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Photos of People on Church Websites

Information Regarding

Photos of People on Church Websites

Photos of minors

1. No personally identifiable information disclosed. Using photos of events depicting several people is ordinarily not a problem, especially when no personally identifiable information is shared (name, home address, phone number, email address, etc.). You see such photos in your local newspaper every day. No releases are obtained for such photos. They merely record an event that actually happened, so who could complain? A good example would be photos of sporting events with fans clearly visible in the background.
2. Personally identifiable information is disclosed. A church may expose minors to risk by displaying images of them with personally identifiable information on a website. This information becomes globally circulated among the pedophile community, and may allow child molesters to solicit and seduce these children. As a result, the following precautions should be considered:
a. In no event should any personally identifiable information about a minor be disclosed on a church website that would enable someone to initiate direct contact with the minor. Such information would include, for example, the minor's first and last name plus any one or more of the following: (1) a telephone number; (2) cell phone number; (3) email address; (4) residential address; (5) school; (6) account or access information for a web-based forum; or (7) home church (if the church has a website that contains a directory of members' names, addresses, and telephone numbers.
b. Other personally identifiable information about a minor may be disclosed on a church website with written permission of both parents (even if the parents are divorced or separated). For example, a church website displays an image of a minor that is accompanied by her name and church, or name and grade in school.
3. Photos of adolescents. With regard to photos of adolescents, the pedophile risk is reduced if not eliminated although there remains the risk of predatory heterosexuals and homosexuals. However, there is an additional issue to consider, which is invasion of privacy. The use of someone's likeness without permission has been deemed to be an invasion of privacy by some courts. This risk goes way up if (1) the image is used for commercial purposes (in a money making venture, even if by a nonprofit entity), or (2) you use the image in connection with demeaning text (for example, an image of an adolescent in an article on victims of child abuse). If neither of these two factors is present, then the risk of invasion of privacy is reduced significantly, but not eliminated. A church can easily address this by obtaining express or implied consent. Express consent is written consent by a parent. Implied consent may occur if a church, for example, inserts notices in the church bulletin or newsletter a few times each year advising members that the church will use candid photos of various church activities on its website from time to time, and members not wanting their photos depicted (or those of their children) should so inform the church office. The church office can then create a list of persons whose photos are not to be displayed. However, any photo of children should contain no personally identifiable information.
4. Releases. Obtaining written consent from parents for using images and videos of their children on a church website is a recommended practice. This avoids potential problems with parents who for whatever reason do not want their child depicted, even without personally identifiable information. For example, a custodial parent following a divorce may not want her child depicted in order to prevent her ex-husband from finding out where they live or attend church.
Photos of adults

5. Photos of adults. The risk in using images of adults would be similar to the risk of using images of adolescents, so the previous paragraph would apply.

Richard Hammar, LL.M., CPA
Legal Counsel
The General Council of the Assemblies of God
1445 Boonville Avenue
Springfield, MO 65802
Phone: 417-862-9445
Fax: 417-862-0133

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