‘Common sense has prevailed’ on digital age of consent

Children’s rights groups welcome Oireachtas decision to retain current limit of 13 years

Grainia Long, ISPCC; Prof Mona O’Moore, DCU; Alex Cooney, Cybersafe Ireland; Ian Power, Spunout.ie and Tanya Ward of the Children’s Rights Alliance. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Grainia Long, ISPCC; Prof Mona O’Moore, DCU; Alex Cooney, Cybersafe Ireland; Ian Power, Spunout.ie and Tanya Ward of the Children’s Rights Alliance. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Children’s rights groups have welcomed the defeat of the amendment to raise the digital age of consent to 16.

The Children’s Rights Alliance and the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC), together with Spunout.ie and CyberSafeIreland have welcomed the move.

Proposals to raise the digital age of consent from 13 to 16 years of age were rejected by an Oireachtas committee on Wednesday.

The digital age of consent is the age below which a person cannot by law make an agreement with an online service provider.

These agreements allow social media companies such as Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp to access users’ personal information for the purposes of marketing or advertising.

At a meeting of the Oireachtas justice committee, Fianna Fáil sought to raise the age limit through an amendment to data protection legislation.

Chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance Tanya Ward said the groups were “pleased that common sense has prevailed”.

“Key bodies working for and with children have recommended 13 years as the age of digital consent. Children’s individual rights must be valued, and raising the age of consent to 16 will potentially undermine child protection measures and result in some services potentially being withdrawn,” said Ms Ward.

“There are many reasons why children’s interests are best served by retaining the age at 13. We should be approaching this with a calm head. A number of amendments have also been tabled which strengthen children’s protection online and we welcome these,” she said.

Grainia Long from the ISPCC said the defeat of this amendment was a positive sign that the voice of the child was being heard.

“No one should confuse data protection and the need to ensure children’s safety online with imposing unworkable restrictions on children’s use of services,” said Ms Long.

“In recent debates, many elected representatives have made it clear that they want to do the right thing, to keep children safe online. We now need to see that interest translated into action. Listening to the views of the many respected academics, experts in child protection and child safety online who have recommended the age of digital consent be retained at 13 is crucial to this.”

Ms Long said there was an urgent need to develop an action plan on online safety and the immediate creation of the office of a digital safety commissioner.

“These are key measures that would make a real difference to children’s safety online,” she said.