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Online Safety Policy

The internet has become a part of the everyday lives of so many children and young people in Ireland and while being online can be a very positive experience, all too often we hear of the dangers encountered by children. Online safety is the child protection issue of our time.

Online abuse, intimidation or bullying can be pervasive and can have a long-term impact on a child. It can interrupt a child’s life and intrude into their networks; so too can the viewing of violent, abusive and degrading images online.

A collective effort and acceptance of shared responsibility across statutory and non-statutory agencies is the best approach to prevention, detection and responding to online safety.

As a Safer Internet Ireland Project partner, a member of eNACSO, the European NGO Alliance for Child Safety Online, and a provider of online support services, the ISPCC has been vocal about the risks to children online as well as offering support and guidance to young people and parents about how to navigate the online world safely.

EU Safer Internet Ireland Project Partners:

ISPCC Influencing Policy – Background to policy position

In 2011, the ISPCC surveyed over 18,000 children and young people on their attitudes and experiences of the internet.

The ISPCC carried out an internal case review in summer 2016 which highlighted online safety as an emerging issue for children. The ISPCC gave evidence to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs on this topic in February 2017, and its evidence attracted significant media attention over the following months. 

The ISPCC shared its experiences and concerns with the Joint Committee, which carried out an extensive exploration of the issue in its programme of work in 2017/2018.

The committee’s report on The Cybersecurity of Children and Young Adults was released in March 2018. The government released its first Action Plan for Online Safety 2018-2019 in July 2018. This action plan had been a key ask of the ISPCC. 

The ISPCC continues to work for further commitments from government, industry and other key stakeholders to keep children safe online.

ISPCC

 Current policy priorities for online safety

ISPCC and Vodafone Ireland Foundation Partnership

The ISPCC’s partnership with the Vodafone Ireland Foundation has been key in driving forward our work on online safety through our ‘Working to Keep Children Safe Online’ initiative.

National Advisory Council on Online Safety

The government establised a new National Advisory Council on Online Safety which met for the first time in October 2018. The council is made up of key stakeholders who offer advice and input into government policy on online safety. The ISPCC is delighted to be a member of the council and looks forward to effecting positive change for children's online safety. 

Recent ISPCC Press Releases On Online Safety

ISPCC welcomes the publication of Government’s Action Plan for Online Safety

The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) has welcomed the launch by An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD of the government’s first Action Plan for Online Safety, while calling for a further firm commitment to be made on establishing statutory regulation of internet and social media provision, and a Digital Safety Commissioner with real authority.

The Action Plan for Online Safety, as published today, highlights a series of commitments by government to make children safer online. These include a single online access point for online safety information and resources; development of training modules for schools along with enhanced curriculum at both primary and secondary level; law reform to include statutory child safeguarding statements having to specifically account for online safety; commitment to work with European Union and international partners on online safety policy and the establishment of a new National Advisory Council for Online Safety.

ISPCC Director of Policy, Cliodhna O’Neill said: “Today is an important step forward for online safety, and we acknowledge much that is good in this plan, though we must reiterate that a strong commitment to regulation of industry is needed to keep children safe online. For several years, the ISPCC has described online safety as the child protection issue of our time, and called for enhanced regulation, enhanced education measures and law reform, as part of a national strategy on online safety.

 

“Today’s plan goes some way towards addressing these concerns. We welcome these warmly and acknowledge the work that has been done across government departments and by members of the Oireachtas and the media in understanding our concerns and helping to raise awareness of and take action on this issue.

“As the national child protection charity, the ISPCC cannot support the approach that this plan takes in favouring self-regulation of industry over legal regulation, citing good practice in this area as the reason for this approach. We recognise that there is some good practice in this area, but experience shows that legislation and regulation is needed to ensure consistent compliance by all providers. A Digital Safety Commissioner with real powers and authority would be required to ensure this. There is support in this plan for some aspects of such an office but this may not go far enough.

“The goal of having 95 per cent of providers signed up to a voluntary code is not sufficient.  The vast majority of citizens are law abiding, yet we have laws in place. While it is clear that technology changes quickly, there is little explanation for this approach. Broadcasting is regulated. Legal standards are in place for children’s toys. Yet aspects of the technology industry are not regulated, and the industry will continue to be permitted to act according to a code that is self-written, self-enforced and largely self-evaluated.  Take down procedures are not standardised, transparency measures are not standardised, and can be changed at whim. There is a lot of reference to industry involvement, and no mention of child protection expert involvement. This does not provide a sufficient level of protection for children.

 

“We recognise that though there is a focus on what can go wrong, on illegal and harmful content, the potential benefits of being online and of responsible and ethical use of technology are enormous. Children deserve to be able to enjoy all of the learning, recreational and social benefits of being online – and it is the role of adults to make it safe for them to do so.

 

The plan contains practical measures to support education and parental awareness and we welcome these. From the ISPCC’s interactions with children and parents and its research, it is clear that the actions outlined in this plan are needed. Forthcoming research commissioned by ISPCC Childline and supported by the Vodafone Ireland Foundation shows that 73 per cent of parents do not believe that the government is doing enough to keep their children safe online, (see chart below).

The research also shows that preferred sources of online safety information for parents would be school (70 per cent); online safety websites (52 per cent); government (47 per cent) and internet service providers (45 per cent).

This demonstrates that parents feel there is a clear need for online safety to be formally included on their child’s curriculum; that resources on online safety should be officially developed by government, while internet service providers also have a key role to play in supporting parents to keep their children safe online.

 The ISPCC is also mindful of the role parents can play in their children’s online safety. They have a wonderful opportunity when giving internet-enabled devices to their child to explore the safety features together; inspire them with the potential opportunities available and discuss the associated risks and equip them with options for when they do come across something online that worries or concerns them. We continue to support parents and young people on a daily basis on this issue.

The ISPCC welcomes the acknowledgment in the plan that online safety is not an issue for Ireland alone. It must be tackled as a global issue and government must collaborate with European and international partners in a combined effort to make online safety a priority across all administrations.

Ms. O’Neill concluded: “What is needed now is clear: implementation of this action plan as a first step, a concerted effort from all government departments to work together cohesively and efficiently to create the necessary change, the active and engaged involvement of industry, including child protection experts, and enhanced regulation, to better protect children online.

National Online Safety Strategy Key to Child Protection - All-party Support Needed Urgently, says ISPCC

18 April 2018

s 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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