Belfast Telegraph

Tech companies must do more to protect children online, say ministers

The presence of the world’s leading technology giants in Ireland should be used to push for more safeguards, it was suggested.

Four senior Government ministers have joined forces to put pressure on leading technology companies to do more to protect children online.

Children and Youth Affairs Minister Katherine Zappone, communications minister Denis Naughten, education minister Richard Bruton and justice minister Charlie Flanagan have been giving evidence to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs on the issue of cyber security.

Minister Zappone said the presence of the world’s leading technology giants in Ireland should be used to push for more safeguards.

“I believe that we must link responsibility for child welfare and protection with the provision of services,” she said.

“In any setting where children are involved, the provider of the service must be aware of the possible risks to children. And they must try to reduce these risks as much as possible.”

She added: “We must embed responsibility for child welfare and protection in all services to children.”

Justice Minister Flanagan said new legislation could potentially be introduced that would make it illegal for social media companies to use data from children under the age of 16.

When asked if legislation could be introduced to put the onus on social media companies, Mr Flanagan replied: “Yes, I think we can do more in that area and I think we should explore it.”

He also told the committee that as part of the Garda modernisation and renewal programme, there was a significant focus on emerging threats, one of which was online child sexual exploitation.

Mr Flanagan said the Garda was responding to this challenge in a variety of ways including through the Online Child Exploitation Unit (ONCE) at the Garda National Protection Services Bureau (GNPSB).

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Communications Minister Naughten warned that revisions to the Audiovisual Media Services Directive must be implemented to ensure online sites like YouTube have measures in place to protect young people from harmful video content.

“While a final text is yet to be agreed at European level, this directive will ensure that Video Sharing Platform Services, such as YouTube, have measures in place to protect users, especially minors, from harmful video content,” he said.

“We expect the revised directive to be agreed in the coming months, and we will then begin a public consultation on how best to implement its provisions in Ireland. It is vital we get it right.”

The minister added that many parents, agencies and NGOs shared his position on the need to establish an office of Digital Safety Commissioner.

Education Minister Bruton said that children had never before “had access to such a wealth of information”.

“These changes offer fantastic opportunities, but also pose potential risks, which we as a government must respond to,” he added.

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