in the past year in the wake of numerous scandals including an abundance of registered sex offenders to a highly publicized cyber bullying tragedy.
Today we got some good news. MySpace announced a "Statement on Key Principles of Social Networking Sites Safety" according to a press release issued earlier today. The document, written in conjunction with Attorneys General from the "Multi-State Working Group on Social Networking" outlines 4 key areas for increasing the safety of teens using social networking sites including changes to site functions, education for parents, law enforcement and the creation of an Online Safety Task Force. The document was approved by 49 states and the District of Columbia. Texas did not approve the guidelines claiming that they still don't do enough to keep young kids from signing on and accessing in appropriate content. Other social networking sites are encouraged to adopt the guidelines as well.

Ryan T found this website info and safety tips on http://www.kidshealth.org/teen/safety/safebasics/internet_safety.html


Smart Surfing

First rule of smart surfing? Remain as anonymous as possible. That means keeping all private information private. Here are some examples of private information that you should never give out on the Internet:
  • full name
  • home address
  • phone number
  • Social Security number
  • passwords
  • names of family members
  • credit card numbers
Most credible people and companies will never ask for this type of information online. So if someone does, it's a red flag that they may be up to no good.
Think carefully before you create an email address or screen name. Web experts recommend that you use a combination of letters and numbers in both — and that you don't identify whether you're male or female.
In chat rooms, use a nickname that's different from your screen name. That way, if you ever find yourself in a conversation that makes you uncomfortable, you can exit without having to worry that someone knows your screen name and can track you down via email. Some people who hang out with their friends online set up private chat rooms where only they and the people they invite can enter to chat.
Experts recommend that people keep online friendships in the virtual world. Meeting online friends face to face carries more risks than other types of friendships because it's so easy for people to pretend to be something they're not when you can't see them or talk in person.
If you ever get involved in a chat room conversation that makes you feel uncomfortable or in danger for any reason, exit and tell a parent or other adult right away so they can report the incident. You can also report it to the website of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at www.missingkids.com — they have a form for reporting this type of incident called CyberTipline. They will then see that the info is forwarded to law enforcement officials for investigation.

Ryan H. posted this website: http://www.kidshealth.org/parent/positive/family/net_safety.html

Internet Safety Laws

A federal law has been created to help protect your kids while they are using the Internet. It is designed to keep anyone from obtaining your kids' personal information without you knowing about it and agreeing to it first.
The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) requires websites to explain their privacy policies on the site and get parents' consent before collecting or using a child's personal information, such as a name, address, phone number, or social security number. The law also prohibits a site from requiring a child to provide more personal information than necessary to play a game or contest.
But even with this law, your child's best online protection is you. By talking to your child about potential online dangers and monitoring his or her computer use, you'll be helping your child to surf the Internet safely.

