Advice on Council Web Site Policies


Site Ownership

The council's membership and the general public regard a council's official Web site as an authorized publication of that council. Because the council will be held accountable for the content of its site, the site should be wholly owned and controlled by the council.

Specifically, the council or a professional council employee (rather than a volunteer) should have legal ownership of the domain name and site content, and the server space should either be owned by the council or secured with a written service contract between the council and the Internet service provider (ISP) that hosts the site. This contract should clearly indicate the council owns its own Web site content.

Domain name

If a proprietary domain name is registered, the "registrant" on file with the InterNIC (http://www.internic.net) should be the council. At the very least, the "administrative contact" designated during domain registration should be an employee of the council.

Content

The content of the site should be owned by the council rather than any individual, and that is most easily shown by having a copyright statement on the site. Of course the council may reproduce (with permission) material from other sources, but the site itself must be owned by the council. The copyright statement can be a simple "© 2000 Xyz Council, Boy Scouts of America" at the bottom of the Web page.

Site Administration

The administrative components of a Web site, namely its ownership and the procedures by which the content decisions are made and implemented, are not necessarily evident visually in the Web site itself. These matters should be considered carefully, however, as they have the potential to create profound problems in the administration of the council's site.

Site Hosting

Local councils must make their own arrangements for Web site hosting—this service is not presently provided by the National Council.

Though it is commonplace and quite acceptable under most circumstances for local councils to host their sites in donated Web space, it is advisable to have a written service agreement that guarantees the council complete control over the content of its site. Such clauses are common in commercial hosting arrangements, and are essential to maintaining reliable control over the council's Web presence.

It's worth noting that there are a number of services that offer "free" Web site hosting, but require sites they host to display banners and/or contain links to other member sites, whether within a page or in a separate window that pops open when the site is visited. These services should be avoided entirely.

Location of Hosting Server

Local councils MUST NOT host their Web site on their local network. Such an arrangement could allow hackers to enter the Web site and in turn have access to records on the council network or its computer desktops. Web sites must be run externally via a hosting service.

The goal here is to have any reference to the council's physical Internet connection removed from the publicly available Internet DNS servers (the Internet's version of a city directory), thereby removing one of the methods a hacker uses to exploit his or her victims. This is best compared to a person who obtains a post office box to receive their mail rather than having it delivered directly to their home. They still get their mail, but the sender does not have an easy way to obtain the recipient's physical address and therefore, cannot break into the recipient's home. This method will allow councils to remain more stealthy on the Internet and is one of the layers in a "defense in depth" (DID) approach to Internet security.

Domain Registration

Councils are encouraged to register their own domain names for their Web sites, as this level of ownership is customary among organizations similar in size and prestige to a BSA council. A registered domain name includes a top-level (org, com, net, etc.) preceded by a second-level domain name. The registered domain name is the familiar combination of these (thecouncil.org, mybusiness.com). Council domain names should be registered in the "org" top-level domain (for non-commercial organizations) as opposed to "com" (commercial enterprise) or "net" (computer network) top-level domains.

A council may, at its own discretion, issue third-level splits on their domain (camp.thecouncil.org, district3.thecouncil.org) to its own districts and/or facilities, or establish them for its own use, but should be cautioned that the council may be held accountable for the content of any site housed on a third-level split as if it were part of the council's own Web site, even though the content may not be hosted at the same location. Council that do this are urged to monitor the content of such splits closely.

Control of Server Access

While it is common practice for volunteers to develop files and programs for the council Web site, a professional employee of the council should control the content of the Web site by maintaining sole access (FTP, telnet, etc.) to the files on the Web server as well as to any programmatic interface that provides the ability to add or edit content on the Web site and its ancillary services.

Control of Content

It seems to be common practice, and seems reasonable, for a council's Web site to be governed by a committee including both volunteer and professional Scouters, and that this committee defines the goals of the Web site and determines the content and resources that will be published in pursuit of those goals.

All materials destined for the council Web site should be reviewed and approved by the top council professional staff before they are published. At the very least, the council's Scout executive, public relations director, and legal counsel should sign off on all content before it is presented to the public as part of the council's site.

District and Unit Web Sites

Guidelines for district and unit sites, and the decision as to whether districts and/or units may maintain officially representative sites at all, are completely at the discretion of the council. If these sites are permitted, and especially if the council site provides links to them, it is highly recommended the council provide guidelines for these sites and to recognize and link only to those sites that meet the council's guidelines. Guidelines and advice provided in this document may be appropriate for districts and units as well, so councils may consider passing this information along with any additional council guidelines.

District Sites. The degree of a district's identity to membership and to the public should be the primary factor in deciding whether it would be useful to have separate sites for each district. This largely depends on how districts have been marketed, which may differ among councils. Specifically, if the identity of districts to participants and supporters is such that they identify themselves as members/supporters of "the X district of Y council," having stand-alone sites to support district-level marketing and service initiatives may be worthwhile. Otherwise, it is recommended that the council support its districts on the council Web site, accommodating unique information for the districts (such as calendars, contact information, etc.) in district pages or sections.

