The Communications Committee has just launched an Inquiry into how the internet is affecting children, and will look at online safety concerns, as well as the benefits to children of being able to access information on the web.

The Committee will be investigating how children’s use of the internet is governed and regulated, and will examine potential safeguarding roles that parents, schools, media companies and regulators might play.

If you would like to contribute to this Inquiry, submissions are now being accepted. The deadline for submissions is Friday 26th August, 2016.

Questions the Lords would love to receive answers to are as follows, and can be found in the Call For Evidence Leaflet: 

Risks and benefits

1. What risks and benefits does increased internet usage present to children, with particular regard to: i. Social development and wellbeing ii. Neurological, cognitive and emotional development, iii. Data security.

2. Which platforms and sites are most popular among children and how do young people use them? Many of the online services used by children are not specifically designed for children. What problems does this present?

3. What are the technical challenges for introducing greater controls on internet usage by children?

4. What are the potential future harms and benefits to children from emerging technology, such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and the Internet of Things? 

Education

5. What roles can schools play in educating and supporting children in relation to the internet? What guidance is provided about the internet to schools and teachers? Is guidance consistently adopted and are there any gaps?

6. Who currently informs parents of risks? What is the role for commercial organisations to teach e-safety to parents? How could parents be better informed about risks?

Governance

7. What are the challenges for media companies in providing services that take account of children? How do content providers differentiate their services for children, for example in respect of design?

8. What voluntary measures have already been put in place by providers of content to protect children? Are these sufficient? If not, what more could be done? Are company guidelines about child safety and rights accessible to parents and other users?

Legislation and Regulation

9. What are the regulatory frameworks in different media? Is current legislation adequate in the area of child protection online? Is the law routinely enforced across different media? What, if any, are the gaps? What impact does the legislation and regulation have on the way children and young people experience and use the internet? Should there be a more consistent approach?

10. What challenges face the development and application of effective legislation? In particular in relation to the use of national laws in an international/cross-national context and the constantly changing nature and availability of internet sites and digital technologies? To what extent can legislation anticipate and manage future risks?

11. Does the upcoming General Data Protection Regulation take sufficient account of the needs of children? As the UK leaves the EU, what provisions of the Regulation or other Directives should it seek to retain, or continue to implement, with specific regard to children? Should any other legislation should be introduced?

12. What more could be done by the Government? Could there be a more joined-up approach involving the collaboration of the Government with research, civil society and commerce?

Committee Chairman, Lord Best:

“The use of the internet by children is now so established, so common, that we need to understand the risks. Are we keeping young people safe in a digital age? How much of an impact is the internet having on the development of children? Are regulations around access, risk, and data protection adequate? How can providers of internet services be encouraged to incorporate concern for the welfare of children in designing their products? These are key issues which we will want to investigate.

“However, we want to make sure that the inquiry does not dismiss the internet as overwhelmingly detrimental to young people, and we will examine closely the opportunities it is giving to children, from learning through to social interaction.”

Researching Reform supports the view that the internet is a force for good which extends to children being able to access such a vital and positive resource. There is no doubt that the internet is a mixed environment however, having watched young people online we are constantly impressed by their ability to suss out suspicious online activity, and avoid it. We very much hope this Inquiry will look to strike a balance between empowering children further to explore the world around them, protecting fundamental rights which touch upon access to information and helping to ensure that critical dangers are tackled by the relevant bodies.

You can send your submission off here (files need to be in Word format).

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