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This week the House of Lords’ Communications Committee published a new report, ‘Growing up with the Internet’ which looks at how children should be protected online and sets out a number of new recommendations for industry and Government.

Key recommendations from the report are:

    • We recommend that all ISPs and mobile network operators should be required not only to offer child-friendly content control filters, but also for those filters to be ‘on’ by default for all customers. Adult customers should be able to switch off such filters.
    • Those responsible for providing filtering and blocking services need to be transparent about which sites they block and why, and be open to complaints from websites to review their decisions within an agreed timeframe. Filter systems should be designed to an agreed minimum standard.

  • It is no longer sufficient to teach digital skills in specialist computer science classes. We recommend that digital literacy sit alongside reading, writing and mathematics as the fourth pillar of a child’s education.

As we’ve commented before, we completely agree with the suggestion of improved education in schools regarding safely using the Internet. Alongside parental supervision this is truly key to protecting children online. Automatic protections such as filters and blocks should be a secondary protection – worthwhile and necessary, but far from foolproof and therefore only truly successful if used alongside education and supervision. We also believe parents (and even adults in general) could benefit a great deal from an education programme of their own on Internet safety and would urge the Government to consider doing more around this e.g. supervising and protecting children online, preventing fraud, setting up and using filters, etc.

However, we are concerned about the calls for ‘all’ ISPs to be required to provide such filters. This suggests even business focused ISPs would be required to implement these systems which can be costly, especially for smaller providers and seemingly unnecessary if they deal primarily with business users. We feel this needs further clarity.

ISPA’s response
Commenting on the new report ISPA quite rightly pointed out that online safety is already a priority for most ISPs and that thanks to self-regulation the UK is a world leader in online safety. They also echoed our own concerns about the effect on smaller business focused ISPs.

“We believe that self-regulation is the right approach to dealing with this complex and challenging area and so disagree with some of the report’s conclusions. The current self-regulatory regime has led to the UK being a world leader in online safety, with up to 95% of consumer customers having free access to a parental control filter, the virtual eradication of child images hosted in the UK via the Internet Watch Foundation and an industry-funded public awareness campaign and one stop shop advisory site. ISPA is further committed to raising awareness of online safety with its members, including a guide for its smaller members and information at sign up on parental control filters.

However, filters are not a panacea and are only part of a solution that includes digital literacy and sensible policymaking. We therefore agree with the report’s recommendations to improve digital literacy’s standing in the curriculum, commission further research to inform policy and see a joined-up policy from Government that we hope a new Internet Safety Strategy will deliver.

Unfortunately, the report has not understood the full breadth of the ISP market. It would be disproportionate to mandate filters for ISPs providing services to business or machine-to-machine services or those who make it clear that they offer an unfiltered service.”

In the main we agree with the report and are pleased to see an emphasis on education and a call for a joined up approach from Government and industry. However, we think it’s also important to remember that thanks to self-regulation the industry has already made the UK the world leader on child safety online and emphasise that the protection of children online is already a priority for ISPs. We genuinely believe that the implementation and use of filters and blocks will only ever get us so far in this fight. As children are accessing the Internet from an earlier age this needs to be reinforced with a clear education policy in all schools and for parents and carers.

Have your say!

Do you agree that education is key to protecting children online? Do you think more needs to be done by ISPs to ensure filters are used and available? Do you think industry should be left to self-regulate or is Government intervention required? Let us know your thoughts by leaving us a comment below.

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