A National Checklist
Comprehensive Legal Framework
It will generally be necessary for there to be in place a body of laws which makes it clear that any and every crime that can be committed against a child in the real world can, mutatis mutandis, also be committed on the Internet or on any other electronic network. It may also be necessary to develop new laws or adapt existing ones to outlaw certain types of behaviour which can only take place on the Internet, for example the remote enticement of children to perform or watch sexual acts, or “grooming” children to meet in the real world for a sexual purpose. Ancillary to these purposes it will generally be necessary for there to be in place a legal framework which outlaws the misuse of computers for criminal ends, outlaws hacking or other malicious or non-consensual use of computer code and establishes that the Internet is a locus within which crimes can be committed.
Need For a National Focus on Online Child Protection
Several national governments have found it useful to bring together all of the key stakeholders and players to focus on developing and implementing a national initiative around making the Internet a safer place for children and young people, and raising awareness of the issues and how to deal with them in a very practical way. It will be important within this strategy to realise that the Internet can now be accessed via several different kinds of devices. Computers are only one of many ways of going online. Mobile phones, games consoles and PDAs are also increasingly important. The providers of both wireless and fixed-line access need to be involved. Additionally in many countries the network of public libraries, telecentres and Internet cafes can be important sources of Internet access particularly for children and young people.
Some countries have found it to be advantageous to establish a self or coregulatory model in relation to developing policy in this area and through such models they have, for example, published codes of good practice to guide the Internet industry in terms of the measures which may work best when it comes to keeping children and young people safer online. This has also worked at the regional level, for example within the European Union where EU-wide codes have been published both for social networking sites and mobile phone networks in relation to the provision of content and services to children and young people via their networks. Self and co-regulation can be a very effective way of helping to engage and sustain the involvement of all relevant stakeholders and can also be very effective in terms of enhancing the speed with which appropriate responses to technological change can be formulated and put into effect. Schools and the education system generally will play a very important part in rolling out such a national strategy, but the strategy also needs to go wider than that.
Consideration should also be given to enlisting the aid of the mass media in promoting awareness messages and campaigns.
Need to Develop Local Resources Which Reflect National Laws and Local
Many of the large Internet companies produce web sites which contain a great deal of information about online issues for children and young people. However, very often this material will only be available in English or in a very narrow band of languages. It is very important, therefore, that materials are produced locally which reflect local laws as well as local cultural norms. This will be essential for any Internet safety campaign or any training materials that are developed.
Need for Public Education and Awareness Activities Cultural Norms
Parents and guardians and professional, such as teachers, have a crucial role to play in helping to keep children and young people safer online. Educational and outreach programmes should be developed which help build awareness of the issues and also provide strategies for dealing with them. When producing educational materials it is important to bear in mind that many people who are new to the technology will not feel comfortable using it. For that reason it is important to ensure that safety materials are made available in either written form or produced using other media with which newcomers will feel more familiar, for example, with video. Within any education and awareness campaign it will be important to strike the right tone. Fear-based messaging should be avoided and due prominence should be given to the new technology’s many positive and fun features. The Internet has great potential as a means of empowering children and young people to discover new worlds.. Teaching positive and responsible forms of online behaviour is a key objective of education and awareness programs.
Need for Reporting Mechanisms for Online Predatory Behaviour, Including Bullying
Mechanisms for reporting abuse of an online service or for reporting objectionable or illegal behavior online, for example to a national hotline, should be widely advertised and promoted both on the Internet and in other media. Links to report abuse mechanisms should be prominently displayed on relevant parts of any web site that allows user generated content to appear. It should also be possible for people who feel threatened in any way, or for people who have witnessed any worrying activity on the Internet, to be able to report it as quickly as possible to the relevant law enforcement agencies who need to be trained and ready to respond. The Virtual Global Taskforce is a law enforcement body which provides a 24/7 mechanism to receive reports about illegal behaviour or content from persons in the USA, Canada, Australia and Italy, with other countries expected to join soon. See www.virtualglobaltaskforce.com
Helping Children to Stay Safer Through the Use of Technical Tools
There are a number of software programmes available which can help screen out unwanted material or block unwanted contacts. Some of these child safety and filtering programmes may be essentially free because they are part of a computer’s operating system or they are provided as part of a package available from an ISP or ESP. The manufacturers of some game consoles also provide similar tools if the device is Internet enabled. These programmes are not foolproof but they can provide a welcome level of support, particularly in families with younger children. These technical tools should be used as part of a broader arsenal. Parental and/or guardian involvement is critical. As children start getting a bit older they will want more privacy and they will also feel a strong desire to start exploring on their own. In addition, where a billing relationship exists between vendor and customer, age verification processes can play a very valuable role in helping vendors of age restricted goods and services or the publishers of material which is intended only for audiences at or above a certain age, to reach out to those specific audiences. Where no billing relationship exists the use of age verification technology may be problematic or in many countries it may be impossible due to a lack of reliable data sources…