ISPCC: End flip-flopping on online safety

Grainia Long, ISPCC chief executive

A children’s charity has hit out at the “flip-flopping” of Government around the establishment of a data safety commissioner.

The ISPCC said that, after a “noisy week” with the Horan grooming court case, it is the time to take a “deep breath” and set out the solutions to protecting children from online predators.

However, differences remain in agreeing on responses, with the ISPCC against raising the digital age of consent to 16 (up from 13), while UCD associate professor and advisor to Europol’s Cyber Crime Centrecyber expert Mary Aiken supports increasing the age and setting up a secure internet for children inside the web.

Last Friday, Dubliner Matthew Horan was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years on sample charges of child sexual exploitation and possession of child abuse imagery. The 26-year-old used Skype, Snapchat, Instagram, and Kik, an anonymous instant messaging application, to groom girls as young as nine to send him sexually explicit images of themselves. After he pleaded guilty the previous Monday, Communications Minister Denis Naughten said he would press ahead with proposals —recommended by the Law Reform Commission in September 2016 — for a digital safety commissioner.

The proposals have not yet been made clear and the minister indicated the office would not be set up, initially, on a statutory basis and that he was consulting with advocacy groups, industry and cabinet colleagues.

Last December, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar indicated that a State commissioner was not the right way forward.

“The Law Reform Commission made a recommendation for a data safety commissioner, but I find the flip flopping frustrating,” Grainia Long, ISPCC chief executive, told the Marian Finucane Show on RTÉ.

She said commissions deliberate these issues, often for years, and then they make recommendations.

“We have fanfare that there will be a new digital safety commissioner, then last December the Taoiseach says ‘I don’t see the need’,” she said. “Based on what? Now, we have this case and we’re talking about a digital safety commissioner again.”

The commission said the digital industry in Ireland should be legally obliged to comply with a statutory code of conduct in terms of taking down offensive material.

It proposed a digital safety commissioner to police the code and have recourse to court enforcement orders if its directions are not complied with. Dr Aiken said merely advising parents on online child safety was not working and that Ireland should follow Germany and Holland by raising the age of digital consent from 13 to 16.

She said the US military created NIPRNet, a secure intranet within the internet and said: “Why can’t we have an intranet for kids?”

However, Ms Long warned against closing off the internet to those under 16 and said a balance needed to be struck between protecting and educating children.

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