When IT Meets Politics

Mar 28 2008   8:10PM GMT

Should on-line Child Protection be moved offshore?

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo

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Outlaw.com

It takes a child psychologist to navigate the politics of Whitehall and the Internet and produce, on time, a meaty report whose recommendations will be almost impossible to ignore – despite some painful stings – although I would prefer to call them “therapeutic accupuncture”


“Safer children in a digital world” the report by Dr Tanya Byron contains few surprises to thsoe who have been following her consultations – although the clarity, common sense and practicality of her analysis and of most of her recommendations may well come as a shock to those who expect government reports to be late, turgid compromises.

In particular, Dr Byron makes some very interesting recommendations with regard to the value of more sophisticated approaches to moderation with regard to the social networking sites that are so popular with children, so as to reduce their exposure to harmful content. But she also said that content providers and hosts had told her they were reluctant to monitor any content because it would make them liable under the E-Commerce Directive.

Her recommendation that the new Council for Internet Safety explores the possibility of using third party monitoring arrangements to “minimise the risks of liability for companies that take steps to make their products safer for children” were said, however, by the editor of Outlaw.Com to be unlikely to alter a company’s responsibility for content. He then went on to describe the advantages of using an overseas monitor to save money and also protect against fines or damages.

I recently blogged on the growing trend for ISPs to move out of the EU, including to Switzerland – i.e. not just to save money.

There is a clear implication that unless and until this recommendation is acted on, those who wish to be seen to be acting responsibly may well be advised by their legal counsel to base their operations in Switzerland where they can operate to highest standards without the laws of unintended consequences getting in the way.

Footnote – addeded after first posting:

I posted this on the same day that the “Committee of Ministers to memer states on measures to promote the respect for freedom of expression and information with regard to Internet filters” adopted a comprehesive set of recommendations. These do not, however, appear to address the issue of liability raised by the Internet Service providers when they were consulted by Dr Byron. The corporate lawyers of those who wish to follow the recommendations in order to better protect their customers may still advise their clients to do so from Switzerland rather than from within the European Union.

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  • Richard Sarson
    Tanya Byron has bothered to find out what children think about these matters, page 42-58. This is a change from a year ago, when I got interested in social networking, but couldn't find any adult policy wonk who had asked any child about their views. So I asked my 13 year-old grandson, Josh, and some other teenagers. The result of my research was that they:

    - would recognise a stranger by his style

    - had seen hardly any cyber-bullying

    - did not actively look for porn

    - Bebo,YouTube and texting were part of the fabric of their lives

    -the difference between IT at school and using a computer at home is "creativity".

    - adults worry needlessly, and should learn to use computers as everyday tools.

    My full findings are at:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2007/may/10/newmedia.epublic

    I'll check my grandson out during the hols for his comments on Byron, if I can get him to stop texting for more than five minutes.

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