Online proposals have no sanctions against service providers

Child safety plans set out 25 ‘targets’ around five ‘goals’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Áine Lynch from the National Parents Council (centre) with Webwise Youth Advisory Panel members Rachel Murphy (18) and Marco Messori  (18)  help launch the Government’s Action Plan for Online Safety.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Áine Lynch from the National Parents Council (centre) with Webwise Youth Advisory Panel members Rachel Murphy (18) and Marco Messori (18) help launch the Government’s Action Plan for Online Safety.

 

The Government’s long-awaited plan to keep children safe online contains no mandatory actions from the online platforms most popularly used by children, including Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube.

Children’s rights groups welcomed the publication on Wednesday of the Action Plan for Online Safety 2018-2019 as an “important step”. All, however, raised concerns about the lack of compulsion on industry players to take all necessary measures to protect children.

There was also disappointment no date was set for the promised appointment of a Digital Safety Commissioner who could call to account internet service providers, and at the lack of recognition of the particular vulnerabilities of some children.

The cross-departmental plan, published by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with four Government ministers in attendance, sets out 25 “actions” to be taken over the next year, set around five goals. These are to achieve online safety for all; better supports; stronger protections; to influence policy; and build our understanding of online safety.

The report says 100 per cent of 18 to 34 year-olds have mobile phones and 86 per cent use them to go online; almost 90 per cent of households with dependent children use the internet; and 95 per cent of 16 to 29 year-olds use the internet regularly – 92 per cent of them every day, compared with 48 per cent of 60 to 74 year-olds using the internet.

Code of practice

Government will “strengthen links and processes with the industry for removing illegal and harmful material”, says the plan. It aims to increase the proportion of service providers signed up to a “code of practice and ethics, from 90 per cent to 95 per cent”.

The Irish Society for the Protection of Children (ISPCC) welcomed a new

website bringing together all online safety resources – gov.ie – and the development of training modules to be delivered within the primary and secondary school curriculums.

It continued, however: “As the national child protection charity, the ISPCC cannot support the approach that this plan takes in favouring self-regulation of industry over legal regulation . . . The goal of having 95 per cent of providers signed up to a voluntary code is not sufficient.”

The Children’s Rights Alliance welcomed plans to use schools to increase children’s capacity to protect themselves, but continued: “To better protect children we need Government to put the onus on businesses to adopt effective systems of age verification.”

The proposal that “businesses should be encouraged to sign up to its code of practice and ethics” was “very well . . . but it is also critically important that Government requires business to implement safety [and] privacy by design”.

Investment in training

Cyber Safe Ireland, which focuses particularly on educating children and parents on online safety, welcomed the new site with all information on educational resources. However, it was concerned there was no commitment to invest in fully training “at least one teacher in every school to become an online safety champion, rather than expecting all teachers to become experts”. A survey it conducted last year found 69 per cent of teachers did not feel equipped to deliver online safety classes.

Its chief executive, Alex Cooney, said: “There is a huge socio-economic dimension to this too. There are incredibly vulnerable children out there and while the role of parents is hugely important, the reality for some parents is this is not a top priority. For some parents the top priority is where their children are going to sleep that night.

“These children are not going to be helped by an easy-fix solution, a few extra resources. We have to think more creatively to look at how we can reach and properly equip all parents and teachers.”