Government sets up online child safety watchdog

Out-Law News | 29 Sep 2008 | 3:28 pm | 2 min. read

The Government has established a body to advise it on how it can increase the protection from dangers posed by the internet.

The UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) will police websites containing inappropriate content, write industry codes of practice for publishers and advertise to children about how to stay safe online.

UKCCIS said that it would tell the publishers of sites which accept material from the public for publication how quickly they must take down content once they have been told that it is inappropriate.

"[UKCCIS's strategy will] establish voluntary codes of practice for user-generated content sites, making such sites commit to take down inappropriate content within a given time," said a statement from the Department for Children, Schools and Learning, which launched UKCCIS.

The creation of the body was proposed by Dr Tanya Byron, a child psychologist who was commissioned by the Government to produce a report on child safety in relation to digital technologies. It adopted all of her recommendations.

"The Council will be a powerful union of some of our key players giving support to parents and guidance to children as they come more and more accustomed to the virtual world," said Byron. "It will also give families, teachers and most importantly children and young people the ability to input experiences and concerns."

The UKCCIS will have over 100 members including the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), BT, Microsoft, games industry body the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association (ELSPA), Google, MySpace, Facebook and the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).

"By putting in place the right support for children, young people and parents we can reduce much of the anxiety that exists around the internet," said children's minister Ed Balls. "UKCCIS will enable everyone from parents to industry, Government, education, and children’s welfare organisations to play their part in keeping children safe online."

The Department for Children, Schools and Families said that the UKCCIS would develop a number of codes of practice which it will expect internet the industry to sign up to and abide by.

The UKCCIS will meet four times a year and will be chaired by the home secretary or children's minister. It will report to the Prime Minister once a year, the Department said.

"Earlier this year, the Home Office published the first ever social networking guidance developed with industry, charities and law enforcement," said home secretary Jacqui Smith. "The new UK Council builds on this by bringing together over one hundred organisations all committed to keeping children safe online. By working in partnership we can intensify our efforts to protect young people.”

In her report, Byron had said that parents felt fear and helplessness when they contemplated the "digital divide" that separated them from their children.

"Headlines have contributed to the climate of anxiety that surrounds new technology and created a fiercely polarised debate in which panic and fear often drown out evidence. The resultant clamour distracts from the real issue and leads to children being cast as victims rather than participants in these new, interactive technologies," she said in her report.

She proposed the UKCCIS as a partial solution to those problems, hoping that its codes of conduct and advertising and awareness campaigns would alleviate parests' fears.