herald

Saturday 22 September 2018

Digital age of consent raised to 16 as dozens of TDs miss Dail vote

Fergus Finlay of Barnardo’s said realities weren’t addressed
Fergus Finlay of Barnardo’s said realities weren’t addressed

Children's online safety has been compromised by politicians after the digital age of consent was set at 16, leading groups have claimed.

The Government suffered an embarrassing Dail defeat last night over its proposal to set the age at which a child can give their consent to a website to collect and profile their information at 13.

TDs voted 56 to 51 to raise the age to 16.

Risks

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan had the support of AAA-PBP, the Social Democrats and a number of Independent TDs including Clare Daly and Mick Wallace - but 15 Fine Gael TDs were not present for the vote.

Government sources said some TDs were absent because they were attending committees, adding that 21 representatives from Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein and Labour were also missing.

Those three parties joined forces to raise the age, despite opposition from groups including the ISPCC, Children's Rights Alliance, Spunout.ie and Barnardo's.

In a joint statement, the organisations said the move "will create significant risks to child safety, will not be enforceable and will remove the onus from industry to protect the children availing of their services".

"Risks associated with setting the age at 16 include impeding the prosecution of perpetrators of online grooming, removing an onus on online service providers to provide age filters designed to protect young people from inappropriate grooming and content, and encouraging young people to lie about their age in order to access services," they said.

Barnardo's chief executive Fergus Finlay said the decision "fails to address the uncomfortable realities about children's online use".

Obesity

Meanwhile, the Irish Heart Foundation (IHF) welcomed a separate amendment to the Data Protection Bill which will make the micro-targeting of children by junk food marketers using data harvested by social media platforms a criminal offence.

"Protecting children from online marketing is crucial given the established link between junk food marketing to children and childhood obesity," IHF policy manager Kathryn Reilly said.

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