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The “Eye of Providence” is a symbol that appears on the Great Seal of the United States. It is meant to depict the benevolent Eye of God watching over the affairs of the United States. It is an ancient symbol known in many cultures. But there is now in the world a very real “eye of providence” and its intent toward human beings is less benevolent. As of 2022, there are 6.7 billion smartphones in the world. 83.7% of the humans in the world possess a smartphone. And each smartphone can take photographs and videos and, if connected to the Internet, beam those images around the globe in nanoseconds. We see this with teenagers posting embarrassing photos of friends and enemies. We see this with Ukrainian grandmothers reporting the location of Russian troops. We see this with concerned citizens posting images of events as they occur to influence the outcomes.

Photo by Philipp Katzenberger on Unsplash

We can add to this array of image-taking devices and include the millions of small cameras that are mounted in many locations around the world. Cities use these cameras to monitor traffic or control areas of crime or watch for illegal entry or activities. Additionally, there are a plethora of devices that can track the location of an individual without the person being aware they are tracked. Smartphones do this all the time, but some devices are tiny disks easily secreted on a person or attached to an auto.

And, of course, many other computers have recording capacities and transmitting capacities in them. All our internet connections work both ways – we can connect to others and others can connect or eavesdrop or monitor us. It can all be very disconcerting. What is a church community to do?

Cyber security is a relatively new term that has spawned a multi-billion-dollar industry to assist organizations and individuals in keeping some boundaries in this brave new world of inter-connectedness. There are many people selling their services and aiding beleaguered organizations. There are many providers of software designed to protect our computers, tablets, smartphones, and other electronic devices. As our churches have pivoted toward more on-line activities due to the pandemic, we have become more engaged in the virtual world but also more vulnerable to the excesses of that world. One of the challenges is sorting out the probable threats from the more unlikely ones and spending one’s limited funds wisely.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

  1. Who has access to church computers and their files? Are these devices password protected? Are financial records properly protected? Is all the software installed on church computers approved by the church? When employees leave, is access to church computers ended promptly? Are there any church records held on privately owned computers? Do any church employees use their own computers for church work? If so, what are the limits and how is church information safeguarded?
  2. How are vital records of the church kept? If electronic records are used, who backs up those records and how often does that happen? If they are paper records, are the critical records kept in fire safety cabinets or copies made for off-site storage?
  3. If the church has security cameras, who has access to those records? Are the cameras periodically reviewed? Are these cameras protected against unauthorized use?
  4. Are there any other electronic devices installed in your buildings and are they secured against improper or illegal use?
  5. Has anyone checked bathrooms or locker rooms or other places where we presume privacy to ensure that there are no cameras or other recording devices placed there? A simple check is to go inside the bathroom or locker room, turn off all the lights, and look for evidence of an LED light glowing. There are inexpensive devices that check for transmitting devices available on-line.
  6. As part of the Safeguarding of God’s people policies, are there clear policies on the filming or photographing of church members, especially children or youth by leaders or participants?
  7. Are there clear policies on the use of smartphones and other electronic devices with recording capacity for Sunday School, youth group activities, and general congregational gatherings?
  8. A weekly walk-through of the building can do much to prevent unauthorized devices showing up as well as ensure that security cameras and other preventative devices are still working properly.
  9. Annual review of records kept and a known filing system – whether paper or electronic – understood by all employees can do much to keep the actual memory of a congregation alive and accurate.
  10. Ron Miller, member of the Board of Directors, is highly knowledgeable about these sorts of issues. If you would like to connect with him, please contact me in my role as Property Manager, and I will speak with him about your concerns and interests.
Eye of Providence or Spy Among Us – Cyber Security Today: Occasional Paper on Property Management in the Diocese of Olympia Series

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