The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), an international organisation who has been working for many years now on how to make the internet a safer place for children, organised a conference earlier in the week. Held in the European Parliament, I was pleased to be one of the panelist in a wide-ranging discussion.
The European Commission’s has recently released a Communication on online safety that includes a road map for action over the next few years. The Communication seeks to give children the digital skills and tools they need to benefit fully and safely from the digital world. It plans to do this by getting the Commission, Member States and the online industry to get together on various proposals that would “build up the market for interactive, creative and educational content online”. (Read the full communication here)
The computer and mobile phone industry was well represented as were NGOs and policy makers. All sides were in general agreement that the European Commission’s proposal was a positive development in tackling this important issue. While I believe that what the Commission is proposing is encouraging, I remain uncertain as to whether it will be enough. The Commission clearly wants industry to regulate itself, only stepping in with legislation when it fails to do so. Although I heard a number of very promising things from the various people from the industry who were there, I still feel there is room for the Commission and indeed the European Parliament to get involved.
My main area of concern is that the varying approaches across the EU mean that children have different levels of empowerment and protection online. The European Union has meant that our national borders have become, at the very least, less rigid, and the internet completely ignores them. That is why I support my colleague Silvia Costa’s suggestion in her recent report on this subject for a single framework directive on the rights of minors in the digital world.
We will never be able to completely guarantee the safety of children, either online or out in the world, but we should set a standard across the EU the member states and the internet and mobile technology industry have to abide by.