Talk:OTRS/Volunteering

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Liability and risk warning for prospective volunteers[edit]

Recent discussions have made it clear to me that the WMF:

  1. has no public liability insurance for OTRS volunteers
  2. makes no guarantee that they will not raise a civil suit for damages against an OTRS volunteer
  3. would supply identifying information about volunteers if presented with a subpoena; other organizations would only do this if a warrant were presented, i.e. an independent crime investigation rather than a civil case, see this EFF report
  4. maintains a legal fund, however this would not be used where the WMF were a party to a civil case, nor is there any guarantee of availability, or definition of whether this would ever be made available to OTRS volunteers suffering from a civil case for damages
  5. this is in the context that neither the WMF, nor any other Wikimedia organization offers standardized training for OTRS volunteers

That I might be personally liable for unlimited damages both for correspondents and the WMF (to the extent of putting my house at risk), was not clear to me when I first applied to be an OTRS volunteer. With later experience I am cautious in not taking "difficult" cases and have sufficient experience to be aware of how vaguely interpreted what might constitute giving apparent legal advice or accidentally releasing damaging personal information might be.

Proposal: Prospective volunteers would benefit from having the risks spelt out clearly in a visible warning banner on this volunteer application page. They might then at least be encouraged to read up on what their liability is, consider their own liability insurance, and ask questions about it (which to date I have never seen a prospective volunteer ever do) and take serious precautions such as choice of pseudonym, keeping their own records of events, or asking for independent advice for difficult cases before making any commitments in writing. -- (talk) 09:43, 3 January 2014 (UTC)

I think you're looking for another problem to match the solution you've come up with. Well, in my personal opinion, your concerns are (somewhat) unfounded and (somewhat) misleading in ways. On your point, numbered same:
  1. Where were you ever given the impression, or alternatively, where is it indicated or even hinted at that there is some "liability insurance" or other "assistance" (other than what has been disclosed by the Foundation) available to volunteers? I don't see this portrayed anywhere, and I think it's an extremely moot point.
  2. Will await Foundation comment - I'm not sure that people are very concerned with this. Agents have nothing to be worried about, with regards to their answering of tickets, unless they are intentionally answering tickets in malicious/other inappropriate ways, handling the information in ways contrary to the privacy policy, etc.
  3. Awaiting Foundation comment.
  4. I don't have a link to the legal fund information, but if I recall correctly, when this was created, it was mentioned that OTRS agents would be one example of a user would benefit from such fund, if the need had raised and criteria were met.
  5. What do you mean by "training"? Users are given a plethora or resources to assist with determining if and how a ticket should be handled. On the otrs-wiki, there are many help pages, guides, FAQs and a number of venues available for further guidance/assistance on any ticket. With that being said, training and development has something that I and a few other OTRS admins have been planning to begin an "overhaul". But we've been quite busy since the upgrade, and now with the new year, we have a couple of other time-sensitive projects that take precedence, but I expect we'll start delving into this in the first quarter of this year.
I've dropped a note for a Foundation response here. I was speaking above as a long-time member of the OTRS community. Sure, other people have expressed some of the same concerns as you over the years - I'm certainly not simply dismissing them - I'm always open for discussions. I just felt necessary to clear up a couple of the misleading statements above.
I oppose the addition of such "warning" message to the page. I think that would take things slightly out of proportion. Rjd0060 (talk) 12:07, 3 January 2014 (UTC)
Hi, thanks for your views. I note that my listed statements of fact above remain true as stated. As well as the link above, you or others can find clarifications from Geoff Brigham that are now archived at m:Talk:Access_to_nonpublic_information_policy/Archives/2013 helpful. With regard to the legal fund, this is not insurance, it is not guaranteed in any circumstances, and it would make no sense for the WMF to authorize funds in a case where they were a party against their own financial interests. Thanks for asking the WMF to clarify, I look forward to a further statement from Geoff. Examples of where the legal fund has ever been used to help OTRS volunteers in the past may be illuminating. Thanks -- (talk) 12:29, 3 January 2014 (UTC)
I still think we're going a bit overboard. I've been following the nonpublic info. discussion. I just don't see the big issue. :-) I've poked Maggie Dennis, who will poke the appropriate "Legal" person, or whoever should comment here. Rjd0060 (talk) 12:34, 3 January 2014 (UTC)
A serious warning about personal liability that may cause a prospective volunteer to take the time to understand and ask questions about their risks and responsibilities seems fair both on the unpaid volunteer and the WMF. In terms of "standardized training" I mean a basic standard of training required of volunteers before having access to OTRS. Currently, a newly approved OTRS volunteer may have read none of the guides you mention above, particularly all material on the OTRS-wiki which by definition is not available to prospective volunteers. Thanks -- (talk) 12:47, 3 January 2014 (UTC)
Hi, I do not see how that would be unclear. The new confidentiality agreement explicitely states that "[t]he Wikimedia Foundation may pursue available legal remedies, including injunctive relief or, in the case of willful intent, monetary damages." As far as nonpublic information in general is concerned, it should be clear that if you do something against the law (or, for that matter, do anything at all), you risk that someone takes legal action; given that users are required to submit identifying information under the draft access policy in order to ensure "accountability," I also fail to see how it would be unclear that the information may be used in legal contexts. As regards the other points on your list, I think these are basically evident. Why would you have a prima facie believe that someone will cover your legal fees? Cheers, — Pajz (talk) 12:41, 3 January 2014 (UTC)
I don't intend to have legal fees, however any OTRS volunteer who handles tricky complaints from random members of the public should be realistic and recognize they are at risk of finding themselves the subject of claim of damages either from the complainant or a subsequent claim of damages from the WMF (or the WMF insurers) if the complainant sues them. Other charities pay for liability insurance for their volunteers who do work such as answering questions on behalf of the charity and its projects, the WMF chooses not to do this. -- (talk) 12:47, 3 January 2014 (UTC)
My point is that you don't just believe that someone pays for your liability insurance. Some organizations may do that, but it's barely something anyone can reasonably expect. Let me add that this is not to say nobody should be alerted to potential specific legal risks. For instance, we raised the issue of liability risks associated with handling permissions-related tickets at a past workshop and a lawyer confirmed the suspicion that if an agent falsely tags an image (thereby averting its deletion) this may indeed have liability implications for him. I very much agree, hence, that it's helpful to remind agents at times (e.g. on our internal help pages) that some particular actions could also be, in some specific way, legally relevant. But your proposals for additions go too far in that I think they are, in this generality, obvious and unnecessary. You know, it's always easy to argue in favor of legal warnings, health disclaimers etc.—someone may not know, after all. Someone may be helped with a 10-page health warning inside every cigarette box. How could anyone oppose that? Etc. Nevertheless, I think such proposals need a good justification—I do not want this world to be plastered with scary warnings everywhere I look. Yes, you may attract liability in the context of your OTRS work, but that ia nothing really extraordinary. — Pajz (talk) 13:49, 3 January 2014 (UTC)
Ensuring that volunteers and contractors that fulfil standard functions on official funded projects have adequate public liability insurance may be more UK good practice rather than USA, perhaps; it is a standard expectation for UK charities. If the member of the public is expected to sue the individual unpaid volunteer as having full independent responsibility and authority, rather than the organization that is hosting and funding the project they were dealing with, then both the volunteer and the public need to be extremely clear on that fact, otherwise the WMF is risking the liability shifting to them should there ever be a valid claim of damages; particularly if it turns out that the unpaid volunteer is living on benefits and would need legal aid to defend themselves, is a minor in their country of residence, or may even be considered legally/medically incompetent at the time of any correspondence. -- (talk) 14:22, 3 January 2014 (UTC)
You're signing up for a website and a bunch of anonymous users from around the world (independant from the site operator) grant you certain access rights, just like an active user in a forum eventually may be made a moderator by fellow forum users. I doubt that it is reasonable in any part of the world to expect that the organization operating the forum/site/... (which explicitely claims to have no resonsibility for whatever users do on their site) now suddenly will come up for legal costs that may arise for you. I'm not saying that it would be unreasonable to do so, just that it's unreasonable to expect it. — Pajz (talk) 14:35, 3 January 2014 (UTC)
I am not disagreeing with you, certainly that remains the WMF's viewpoint, apparently. I am just asking that you take a version of the general caveat emptor paragraph you have just written, and stick it into a notice at the top of the volunteer recruitment page so that innocent wide-eyed newbies have the same understanding. Thanks -- (talk) 14:52, 3 January 2014 (UTC)

