Wednesday 22 May 2019

Fine Gael faces defeat in vote on digital consent

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Justin Farrelly
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Justin Farrelly
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

The age at which children can consent to allowing technology giants like Facebook to gather their data looks set to be raised by three years to 16.

Ministers have already agreed to set the 'digital age of consent' at 13 but now face an embarrassing Dáil defeat unless they backtrack.

Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Labour Party have all indicated they now favour raising the age limit to 16.

It comes as the messaging service WhatsApp announced that it has raised the minimum age for users in Europe to 16.

The instant messaging app, which is owned by Facebook, said the move was in response to the EU's General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).

GDPR bans the processing of personal information of children under 16 unless parents provide consent. However, individual countries can lower this to 13.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has received Cabinet approval to set the age at 13 but there is mounting opposition to the move. This position is backed by groups including the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the Children's Rights Alliance and the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Geoffrey Shannon.

However, the move by opposition parties toward the higher age limit could inflict an embarrassing Dáil defeat on the Government.

The Data Protection Bill, which includes the age of consent, is due back before the Dáil in the coming days.

"We're moving into committee stage with that important piece of legislation. I've got a very full work programme. The Dáil is about deliberation and debate so I look forward to that debate which I hope will take place by the end of the week," Mr Flanagan said.

The minister added it was "an important piece of legislation that needs to be enacted before the end of May".

Labour's spokesperson on children, Sean Sherlock, said the announcement by WhatsApp that it will adopt a uniform approach to European data markets shows the Government's plan "is redundant".

"Fine Gael should reconsider its approach."

Irish Independent

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