A new law is set to protect our children online, a Fine Gael Senator has said.

 

Fine Gael Senator for Kildare North, Anthony Lawlor said “My colleague the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Richard Bruton T.D., has today (Monday the 4th of March) announced that he will introduce a new Online Safety Act to improve online safety and ensure that children can be protected online.

 

“For the first time we will have a law setting a clear expectation for service providers to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of the users of their service. The system will be overseen by an Online Safety Commissioner.”

 

“This is really good news for parents in Kildare seeking to protect their children while they benefit from all that digital technology has to offer.”

 

“The Online Safety Act will define categories of harmful online content. Minister Bruton has indicated that this could include: serious cyber bullying, including content which is seriously threatening, seriously intimidating, seriously harassing or seriously humiliating; material which promotes self-harm or suicide; and material designed to encourage prolonged nutritional deprivation that would have the effect of exposing a person to risk of death or endangering health.”

 

“The new law will also place requirements on operators to Operate an Online Safety Code, which would set out the steps they are taking to keep their users safe online. They will need to include in their code a number of issues at a minimum (e.g. a prohibition of cyber bullying material; provide a complaints procedure where people can request material be taken down, with timelines). They will also need to build safety into the design of online platforms through the application of technology and human intervention.”

 

“While there are many very good initatives going on across the government to promote online safety, particularily by WebWise, the Online Safety Commissioner can be a single online access point through which all available Online Safety resources can be accessed by parents, teachers and children. This could build on the government’s Be Safe Online portal.”

 

“Minister Bruton has put forward a number of options for how a new Online Safety Commissioner can do this important work.There are two options including,

  • A Media Commission: establish a new Media Commission by restructuring the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, along the lines of the multi-Commissioner Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. Establish the Online Safety Commissioner as a powerful office within that structure.
  • Two Regulators: Two regulatory bodies, one of which would involve restructuring the BAI and assigning it responsibility for content which is subject to editorial control (traditional television and radio broadcasting and on-demand audiovisual media services). The second online safety regulator would be a new body responsible for online content that is not subject to editorial controls (such as social media and video sharing platforms etc)

 

“The second role of the Online Safety Commissioner would be to apply European Law to video sharing. This will require significant changes to the way in which Ireland regulates audio visual content, both offline and online, including ensuring that Video Sharing Platforms have sufficient measures (e.g. parental controls and age-verification) in place, and ensuring that they have a complaints mechanism in place where a user can make a complaint regarding content which is hosted on the service.”

 

“It is proposed that the Online Safety Commissioner could conduct audits of the measures which the services have in place or a more direct review of a company’s content moderation teams as they are operating.

 

“Under EU Law, the Online Safety Commissioner would be required to regulate all video sharing platforms that are based in Ireland. “

 

“A short six week public consultation is set to commence on the options and I encourage everyone in Kildare to have their say.People can make a submission on the Department of Communications website https://bit.ly/2Ha1rcx.”

 

Speaking at the launch Minister Bruton said: “Digital technology is transforming the world in which we work and live and learn. This provides huge opportunities for us all. It has been central to our economic and social development as a country for three decades. However, the digital world also presents new risks which did not exist previously.

 

“As Minister for Education and Skills, I recognised the need to take action in this area, and issued a direction to schools that they should consult with parents, teachers and students on the use, if any, of smart phones in schools. “The situation at present where online and social media companies are not subject to any oversight or regulation by the state for the content which is shared on their platforms is no longer sustainable. I believe that the era of self regulation in this area is over and a new Online Safety Act is necessary.”

 

“Many parents find it difficult to keep up with the latest technology, or the latest app. That is understandable given how quickly online games and technology can evolve. To me it emphasises why the establishment of an Online Safety Commissioner is so important.”

 

“While it would be impossible to remove every danger from the internet or from the adaptation of new technology, what we need to do is to ensure that parents and children are better equipped, that the state can provide regulation and enforcement, and that online platforms take responsibility.”