The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

The CMF and The Digital Economy Bill

Jayne Kirkham reports on the Digital Economy Bill progressing to the House of Lords, and CMF engagement with it. 

If you have been following the progress of the Digital Economy Bill you will know that prior to it moving to the House of Lords for further scrutiny and debate, the Government introduced some amendments regarding online safety. One proposal will require pornographic websites to have robust age-verification controls in place, with the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) as the age-verification regulator. The BBFC would also regulate online pornographic material, using the same standards used to classify pornography distributed offline. This has been amended to give them the power to require internet service providers to block websites that do not comply with the age verification standards stipulated by the BBFC.

These plans for age verification are truly welcome and something that the CMF has long campaigned for. However, we question whether the proposals go far enough to protect children. Will the proposals ensure safe internet searches or will children still inadvertently discover harmful material as our evidence has suggested, and many parents fear? It is essential that age verification laws put the onus on the platform to prove that it is working to keep children away from inappropriate content, rather than relying upon users to raise complaints. Will the BBFC’s powers test that service providers’ measures are robust enough and not hidden in terms and conditions?

The House of Lords’ debate on the second reading of the Bill on 13th December showed that there is cross-party support for these measures although there is some concern that the proposals will impact freedom of speech. To allay such fears the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children’s Media and the Arts has arranged a meeting for parliamentarians with the CEO of the BBFC in January. This will feed into the Lords’ Committee Stage of the Bill when it will be scrutinized line by line and further amendments can be proposed.

The Children’s Media Foundation believes that the Bill offers a further opportunity for Government to protect children online. We are calling for any site or service that has the potential to inadvertently collect children’s data to offer the 'Right to be Forgotten', with an expectation on platform owners that it should be quick and easy to enact. There needs to be a commitment not to mine children’s data nor target nor manipulate them based on their online activity, particularly regarding marketing and advertising. It is currently too easy for behavioural mechanics to draw children out of their safe havens into addictive behaviours. There needs to be tighter regulation on such automated links. As we keep saying, search engines and new innovations should be safer by design and ‘off by default’.

We have submitted evidence both for this Bill and to the Lords’ Communications Committee which is currently investigating Children and the Internet, making it clear that the internet and digital technology is no longer a marginal activity. For kids, digital is life and we are calling on Government to make it safe for children by default, in the same way that other media, and in general life, is - after many struggles to make it so. The Digital Economy Bill is an opportunity to enshrine the concept of 'safer by design' and truly protect our children. The Children’s Media Foundation will be doing all that it can to make sure Parliament makes the most of this opportunity.

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The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)