The best solution may be for the council to provide districts "directory-level" Web sites (http://www.council.org/district), so that districts may have a self-contained module of information that suits the needs and goals of the district, but enables the council to control the information published by its districts just as closely as any other information on the council site.

Unit Sites. It is not recommended that councils acknowledge "official" sites for units. There are currently tens of thousands of unit Web sites on the Internet, and it would be difficult for a council to allocate sufficient resources to monitor all the various sites developed by units in its area. Furthermore, since most units lack adequate resources to develop respectable and safe Web sites, a vast majority of unit sites are wrought with safety and liability issues that could become problems for the council were the sites endorsed as officially representative.

While it is permissible, by the guidelines, to provide links to sites that provide content that is appropriate to the Scouting movement, it is especially important to clarify (perhaps through an explicit disclaimer) when linking to Scouting-oriented sites that units as well as youth and adult members do not represent or serve as agents of the Boy Scouts of America when disseminating information over the Internet.

The safest course of action would be for the council to remain completely uninvolved in and, inasmuch as possible, unaware of any Internet publication produced by any group or individual not authorized to serve as a representative of the council or the Boy Scouts of America in the online medium.

Interactivity

In these guidelines, interactivity means direct communication via the Web site among a council's personnel, its membership, and the public.

National Council Perspective

The National Council has chosen not to provide contact information on its Web site because usually it is more appropriate for people to contact their local council rather than the National Council. Exceptions are made very rarely, on individual pages where under normal circumstances the content makes it appropriate for individuals to contact the National Council directly.

Conversely, local councils communicate directly and bilaterally with program participants, volunteers, and the general public through other media, and it would be is just as appropriate for the council to extend this practice to the Internet. The lack of interactivity on the National Council site should not be construed to imply a policy that applies to councils.

Audience Location and Council Boundaries

Due to the world-wide reach of the Internet, a local council can interact with the members of other councils and with the public outside its geographic domain. Communication across those boundaries could create or worsen problems between councils. Councils are advised to avoid Web site content and Internet communication that might affect another council adversely, such as taking resources (sales, financial or volunteer support) from other councils or "seeding" volunteer/professional disagreements over interpretation of council policies or practices that differ.

There has never been an incident that made it necessary to establish a "non-interaction" policy for local councils. To prevent such an incident from occurring, councils are urged to make it a policy that early in any interaction they will determine the physical location of the other party and when appropriate they will refer individuals to the appropriate local council. (Note that the guideline prohibiting electronic sale of Supply Division merchandise is intended to help protect all councils' markets.)

Though a site visitor's location is not immediately evident, and technology provides no definite way to determine it, here are a few techniques to help councils determine the geographic locations of their Internet correspondents:

  • Any on-line form that enables the user to communicate back to the council can ask (even require) the visitor to give their city and state.
  • A password may be provided to council members to ensure resources in one or more "restricted" areas are viewed and used only by the council's own members.
  • In any dialogue (such as an e-mail exchange), it may be necessary to ask.

On-Line "Conversation"

Chat, guest books, and bulletin boards are three forms of interactivity that are generally inadvisable for council Web sites because they require dedicated resources to monitor and control them sufficiently.

Chat Rooms. These are on-line forums in which users "converse" by typing messages to one another in real time. Recent advances have also made it possible to audio- or videoconference on the Internet. The first concern for councils should be youth protection issues; also "chat" makes it impossible for councils to control the text content of their sites. Because conversations take place in real time, messages are immediately posted to the site for others to view. Also, because chat participants are anonymous, often there is much less discretion exercised than in most forms of conversation.

We recommended that councils avoid "live conversation" " technology altogether. If it seems necessary for a special purpose, protective measures should be taken, such as

  • a "chat" forum could be open only during certain time periods
  • access to the forum could be restricted so that only those who have been given a password may participate
  • an authorized moderator could stay online and eject participants who break the rules
  • software countermeasures could censor speakers on-the-fly.

Even with such measures, incidents can occur.

Guest Books. Guest book programs allow site visitors to leave a message, and are generally not a problem unless the log file (which contains all the comments visitors enter) is visible to the public. In that case, anyone can add text, graphics, and even programmatic components to the council's Web pages that will immediately be viewable to other visitors. If a guest book is used, the log file should be kept in a location that is not visible to other visitors, but which must be downloaded using administrative software (Telnet/FTP) in order to be read. The council should then review that material before posting it to a publicly accessible interface.

Bulletin Boards and News Groups. These are a form of chat in slow motion: Users post messages and others may read and respond at a later time. Bulletin boards have the same inherent risks as chat, but since conversations do not occur in real time, there is opportunity for better moderation. Users may be allowed to send their remarks to a private section of the Web site, but the remarks should not be posted to the site for others to read until the council has approved the content for publication on its site.

Electronic Commerce

Councils are prohibited from engaging in the sale of BSA Supply Division merchandise or competing products via the Internet. This should not prevent councils from promoting their Scout shops or the merchandise they sell, but the actual purchase should take place off-line.

Though electronic sales of items other than Supply Division merchandise or competing products has not been prohibited, it is discouraged unless the council has the resources to develop a secure e-commerce system.