National Online Safety Strategy Key To Child Protection – All-Party Support Needed Urgently, Says ISPCC

As the Data Protection Bill is due to enter its final stages in Dáil Éireann next week, the ISPCC has called for all-party support for the immediate creation of an office of Digital Safety Commission and National Strategy for Children’s Online Safety.

ISPCC CEO Grainia Long said: “We welcome the huge interest in the issue of children’s online safety in recent weeks. In recent debates, many elected representatives have made it clear that they want to do the right, to keep children safe online. We now need to see that interest translated into action and there is a clear need for each of the following to happen immediately:

  • A National Action Plan on Online Safety to be fully consulted on, published and implemented

  • The immediate creation of the Office of Digital Safety Commissioner, grounded in legislation
  • Enhanced powers for An Garda Síochána, to enable them to seize and search and to better detect online crime
  • Enhanced education measures and vast improvements in the curriculum, enhanced education and supports for parents and teachers
  • Implementation of the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs’ report on The Cybersecurity of Children and Young Adults without delay.

These measures would make a real difference to children’s safety online.”

The ISPCC is disappointed at the prospect of Ireland’s ‘Age of Digital Consent’ being raised to 16 years through proposed amendments to the Data Protection Bill. It is hugely concerning that child protection experts who made submissions to the Government’s consultation process and to the Oireachtas Committee on Justice supporting retaining the age at 13 years, with the support of international academics and experts, have not been listened to by some political parties.

“The ISPCC as the national child protection charity, has consulted with other child protection experts, with online safety experts here and internationally, with those who work directly with children and with children and young people, and has weighed carefully the risks to setting the Age of Digital Consent at 13 or 16. It remains our position that the most appropriate age is 13, and that setting the age at 16 is not based in evidence, or in best practice on child protection; it will cause problems and will not encourage responsible online behavior among those aged 13-16. An efficient review mechanism must be implemented to ensure the set Age of Digital Consent is regularly evaluated and amendments can be made where deemed appropriate.

“While the debate on this issue has certainly ignited interest, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is just one small component of keeping children safe online.  Steps must now be taken to actively protect children through a comprehensive strategy.

“Children’s online safety is the child protection of our time and we now need a concerted effort to address it effectively.  The intention of everyone involved in this debate is to keep children safer online. We can all agree that a national strategy, enhanced regulation and enhanced education measures are needed. Constructive partnership will move these urgent actions on as quickly as possible”, Ms Long concluded.

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