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Sunday 18 November 2018

Tech firms must do more to protect children online, warns worried dad-of-three Coveney

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has told tech companies to take more responsibility for promoting child safety online - as he revealed his own concerns about internet safety as a father-of-three.

He said he shared concern about the protection of children online "as a politician, but also as a father of three young girls who know how to work my mobile phone as well as I can - despite the fact that the oldest of them is only eight".

This results in a conversation in virtually every family in the country about how we get the balance right between allowing our children access to technology, and protecting them from the dangers of exposure to grooming, cyberbullying and explicit information and imagery, he said.

A debate around child safety online has been heightened by the case of a Dublin man who is to be sentenced today after admitting to sexually exploiting girls as young as nine through social media.

Matthew Horan, from St John's Crescent in Clondalkin, used Snapchat, Instagram, musical.ly and Kik to ask young girls to send him sexually explicit videos and pictures.

The case has been raised in the Dáil several times this week and Mr Coveney said the Government was committed to responding to the growing challenge of monitoring children online and protecting them from online predators.

Communications Minister Denis Naughten is expected to move to appoint a Digital Safety Commissioner. However, specific plans to appoint the commissioner have not yet been brought to Cabinet.

Gauntlet

Mr Coveney said the matter was expected to get broad support from all quarters of Government, but a conversation about cost and feasibility had not yet happened.

However, he used his contribution during Leaders' Questions to throw down the gauntlet to tech giants.

He argued that along with the Government, tech companies must also look at how they can tackle the circulation of inappropriate information and imagery on the internet, a lot of which "does not actually come from Ireland but from farther afield".

"We need to look at the responsibility of those who are responsible for online platforms to see how we can screen and remove inappropriate information and protect people in an appropriate way while ensuring we enjoy the benefits of technology. It is difficult to get the balance right and most western democracies are struggling with it," Mr Coveney said.

Earlier this week, Mental Health Minister Jim Daly suggested linking the Public Services Card to social media accounts by way of a verification code.

This, he argued, would help to stamp out anonymous or nefarious accounts.

However, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar poured cold water on that suggestion and said the Government had no plans to link the controversial card to internet usage. Speaking in the Dáil yesterday, Labour leader Brendan Howlin branded the idea "ludicrous".

Labour is set to introduce proposed legislation next Wednesday in a bid to see laws governing harassment updated to include modern technology.

Irish Independent

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