Saturday 21 September 2019

We should lean on tech giants for cyber safety - Katherine Zappone

Minister Katherine Zappone. Photo: Frank McGrath
Minister Katherine Zappone. Photo: Frank McGrath
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

The presence of the world's leading technology giants should be used to our "advantage" when regulating for child safety, Children's Minister Katherine Zappone will say today.

The minister will suggest the Government should use Ireland's key relationship with social media companies to push for more safeguards.

"The challenges we meet often arise from decisions taken outside our jurisdiction. Some solutions are outside our control.

"However, we have the advantage that many of the world's leading technology companies have a significant corporate presence here in Ireland," Ms Zappone will state.

She is among four ministers scheduled to appear before the Oireachtas Committee on Children which is discussing cyber safety.

In an opening statement, seen by the Irish Independent, Ms Zappone warns that children engaging in online activity "presents a very serious challenge".

She notes that the internet "operates across borders", but adds the companies based in Ireland "can and must work with Government".

"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 will say.

Communications Minister Denis Naughten will use the meeting to restate his intention to establish an Office of a Digital Safety Commissioner.

He will say the issue is "a priority for me as a father of four young children".

"Given the range of different material, no one single action is going to 'fix the internet'," he will say.

"We want to make sure that our children are not only tech savvy, but safety conscious; that our parents know where they can turn to for help; that there's a joined-up approach to everything we do.

"These are measures that can be strengthened in the shorter term, without waiting for legislative change."

Education Minister Richard Bruton will tell the committee that children have 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."

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan will note the recent success of gardaí involved in Operation Ketch, which targets those possessing and distributing child exploitation material.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil will today introduce a new bill that will make it a separate criminal offence to groom or incite a child to engage in illegal activity.

This is an implementation of a recommendation from the 10th report by the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Geoffrey Shannon, who identified this as a major gap in Irish law.

As it stands, while incitement to commit criminal offences is an offence, a prosecution can often not been made in cases involving minors because the child is not criminally responsible.

Statistics show children being groomed to commit criminal offences on behalf of others is an issue, with children committing almost one in 10 crimes in Ireland in 2014.

Under the law being proposed by Anne Rabbitte, a person found guilty of inciting a child to commit a crime could be jailed for up to 10 years.

Irish Independent

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