No time for delay

Wilf Stevenson on a new online Code that the government should now introduce to ensure greater protections for children

The COVID-19 pandemic is emerging a perfect storm for children and young people’s digital experience. More children are online for more of the time and they are reliant on digital technology to a far greater extent. Indeed, almost all their activities – from social interaction and civic participation, to education and play – are now in the digital environment.

With this increase in digital engagement, we are seeing an equal increase in digital risk. The government acknowledged this by providing specific advice for parents and carers on keeping children safe online during this worrying period.

As Baroness Kidron, the Crossbencher who campaigns on this issue, said in a recent letter to the Secretary of State: “it has never been more important to ensure that children and young people are protected online”.

One of the major changes made by peers to the 2018 Data Protection Act was to give statutory backing to the creation of the world’s first Age Appropriate Design Code. An exceptional piece of regulation, this offers children a high level of data privacy by design and default – something that will support their safe use of digital services.

During the passage of that legislation, the ideas behind the Code were widely supported by members from across all parties and in both Houses of Parliament. The Information Commissioner undertook detailed consultations that were sensitive to all interests, and the final version was greeted with joy by parents, teachers, and children’s safety campaigners alike.

The Code maintains its emphasis on promoting the best interests of children, whilst listening to the concerns of both large and small online service providers. The result is a proportionate, effective, and intelligent piece of regulation, which has brought the UK and its regulator significant prestige.

In anticipation of this ground-breaking code being laid, many online companies have already begun to make changes that will take effect as soon as possible. And they have committed to continue to roll-out changes during the transition to the new regulatory regime. It is vital to support this work and ensure that these protections are embedded. What becomes best practice in the UK should be spread throughout the online world.

The Code has completed all stages of consultation and review; and returned from the EU last Thursday – unamended and approved. As the Act requires that it should now be laid before Parliament by the Secretary of State “as soon as reasonably practicable”, I will use an oral question in the Lords next week to press the government that they do so without delay.

Lord Wilf Stevenson is a member of Labour’s frontbench team in the House of Lords, He tweets @WilfStevenson

Published 15th May 2020

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