Scouts-L Mail Archive for August of 1999: Law and the Web
Law and the Web
Mon, 2 Aug 1999 00:28:27 -0400
While the net is a wonderful place to share and gather information, it can
also be misused, sometimes unintenionally. Similarly a forum like Scouts-L
can be a great place to share ideas, trade experiences, get advice and so
forth. When using these great resources it becomes real easy to share just
about anything with a few taps on the keyboard.
That said, we also need to understand individuals placing content on the
Internet are still subject to civil laws. Laws regarding privacy,
recordings, defamation, and more apply with just as much force to Internet
content as they do to traditional writings and utterances (speech).
Ken in trying to help a fellow Scouter forwarded a message at that Scouter's
request in which there were several links to recordings of discussions at a
meeting. These recordings raise some legal issues.
In some states, a recording of a conversation or meeting made without the
consent of all individuals present is illegal and in a few states may
subject an individual to criminal sanctions. In a some states, such a
recording might be the basis for civil litigation for invasion of privacy.
And in nearly all states an action can be brought for defamation and may
succeed if the court believes that the act of publishing the information was
malicious with an intent to harm the reputation of another or subject the
other to ridicule or embarassment. There are some defenses to this latter
type of action, but the point is that it is possible for an individual to
get caught up in a good bit of litigation.
Knowing this, I would recommend not placing recordings of meetings on the
web without the consent of those involved.
Many of us thrive on open discussions and exchanges of ideas. However, we
need to exercise care for the protection of the privacy of others.
Similarly, in our discussions we should take care not to embarass another
while talking about a particular subject. It is always better to frame
discussions in terms of ideas, concepts, and "what if" hypotheticals and to
avoid naming individuals who may be involved in the situation leading to
questions or advice. Use the "A Scout that we'll call Danny" approach
instead of the "Tom Smith did such and such" type approach when you have to
identify a number of players. This avoids embarassment to the real
individuals and is especially important when only part of the facts may be
In this particular case the posting suggests some turmoil in the district.
There are no doubt many sides to the issues and much that has taken place
outside the meeting environment.
I can understand how the recorded comments could make Ken's blood boil. As
an outside, I would venture to say if this had been my first District
Committee Meeting, it would have been my last because of the amount of
conflict that seemed to be involved. That said, I also realize that the
recordings are only a part of the picture. First question is how did things
get to such a point that people are recording meetings in the first place?
Ken asked for opinions. Ken, I would suggest that before you tackle this
that you try to understand all the different sides to the issues. There are
obviously folks there who get on each other's nerves and it sounds like this
is a thing that has been going on for awhile. With so much tension it would
seem wise to avoid a confrontational approach where you could end up with a
lose-lose situation. I think if I were a Scout Exec. and presented with
such a highly charged and polarized situation, I might be inclined to think
it was time to clean house and start with all new people. Instead the
question might be What can you build on? What can be defused? On either
side of a dispute, how could each party better communicate?
Mike Bowman, Vice President
U.S. Scouting Service Project, Inc.