Government loses vote as Dáil backs 16 as age of digital consent

Provision passed to make it illegal for companies to target children with online marketing

The Government favoured a digital age of consent of 13 and was supported by smaller parties and Independents. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

The Government favoured a digital age of consent of 13 and was supported by smaller parties and Independents. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

The Government has lost a series of votes on data protection legislation including one on the digital age of consent.

Fifteen Fine Gael members were not in the chamber as the Dáil voted to accept 16 as the digital age of consent with the support of Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and Labour.

The vote was 55 to 51.

The Government favoured a digital age of consent of 13 and was supported by smaller parties and Independents.

The House also accepted an amendment from Sinn Féin justice spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire making it illegal for companies or organisations to profile children based on their online data and directly market to them.

The amendment declares it will be an offence for any company or corporate body to process the personal data of a child “for the purposes of direct marketing, profiling or micro-targeting”.

This will include the marketing of products including fast food.

A number of TDs were in attendance at Oireachtas committees while the votes were taking place. The Taoiseach and a number of Ministers are abroad on Government business but other TDs were not accounted for.

Absent TDs

While Fine Gael had 15 absent TDs for the vote on the digital age of consent, 13 Fianna Fáil TDs were not in the chamber. Seven Sinn Féin TDs were absent and one Labour TD.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said there had been considerable debate on the issue and broad public consultation.

Setting the age of consent at 13 would bring Ireland into line with countries including Sweden, Denmark and Finland, EU member states that Ireland looked to as good examples in areas of child protection and support.

Fianna Fáil education spokesman Thomas Byrne, who was adamant that 16 should be the age of consent, said the tech company illegally profiling a child would pay the penalty and not the child or their parent.

‘Silver bullet’

Mr Ó Laoghaire said setting the digital age of consent at 16 was not a “silver bullet” for protecting children online, but at that age they were more mature and it was the more appropriate age, rather than 13.

Independents4Change TD Clare Daly supported the Government’s recommendation of 13 years and believed children would be excluded from some important online services. It was the equivalent of the “just say no” approach.

The Bill’s provisions are subject to review after three years.