The Home Office has made today new recommendations to improve safety for children on the internet. The package of new guidelines was developed in consultation with children’s charities and social networking websites.
It calls for Social Networking sites to display links to organisations such as CEOP, NSPCC, Samaritans and others so abuse can be reported or users can quickly get help. It also wants internet firms and police forces to share reports of potentially illegal and suspicious behaviour to co-ordinate approaches.
The Home Office wants to make it more difficult for people registered as over 18 to search for and contact users who are under 18. Sites are also being urged to set the default privacy settings of under-18s to private to prevent strangers from accessing personal details on their profile pages.
An important part of the guidelines is working to ensure children do not share too much personal information by educating them along with their parents, carers, teachers and those working with children. Parents will also be issued with an eight-point guide on how to ensure their children use sites safely. There are also plans for a kitemarking scheme for parental filtering software. Parents are being encouraged to talk to their children about the potential dangers of the internet and how on-line flirting or posting too much personal information could put them at risk.
Perhaps the most controversial idea in the new recommendations from the Home Office is plans for all registered sex offenders to supply the Police with their e-mail address. These details would then be shared with Social Networking sites to ban access to registered offenders. Offenders who do not comply or supply false email addresses would face up to 5 years in jail. This would be applied retrospectively for the estimated 30,000 registered offenders. The mirrors the scheme currently operating in the US which aims to prevent convicted offenders accessing the more popular sites such as Myspace. However this move is being argued as being difficult to enforce as a new email account can be created in only a few minutes. A Home Office spokesman has said that failure to declare any new email accounts would be considered a criminal offence, but the police would ultimately rely on members of the public to tell them of unlawful actions.
This new guidance comes after the recent Ofcom investigation and Byron Review. Ofcom interviewed 5,000 adults and 3,000 children and found nearly 47% of children aged between 8 and 17 had a profile on social networking sites. The Byron review found 41% of the children surveyed had their profile set so anyone, not just friends, could view it and that a third of those aged between 9 and 19 who used the internet weekly had received sexual comments via e-mail, instant message, chat or text message.
Opinions on these “recommendations” are welcome……