Wednesday 23 January 2019

Minister's hope to appoint dedicated digital safety officer to battle 'relentless' child sex predators

Communications Minister Denis Naughten. Photo: Doug O'Connor
Communications Minister Denis Naughten. Photo: Doug O'Connor
John Downing

John Downing

Communications Minister Denis Naughten will this week seek Government approval to appoint a dedicated digital safety officer and try to have the role of that person clearly defined within weeks.

Mr Naughten's response came as one of the country's most senior gardaí warned that internet controls were currently not good enough to protect children from sexual predators.

Assistant Garda Commissioner Pat Leahy warned that these predators were "relentless and merciless".

"We must police the internet the same way we police the streets," he told the 'Sunday Independent'.

Mr Leahy's remarks came in the wake of the horrific case of online child sexual predator Matthew Horan, whose trial concluded last week.

The court heard that he preyed on 15 young girls and he was convicted of child exploitation and other offences relating to the production and distribution of pornography.

Mr Naughten said he had already consulted widely with the technology sector and others concerned by this real threat.

He said progress was being made - but the challenge remained complex and vast.

"We're in an era of smart homes and driverless cars. Our collective naivety makes us vulnerable," Mr Naughten told the Irish Independent.

He said a lot of work was being done by the Government and the EU, by technology industry people, by An Garda Síochána, by NGOs, such as CyberSafe Ireland and the ISPCC, and in schools, to promote online protection.

"But the virtual world is constantly changing at incomprehensible speeds, and because of this legislation can never keep up. On YouTube alone 500 hours of video is uploaded every minute," the minister conceded.

Mr Naughten said he would seek Government approval this week to appoint a "digital safety officer". He said consultations would continue to define the role of that person and this process would be nailed down at a conference on the issue in Dublin on March 8.

He added that this week he will speak with Australia's eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant to learn lessons from her about the role and work she is doing.

"I believe a lot of the foundations for the role of a digital safety commissioner can be laid down on March 8 in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham," he added.

This will be a public policy forum involving the social media operators, app developers, parents, advocacy groups, educators, An Garda Síochána and legislators.

They will have an opportunity to speak publicly on the issues involved in their work.

Department of Justice officials said that in December 2016 Cabinet approved the drafting of the general scheme of a bill in line with advice from the Law Reform Commission in their report on harmful communications and digital safety.

"The report made various recommendations to strengthen our laws to ensure they can deal with persistent as well as singular incidences of online harassment," an official said.

Work on this draft law is continuing.

Irish Independent

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