┌───────────────────┘
As discussed with, and reviewed by, the community in the ToU drafting discussion, we have the following in the first section of the Terms of Use:

"Please be aware that you are legally responsible for all of your contributions, edits, and re-use of Wikimedia content under the laws of the United States of America and other applicable laws (which may include the laws where you live or where you view or edit content). This means it is important that you use caution when posting content."

There is also similar language in the Defense of Contributors policy.

As to the policies more generally: I've been involved in a great number of open source projects, and advised a great number of user-created websites, and the Defense of Contributors and Legal Fees Assistance Program are not only the strongest legal protections for volunteers I've ever seen, they are the only such policies I've ever seen. (If you've got stronger examples from similarly-situated projects, I'd be interested in seeing them.) And they're not empty words: during my ten months with the Foundation, we've quickly provided legal counsel under those programs in each of the four cases I'm aware of.

Hope that background helps inform the discussion and keep it grounded in reality. -LVilla (WMF) (talk) 18:18, 3 January 2014 (UTC)

Hi LVilla, thanks for the comment here. I am a bit lost as to how the quote you have posted relates to the issue at hand of ensuring that prospective (and current) OTRS volunteers understand that they are at risk of being sued for damages when they work as unpaid volunteers on OTRS (the same is not true for employees that use OTRS). This is not a question of re-using Wikimedia content or making edits.
I am interested to see that the Legal Fees Assistance Program has been applied in four cases. This leads to three obvious questions:
  1. Did any of the past cases involve OTRS volunteers?
  2. Could you publish the criteria that WMF Legal would apply when deciding whether an unpaid OTRS volunteer who gets into hot water would be eligible for funded support and when they would not?
  3. Do you (WMF Legal) believe that when we invite prospective unpaid OTRS volunteers to apply for access, that we (the volunteer community) should unambiguously spell out their risks and liability for taking on these responsibilities?
Thanks -- (talk) 23:08, 3 January 2014 (UTC)