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Internet tsar to make children's surfing safer

THE Government has appointed a new internet tsar to protect young people against online dangers.

John Laffan is due to take up his role as the director of the Office for Internet Safety (OIS) next month.

Justice Minister Brian Lenihan said that Mr Laffan would help to develop programmes and policies designed to make the internet a safer place.

"He will engage with all stakeholders -- private sector and public authorities -- with the simple message that our young people deserve the best possible protection against the risk of internet exploitation and crime," he said.

The OIS will work in conjunction with the gardai, the computer industry and internet service providers to introduce technology capable of blocking child pornography.

Although it will have no power to fine internet service providers, Mr Lenihan said that he would not hesitate to provide the OIS with "legislative teeth" if necessary.

Mr Lenihan yesterday warned parents to wise up on Bebo, Myspace, Facebook and other social networking websites to help keep their children safe from internet prowlers.

He launched a new guide steering parents through the world of online chatting, pointing out the risks to their children and the precautions they can take.

It advises that while the most famous and popular social networking websites have generally restricted their membership to teenagers and adults, a growing number are being offered to pre-teens.

The 'Get with IT' booklet urges parents to register for and use a social-networking site, so that they know how to use a technology that has become an everyday part of teenagers' lives.

"If you don't know how to use the technology yourself, you are in a weak position to safeguard your children online," the book, published by the Internet Advisory Board (IAB), states.

Not having a computer at home should not be regarded as a barrier, and a parents are urged to consult the local library, or use computers in an internet cafe.

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"The first step has to be taken not by your children, but by you. The step is to learn because knowledge is the best to look after your children's welfare online," the booklet states.

It recommends reporting suspected illegal content using the confidential www.hotline.ie service, which is operated by the Internet Service Providers' Association of Ireland in partnership with the IAB.

The booklet on social-networking forms part of a wider "Make IT Secure" computer/internet security initiative, launched last week by Communications Minister Eamon Ryan.

Speaking at the launch, Mr Lenihan said social-networking websites provided a new and exciting way to communicate, but there were risks involved which younger teenagers, in particular, might not appreciate.

"It's important for parents to know that social-networking sites, because of their nature, require a certain amount of personal information from members. This "profile" becomes your child's public face online.

"When deciding how much personal information to give out, users may not always exercise the same amount of caution as they would when meeting someone in person.

"For example, you wouldn't give a total stranger you meet in the street your house address or telephone number, so why do it online. Users should always mark their profiles 'private' to ensure they always know who they are communicating with."

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