Parties call on Government to raise digital age of consent to 16

Minister for Justice risks Dáil defeat over decision to set 13 as age of online responsibility

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan: The Data Protection Bill  must be passed by the end of May as part of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation.   Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan: The Data Protection Bill must be passed by the end of May as part of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

The Government is set to reject calls to raise the age at which children can sign up to online services to 16 and to persist with its current intention to set it at 13.

The main Opposition parties – Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and Labour – all now say that the digital age of consent should be raised to 16.

They are set to table or support amendments to the forthcoming Data Protection Bill, but Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan is maintaining his position that it should be 13, even as he risks a Dáil defeat on the issue.

If Mr Flanagan is outvoted on the amendments to the Bill, as now seems likely, he will have to change the policy position, but it is understood he wants to stick to the stance agreed by the Cabinet. The legislation must be passed by the end of May as part of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Consultation process

Sources said Mr Flanagan believes the digital age of consent should remain at 13, the level that emerged during a consultation process with numerous groups.

It was also pointed out by those in favour of maintaining the digital age of consent at 13 that the Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality had also supported this position, and that its membership includes Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan and Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.

This is not about when children can go online or use devices; rather, it only relates to situations where the processing of the personal data of a child is performed

It was further argued the Children’s Rights Alliance, the Ombudsman for Children and the Internet Safety Advisory Committee agree with the age level being set at 13.

EU member states can choose their own digital age of consent within a window from 13 years to 16 years, and the Cabinet last year opted for 13. At the time, a Government spokesman said, “we’ve gone for the lower end,” and the decision was broadly welcomed by youth groups.

Into line

However, Labour justice spokesman Seán Sherlock said setting the digital age of consent at 16 would bring Ireland into line with Germany, the Netherlands and France.

Messaging app WhatsApp will set its minimum age for EU users at 16, while Facebook will ask those between 13 and 15 to nominate a parent or guardian to grant permission for its use.

“This is not about when children can go online or use devices; rather, it only relates to situations where the processing of the personal data of a child is performed. The Bill at present sets the Irish digital age of consent at the lowest possible age – 13 years – and it is my belief that it should be set at 16,” Mr Sherlock said.

Mr O’Callaghan and Sinn Féin justice spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire also now support the higher age.