Children and Digital Rights: Regulating Freedoms and Safeguards
The Internet provides children with more freedom to communicate, learn, create, share, and engage with society than ever before. Research by Ofcom in 2016 found that 72 percent of young teenagers in the UK have social media accounts. Twenty percent of the same group have made their own digital music and 30 percent have used the Internet for civic engagement by signing online petitions or by sharing and talking about the news.
Interacting within this connected digital world, however, also presents a number of challenges to ensuring the adequate protection of a child’s rights to privacy, freedom of expression, and safety, both online and offline. These risks range from children being unable to identify advertisements on search engines to being subjects of bullying or grooming or other types of abuse in online chat groups.
Children may also be targeted via social media platforms with methods (such as fake online identities or manipulated photos and images) specially designed to harm them or exploit their particular vulnerabilities and naivety.
These issues were the focus of the 2017 Annual Conference of the Information Law and Policy Centre (ILPC) based at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of London. The ILPC produces, promotes, and facilitates research about the law and policy of information and data, and the ways in which law both restricts and enables the sharing and dissemination of different types of information.
The ILPC’s Annual conference was one of a series of events celebrating
the 70th Anniversary of the founding of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. Other events included the ILPC’s Being Human Festival expert and interdisciplinary panel discussion on ‘Co-existing with HAL 9000: Being Human in a World with Artificial Intelligence’.
At the 2017 ILPC Annual Conference, leading policymakers, practitioners, regulators, key representatives from industry and civil society, and academic experts examined and debated the opportunities and challenges posed by current and future legal frameworks and the policies being used and developed to safeguard these freedoms and rights.
These leading stakeholders included Rachel Bishop, Deputy Director of Internet Policy at the Department of Digital (DCMS); Lisa Atkinson, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) Head of Policy; Anna Morgan, Deputy Data Protection Commissioner of Ireland; Graham Smith, Internet law expert at Bird & Bird LLP), Renate Samson, former CEO of privacy advocacy organisation Big Brother Watch, and Simon Milner, Facebook’s Policy Director for the UK, Africa, and Middle East.
The legal systems under scrutiny included the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the related provisions of the UK Digital Charter, and the UK Data Protection Bill, which will implement the major reforms of the much anticipated EU General Data Protection Regulation (2016/679) (GDPR) which will soon enter into force on 25 May 2018. Key concerns expressed at the conference by delegates included the effectiveness in practice and lack of evidence-based policy for the controversial age of consent for children and their use of online information services provided for under the GDPR.
Further questions were raised with respect to what impact in practice will there be for children’s privacy, their freedom of expression, and their civil liberties as a result of the new transparency and accountability principles and mechanisms that must be implemented by industry and governments when their data processing involves the online marketing to, or monitoring, of children.
Given the importance and pertinence of these challenging and cutting-edge policy issues, the Centre is delighted that several papers, by regulators and academic experts from institutions within the UK, the EU, and beyond, which were presented, discussed, and debated at the conference’s plenary sessions and keynote panels, feature in a special issue of the leading peer-review legal journal of Communications Law, published by Bloomsbury Publishers.
This special issue also includes the Centre’s 2017 Annual Lecture delivered by one of the country’s leading children’s online rights campaigners, Baroness Beeban Kidron OBE, also a member of the House of Lords and film-maker, on ‘Are Children more than Clickbait in the 21st Century?’
For IALS podcasts of the 2017 ILPC Annual Lecture delivered by Baroness Kidron and presentations from the Annual Conference’s Keynote Panel, please see the IALS website at: http://ials.sas.ac.uk/digital/videos.
Nora Ni Loideain
Director and Lecturer in Law,
Information Law and Policy Centre,
IALS, University of London.