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Companies Must do More to Protect Children Online - Regulation is Imperative

THE ISPCC has welcomed the launch of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs’ Report on Cyber Security for Children and Young Adults and urged Government to implement the recommendations for keeping children and young people safe online. However, the report does not go far enough. Statutory regulations for providers of online services and enhanced Garda powers to investigate online crimes must also be implemented as a priority.


The national child protection charity has been to the fore of championing the need for enhanced measures to increase children’s online safety. ISPCC representatives briefed the Joint Oireachtas Committee in February 2017 on the difficulties experienced by young people online and the need for a National Strategy on Children’s Cyber Safety to be introduced.


ISPCC CEO Grainia Long said: “This is an important piece of work by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs. Children’s online safety is the child protection issue of our time. In the ISPCC, through our Childline service and our one-to-one work with children, we hear first-hand the voices of children who have experienced the adverse side to being online. They tell us of the need for increased education measures. We know they need support and we know that this is a whole of Government issue.


“The ISPCC is pleased to see cross-party support for a national cyber safety strategy. The report’s 18 recommendations emphasise the importance of law reform, the need for industry to enhance safety for young people using services, the need for the State to play a greater role in regulation, awareness and monitoring of this area through the Office of a Digital Safety Commissioner, education and awareness raising. We agree that cyber safety education needs to be embedded into the curriculum from primary school level, with appropriate supports across the education system. 


“However, the committee recommends that ‘Social media platforms do more to strengthen their safety policies with a view to protecting their users. This could be done in consultation with the proposed Office of the Digital Safety Commissioner.’ The ISPCC is of the view that this is not sufficiently robust to protect children. 


“Self-regulation of companies that provide services to children will not be sufficient. The proposed Office of Digital Safety Commissioner must have the powers to implement statutory regulation. We urge Government to adopt the recommendations and to require industry to adhere to statutory standards. 


“We are pleased to see that the report has acknowledged the programmes and work being carried out by An Garda Síochána on limited resources. In implementing these recommendations, Government should also make provision for including enhanced powers and resources for Gardaí, as recommended by the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Dr Geoffrey Shannon. 


“There is now real momentum for change in this area to better protect children online. A cyber safety strategy must be developed as a priority, in full consultation with stakeholders and with children at its centre, having regard to EU policy development in this area. The appointment of a Digital Safety Commissioner is a key part of the action required to help keep children stay safe online and we welcome that the report has recognised this. It is imperative now that, as recommended, this Office be adequately resourced, with appropriate funding and staffing, in order for it to be able to function effectively. In addition it must be given clear statutory powers. 


“These are part of a suite of inter-dependent measures, including the Data Protection Bill, which must be introduced without delay so that children and young people can continue to enjoy the breadth of opportunities the internet presents in the safest and most supportive environment possible.


“The report is a result of much focused work and significant consultation. It sets a clear direction for what needs to happen now, and, as this is a stated priority for Government, the ISPCC looks forward to its swift adoption and to involvement in developing a comprehensive cross-Government strategy on children’s online safety to help ensure children are safer online.”


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