EDRi on child protection policy

By EDRi · September 12, 2012

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Deutsch: [EDRi zum Thema Kinderschutz | https://www.unwatched.org/EDRigram_10.17_EDRi_zum_Thema_Kinderschutz?pk_campaign=edri&pk_kwd=20120918]

The interests of children should be put first, even if that means
allowing them to learn and adapt to online risks

An unseen threat is the scariest threat of all. An unseen threat to our
children provokes our most basic protective instincts, which is exactly
as it should be.

The internet is a public space and it is as safe or dangerous to allow a
child to wander in its various neighbourhoods as for them to wander
through any city. The challenge is to fight the temptation to be
over-protective and instead allow our society’s children and young
people to develop into responsible adults.

Panic and assumptions lead to policies that are counterproductive.
Effective child protection measures are those based on facts and not
fear. The European commission has sought the facts, financing truly
impressive research on which solid policy can be based. The European
Union’s kids online research project on the experience of European
children online is excellent, setting global standards for both scope
and quality.

Bizarrely, however, the commission’s recent communication on a ‘European
strategy for a better internet for children’ only briefly references
this research. Instead, it is pushing internet companies to adopt
unspecified voluntary measures that will not be subject to the rigours
of democratic decision-making, will not be based on research and risk
being either useless or, even worse, counterproductive.

The threat of the implementation of bad policies as a result on
over-reliance on industry ‘solutions’ is very real. For example, it
would seem logical for internet providers to offer strong internet
filtering to protect children. The public relations value of such a
service is tempting. However, research from the UK office for standards
in education indicates that students are safest when they are not using
strongly filtered internet connections. Instead, children gain better
knowledge, awareness and security by using open services, which allow
them to learn about, confront and adapt to risk.

The commission has been funding child abuse image (child pornography)
prevention hotlines for several years. On the basis of direct or
indirect reports from these hotlines, internet providers in many EU
countries voluntarily remove images or sites from their services. The
commission is now demanding a quicker takedown of such images. However,
despite funding the hotlines, the commission can produce no statistics
as regards how fast sites are removed in each EU member state, nor on
the causes of delays. In other words, the commission is asking for an
unspecified improvement on an unknown baseline value that it is unable
to make available. This is simply not good enough.

Worse still, the commission cannot produce any reliable data on the
number of prosecutions – or even investigations. Criminal activity must
be treated more seriously than this.

It is difficult to understand the basis of the commission’s apparent
belief that companies instinctively know what is in the best interests
of children and society and will put these interests ahead of their own
profits. Companies frequently have conflicts between their own interest
and that of the public. It is unwise and inappropriate to devolve
policy-making to them on such an important issue. Children deserve
better, a policy for child protection must be based on evidence and not
the public relations needs of parts of industry or even of the
commission itself.

If any policy area deserved to be treated with more diligence, it is
this one. We need European leadership on this issue, not facile nonsense
about corporations regulating children, free speech and our digital

Article published in TheParliament.com (7.09.2012)

(Article by Joe McNamee – Executive Director of European Digital Rights