Lauren posted this: these are good laws for everyone to follow
http://www.serviceleader.org/new/virtual/2003/04/000115.php
Most people have a fun, safe trip on the information superhighway. While the vast majority of online experiences are positive, there is a dark side to cyberspace: individuals who attempt to exploit children, women and others through the Internet; programmers who create computer viruses that can be transmitted via e-mail and can disable a software program or an entire computer system; and materials on the Internet that are adult-oriented and not appropriate for children.
Fear of exploitation and abuse, or fear of exposure to sexually-explicit material, shouldn't be factors that prevent an agency from engaging in virtual volunteering, nor should these be reasons for parents to prevent children from engaging in online community service opportunities. There are several simple measures an agency can employ to ensure the safety of all participants in a virtual volunteering program. Online safety suggestions offered here are based on practices by other agencies involving children and volunteers via the Internet, and guidelines by various organizations concerned with children and Internet safety.
Just as with face-to-face volunteering programs, a virtual volunteering program needs to have safeguards in place to protect everyone involved, and ensure participants safety and privacy. A virtual volunteering program can bring volunteers together with staff only, or with other volunteers and clients of an agency. It is up to the sponsoring agency to decide who will interact with online volunteers.
It is suggested that agencies pattern online volunteering interactions after their existing offline, face-to-face volunteering activities and experiences. If your agency staff does not have experience with managing programs involving mentoring, tutoring, coaching or other face-to-face volunteering activities, your agency is probably not ready to engage in such activities via the Internet.
We encourage organizations not to approach their online safety guidelines from a fear-based reaction; a culture of fear can lead to so much distrust that it defeats the purpose and benefits of an online volunteering program. There is risk in any volunteering program, online or face-to-face. Exercising common sense, adapting your existing offline prevention systems to cyberspace, following the law and establishing good tracking of volunteer activities and supervision of interactions are the best online safety measures.
The following materials are not a substitute for legal advice. Laws concerning youth, at-risk populations and privacy vary significantly from state to state and apply differently to different organizations and activities. Please consult a qualified legal professional about the laws surrounding your particular situation.
Developing Safety Guidelines
An agency's online safety program should have four goals:
  • Protection of participants' privacy and personal information (participants can be staff, volunteers, clients, parents, etc.)
  • Screening out people who would abuse or exploit participants or the computer systems they use
  • Preventing opportunities for abuse or exploitation of participants
  • Protection of youth from inappropriate online materials or information
It is up to you, the sponsoring agency, to decide who will interact with online volunteers. It is suggested that you pattern your online volunteering interactions after your offline, face-to-face volunteering activities. Virtual volunteering can bring volunteers together with just your staff, or with other volunteers and your clients. Remember: Volunteers who work with children are subject to the same police/reference checks as in offline situations. Before bringing adults and children together in any service situation, on or offline, contact your local police department about the laws in your state or province regarding screening people who work with vulnerable populations.
Establishing a Code of Conduct
Just as you do with offline volunteers and staff, you need to establish and communicate a code of conduct and other guidelines for online volunteers. Some suggestions for safety-related areas to cover in your code:
  • Confidentiality
    Does your organization have a policy about forwarding e-mail messages? Or about volunteers talking to each other, to staff, or to people outside the organization regarding their activities at your organization?
  • Screening/Background Checks
    What is done initially? What other checks may be performed later? How will these checks affect a volunteer's role? What kinds of questions must be answered as part of the screening process, of both potential participants and their references?
  • Representing the Organization
    Can volunteers send e-mail or post to newsgroups on behalf of your organization? Can they input your information to third party web sites, such as Yahoo or VolunteerMatch? Should anything they send out or input be reviewed by a staff person?
  • Inappropriate Communications, Activities, and E-Mails
    What should a volunteer do if he or she is contacted by someone from outside of your organization in an inappropriate way? What should this person do if they encounter pornographic material while doing online research for your organization? What should the volunteer do if they encounter something they think is illegal online? What should a volunteer do if they observe another volunteer, staff person, or client engaging in illegal or inappropriate online activity?

