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.
Child security and the distribution of child abuse images online is a very important issue. You may remember me blogging about the use of internet blocking last year (read the blog here). A very useful resource in finding out about this subject is a relatively new blog called Desiderata (Latin for ‘things you desire or need).
I should say that the blog is written by an old friend of mine, John Carr, who I have known for many years. As well as an old friend though, he is a world expert in the field of child safety and security online, as an adviser to the British Government and the United Nations. Further more, John is an executive on the European NGO Alliance for Child Safety Online and is Secretary of the UK’s Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety (made up of NSPCC, Action for Children, Barnardo’s and many more). He has also provided advice for Microsoft, MySpace and Google as well as a number of the UK’s leading mobile phone service providers. John was also the worthy recipient of an OBE for services to child security online. So you can see he is well placed to offer advice and analysis on many of the problems that worry many parents and people responsible for young children and teenagers.
The blocking of internet sites that contain child pornography is one of the first issues that John tackles on his new blog. If you would like to read a well written and thorough defence of blocking and a debunking of the arguments against then please click here, I highly recommend it. He writes with clarity, never overly technical so even relative laymen like me can understand, and has a mastery over the subject matter, not surprising given his unparalleled level of expertise in this area. Blocking was recently voted on in the Parliament’s Civil Liberties committee, and it did not go the way he or I would have hoped. I was happy that most if not all UK MEPs were in favour blocking, but perhaps if a few more MEPs from other delegations, particularly Germany, had read John’s blog, we may have got a better result.
Apart from that I think we can expect a high level of discussion about all current issues and debates surrounding the important subject of child security online. In his most recent posts John talks about the possibility of Internet Service Providers doing more to stop children accessing inappropriate material. He suggests solutions that I think would definitely meet the approval of any parent or carer who reads it. I’m sure we will see a lot more like this in the future.