Consultation on ‘digital consent’ age opens ahead of new EU regulation

Publication notes children lacking in sufficient maturity may be vulnerable to online risks

A consultation paper published by the Department of Justice notes that usage of new digital technologies is high among children. Photograph: Getty Images

A consultation paper published by the Department of Justice notes that usage of new digital technologies is high among children. Photograph: Getty Images

 

The Department of Justice has opened a consultation on the ‘digital age of consent’ for services offered to children online, including social media.

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald intends to bring a proposal to determine the ‘digital consent’ age threshold to Cabinet later this year, ahead of a new EU regulation due to come into force in 2018.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will introduce restrictions on the ability of children to allow their personal information be processed without parental consent.

A consultation paper published by the department notes that usage of new digital technologies is high among children, but says those lacking sufficient levels of maturity and understanding may be particularly vulnerable to risks in the online digital environment.

These include risks of abuse, grooming, cyber bullying, access to unsuitable materials and the potentially adverse impacts of direct marketing activity.

“When their physical or emotional safety and welfare is at stake, the need for adequate safeguards for children is beyond question. Parents and guardians have an essential role to play in this context and the best interests of the child remains the paramount guiding principle,” the paper says.

It notes the new EU regulation goes further than requiring data protection authorities of member states to give special attention to awareness-raising activities and materials targeted at children:

It imposes an obligation on providers of online goods and services offered to children to seek to obtain the consent or authorisation of a child’s parent or guardian where the child in under the age of 16.

Member states are given the option of adopting a lower age, but it may be no lower than 13 years.

“This means that the choice facing each member state is whether to accept the age limit of 16 years set out in the GDPR or enact national legislation to specify a lower age limit, ie 13 years or possibly an age between 13 and 16.

“It boils down to whether a statutory requirement to obtain the consent of a parent or guardian is considered appropriate in the case of 13, 14 and 15 year olds,” the paper says.

Further information is available on the department’s website at justice.ie.

The closing date for submissions is December 2nd. They may be sent by email to Digitalconsent@justice.ie or by post.