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As Secure As Your Membership Policies

There may be associations that conduct background investigations of prospective members or require some proof of eligibility before allowing someone to join but I am not familiar with them. Generally, all that is necessary to join an association is the willingness to complete and sign a membership application and to pay the appropriate dues. Cash payments would be somewhat risky and suspect so presumably nearly all membership applications will be accompanied by a check or credit card that has some identification on or associated with it.

For associations that accept online membership applications, all that is typically needed to become a member and access to the member only areas of the associations web site is to provide a valid credit card number and expiration date and a post office box for an address. For associations that do not care if members are qualified this may not be any problem; here the only concern may be that online services cannot be obtained for free and thus fail to be an incentive for joining the association.

Some associations may provide member communication services that are semi sensitive in nature. Members may wish that those who are not qualified to be members, cannot see the member only communications. For such organizations, I suggest the following: Some credit card authorization technology today displays the card holder's name. These associations that accept online member applications should consider a policy of not automatically accepting applications where the name on the application does not match the name provided by the credit card authentication technology. The association should require a phone number on all member applications. Where names do not match, the number should be contacted and the prospective member asked to explain why the card name is different than the application name before the application is processed.

Even with such requirements, these associations are still likely to be accepting memberships based on only a real name and telephone number. If the person is not eligible to join the association and is found out, it might be somewhat embarrassing to that person but they are unlikely to suffer any other adverse consequences. It is probably not illegal to join an association under false pretenses even when the association considers it very important that only qualified individuals join the association and access its proprietary information.

The point behind this is that an association's web site cannot be any more secure than its membership policies. Anyone who is willing to pay the dues and lie can gain admission.

As I discuss in the section "Collaboration Among Members," providing electronic communications between members could be one of the largest benefits of an association as we move towards an ever more online age. I personally would never place anything that I considered to be confidential information, into today's web sites or list servers; others may think the username and password used to access the member only areas of the web site provides some meaningful security.

From the association's perspective, it is important that the association never misrepresent the security that is available for it's web site and other electronic communications. Members should be reminded that the system cannot be any more secure than the level of security associated with joining the association. It might be useful to require the members to pass through a page that includes the appropriate security disclaimers before participating in any collaborative communication. If security is of particular interest to your members, you may want to go so far as electronic contracts that make a permanent record of whatever language the member saw and agreed to as a condition of participating in the electronic collaboration.

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