Friday 14 December 2018

EU chief backing online ID scheme

Commissioner throws weight behind tougher authentication

Senator Catherine Noone. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Senator Catherine Noone. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

The EU Commissioner responsible for the online safety of children has backed calls for social media companies to introduce stricter authentication standards for their websites.

Digital Economy and Society Commissioner Mariya Gabriel said "strong authentication is an essential element" in creating an internet people can "trust" and "feel safe" online.

Ms Gabriel was responding to a letter from Junior Minister for Mental Health Jim Daly in which he suggested the introduction of State-sponsored online verification codes for social media sites.

Mr Daly has proposed linking personal verification codes to PPS numbers, which would be used when signing up to social media accounts.

The tech firms would not have access to any personal details such as address or date of birth but the unique codes would prevent predators and bullies from hiding behind a cloak of anonymity online.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar publicly dismissed the proposal when he was questioned about Mr Daly's concept in the Dail.

However, Ms Gabriel was more supportive of the proposal in her letter to Mr Daly.

"I also share your view that strong authentication is an essential element in building an online ecosystem which we can trust, where we feel safe and make choice," the commissioner said.

"Having the possibility to use secure and reliable electronic identification credentials can be instrumental in protecting our children and more generally our citizens online."

Ms Gabriel said her office is currently developing "principles and guidance" for the introduction of electronic identification codes in order to make the internet a safer place for users.

Meanwhile, at a Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting last week, the Taoiseach faced calls to increase the digital age of consent for accessing social media websites from 13 to 16 years old.

At the meeting, Senator Catherine Noone said the Government should follow other EU countries and increase the age at which children are permitted to log on to websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Ms Noone was backed by colleagues but sources say the calls were shot down by Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan who insisted the digital age of consent had already been discussed at length in the Oireachtas Justice Committee.

Sources also said Mr Flanagan had to intervene during the meeting when Junior Minister with responsibility for data protection Pat Breen struggled to respond to questions about the legislation which underpins the digital age of consent.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Ms Noone said the Government should fast-track the introduction of a digital safety commissioner in order to make the internet a safer place for children.

"We as legislators need to be laser-focused on proactive steps to ensure children's safety by adopting a national coordinating framework with a clear mandate and sufficient authority to coordinate all activities related to children's rights and digital media," she said.

She said Minister for Communications Denis Naughten should ensure a digital safety commissioner is given the powers to regulate the sector and provide better online protections for children.

Sunday Independent

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