The former Virtual Volunteering Project developed a code of conduct suited to its particular circumstances. Other organizations have even stricter rules regarding online volunteer safety and conduct, because of the nature of the agency's mission and because volunteers will have greater access to each other and to clients. Organizations should consider their own culture, the nature of their mission and volunteer assignments, their online volunteer screening process, etc. in adopting such rules for conduct:
  • Some organizations advise online volunteers to never tell anyone personal information (where they live or work, their phone number, their full name). Some organizations even have a special e-mail or bulletin board alias system, where no real e-mail addresses are used, and only the forum moderator knows what alias goes with what e-mail address. These stricter systems are usually used for online interactions involving children, or for people discussing a particularly sensitive, personal subject matter.
    At the very least, volunteers should be advised to be very extremely careful about any offers that involve another volunteer coming to a meeting or having someone visit their house. If your agency has a policy against such meetings, make sure this is clearly communicated to your volunteers.
  • Some organizations tell their online volunteers never to meet anyone in person they have met online, even in conjunction with their online volunteering, except at agency-sponsored events.
  • People online may not be who they seem, even online volunteers, and sometimes both volunteers and volunteer managers need to be reminded of this. They should also remember that everything online may not be true.
  • Everyone should know to notify someone at your organization if they encounter inappropriate situations as a participant in your online program -- if someone violates your codes of conduct, encourages an illegal activity to other participants, or engages in online harassment. And you should have plans of action for any of those situations, rare though they will be.
Youth-Adult Interaction
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All online interactions between youth and adults should be archived.
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Youth and adults should receive detailed guidelines before interactions take place about what is not acceptable in online exchanges. Reminders should be sent out as well about these guidelines.
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Parents should know their children are participating in this online program. Provide parents with a written overview of the program, your systems for online safety, and the benefits of the program. Some organizations require written parental approval, or for parents to sign off that they have reviewed the information.
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Have a system for youth to report inappropriate communications. Remind them of this system.
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Detail and communicate to online volunteers how they should handle inappropriate communications and crisis situations, such as talk of suicide or criminal activity by the youth they are mentoring or tutoring online.
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If volunteers have been interviewed face-to-face by the agency and undergone a criminal and personal background check , and if your agency allows one-to-one unsupervised interactions with young people in face-to-face situations (such as the system used by Big Brothers/Big Sisters), your agency should be safe to allow these online volunteers to work one-to-one with young people, with direct access to each child's e-mail address and no filtering and approval system before e-mails are forwarded to children. For many programs, however, this is not an appropriate option.
Screening Online Volunteers
If the volunteers are going to be working directly with children, it is strongly suggested that you conduct criminal background checks and face-to-face interviews with people who are going to volunteer with children online.
Volunteers who work with children are subject to the same police/reference checks as in offline situations. Before bringing adults and children together in any service situation, on or offline, contact your local police department about the laws in your state or province regarding screening people who work with vulnerable populations. Also, contact your local Directors of Volunteers in Agencies (DOVIA) to find out about the situations in which these laws apply. For instance, It is usually not required to do criminal background checks of volunteers who work with groups of children in staff-supervised settings, if the volunteers will never be working one-on-one with a child, or if they will never be alone with the children without a staff member present and witnessing all activity.
Generally, the more public a program setting, the lower the risk is for youth by adult volunteers. However, many non-Internet-based programs, such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters, bring adults and youth together safely in one-to-one situations, utilizing best practices around screening, training and supervision together with opportunities for a volunteer to build trust with the youth in his or her charge. Establishing these one-to-one, trusting relationships is an important part of their program's mission, but they also make sure they have the resources necessary to be vigilant in screening and checking up on volunteers.
If you are expanding an existing face-to-face mentoring program to include online communications, involving only those mentors who have been involved with your face-to-face program, you probably already have the necessary safeguards in place that will prevent abuse from happening online. Even so, it is recommended that your agency develop a way for all online communications between adult volunteers and youth to be supervised by a volunteer leader or staff member. You will want to let volunteers, youth and their parents know that this supervision is taking place, your organization's policy for what constitutes inappropriate online behavior, and what your organization will do if inappropriate online behavior is exhibited. If online exchanges between adult volunteers and youth are archived, you should notify volunteers, youth and their parents regarding who will (and won't) have access to these archives.
Protecting Identities
Some agencies that bring youth and adults together online, in groups or in one-to-one situations, do so in a way that allows participants to remain anonymous when interacting with each other. It may be appropriate for your agency to utilize one of these methods. Recommendations:
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Require adult volunteers and youth to each have a special e-mail address to be used exclusively for their work with each other, one that does not reveal personal information, such as last names. This e-mail address should not be registered in any way that can be traced to a real world identity, such as the "Member Profile" on AOL, or linking it off a personal Web page. If this becomes a common practice at your agency, make sure someone has a record of what e-mail address goes with what volunteer or client.
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Set up a group e-mail mailing list that allows participants to post under a screen name or alias, and hides actual e-mail addresses. As always, make sure someone at your agency has a record of what screen name or alias goes with what volunteer or youth.
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Require all volunteer and youth interactions to take place via a private online chat room, where participants use screen names or aliases to communicate with each other (these screen names should not be first and last names). Again, make sure someone at your agency has a record of what screen name or alias goes with what volunteer or client.
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Explore programs that will allow users to send and receive e-mail to each other, without being able to see each other's actual e-mail address; this can be done through programs for purchase, or by setting up a script using Perl.
To keep volunteers and clients anonymous, participants should not mention personal information in their online interactions that could allow someone to trace their identity, such as their real names, e-mail addresses, web sites, postal addresses, schools they attend or companies they work for, and so on. This ensures that adults and youth cannot contact each other outside of a supervised online dicussion system operated and observed by the agency, and that no inappropriate behavior can take place in one-to-one communications.
As mentioned earlier, volunteers, youth and their parents should be fully aware of any supervision taking place regarding online exchanges, your organization's policy in what constitutes inappropriate online behavior, and what your organization will do if inappropriate online behavior is exhibited. Also, if online exchanges between adult volunteers and youth are archived, volunteers, youth and their parents should be aware of who will (and won't) have access to these archives.
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