Legal Information Centre

09 May 2008 by Mary Heaney

UK: Child safety online is on agenda

Child protection on the internet is a major issue for the UK government, says law firm Speechly Bircham.

Child protection on the internet is a major issue for the UK government, says law firm Speechly  Bircham.

Over the past few years the UK Home Secretary's taskforce on child protection on the internet has studied the issues affecting the protection of children in online environments.

The work of the taskforce since 2001 has culminated recently in the publication of a document entitled "good practice guidance for providers of social-networking and other interactive services".  This guidance sets out various good practice recommendations on how providers of social networking and other user generated services can provide a safe environment for children and young people to use such services. 

The UK Information Commissioner has already published guidance on his website for youngsters in relation to protection of their personal data but the new guidance from the Government is aimed at tackling privacy but also at the vulnerability of youngsters when participating in social networking websites. 

EU law in relation to communication services places limited liability on service providers provided that they are merely providing a medium for interaction and have in place adequate monitoring and take-down provisions.  Many social networking sites clearly state that responsibility for the activities on the site remain with users and whilst this is correct from a legal point of view, the Government and regulators now feel that service providers should take greater responsibility for advising users on how best to protect themselves in an online environment as well as advice on their rights as individuals.

Many individuals are unaware of the degree to which their personal information is acquired and used when made available online and notwithstanding the general trend of using click wrap terms and conditions and privacy policies many individuals simply click "accept" without necessarily reading the terms for which their information will be used or the way in which service providers minimise liability.  Even if service providers follow the new guidance from the Government, it is unlikely that the practices of individuals using social-networking sites will change.

The Byron Report on children's safety in digital environments as well as the guidance from the Government are essential reading for service providers and revisions will need to be made to most service providers terms and conditions and privacy policies to take account of the Governments views.

Robert Bond is a lawyer at  law firm Speechly Bircham.

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