Oireachtas committee warns on phone bullying

Wed, Nov 12, 2008, 00:00

The Oireachtas will introduce legislation to stamp out mobile phone bullying if operators in the market don’t find a solution, mobile service providers were told today.

Representatives of O2, Vodafone, Meteor and 3 Ireland claimed at the Joint Committee on Communications they were working hard to find a solution but also insisted the issue was a wider problem across society.

Members of the committee claimed technology existed whereby sim cards could be modified to stop indecent images or videos being sent to handsets.

However the operators said that such controls were only compatible with some brands of mobile phones and could not be universally applied across the board.

Fine Gael TD Simon Coveney said mobile phone companies must be willing to install filtering and limiting systems in their products to protect children.

He said Irish children were among the heaviest users of mobile phones in the world and had sent three billion texts in the past three months alone.

“If you don’t come up with a solution, legislators will bring in laws that will. This is something that is being looked at very seriously by legislators,” he told the operators.

Irish Cellular Industry Association director Tommy McCabe told the committee: “It is unrealistic and unfair to expect mobile phone operators to solve what is a broader societal problem.”

Meteor said it conducted the world’s first trial on text filtering in 2005 in an effort to block potential offensive images.

However a minimum 85 per cent accuracy standard was unable to be achieved, according to Meteor official Gareth Davies.

“If users abuse message sending service which is outside the terms of use of our networks, we will take action,” Mr Davies added.

Mr Coveney said Ireland should be a country that takes a lead on the issue as it was among the heaviest users of mobile phones in the world.

Fine Gael TD Noel Coonan, who raised the issue in the Dáil last month, said it was time for urgent action on the issue.

O2 official Majella Fitzpatrick said there was currently no quick-fix for the problem.

“We take this area very seriously and are very active in seeking a solution. Finding a solution would be absolutely in our interests.”

Fine Gael TD Michael D’Arcy said the mobile phone companies delivered “the worst presentation I have seen in my time in the Oireachtas”.

He said O2 and Vodafone were among the most profitable companies in the country and had an obligation to protect its younger customers.

Committee chairman MJ Nolan said the all-party body would like to see the operators being more pro-active on the issue.

The ICIA said O2, Vodafone, Meteor and 3 Ireland would continue to work together closely and liaise with the committee in the future.

PA