How the European Union is helping to protect children online

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By Tasmina Ahmed Sheikh
 
Tasmina Ahmed Sheikh is and SNP candidate in next year’s Euro elections. She is the only woman on the list of six. As National Women’s Officer for the Party, she is acutely aware of the need to open up politics for women and as a mother herself of the need to protect children online.
 
The Internet has opened up a vast resource of information to all of us, one that shifts and changes literally by the second.

By Tasmina Ahmed Sheikh
 
Tasmina Ahmed Sheikh is and SNP candidate in next year’s Euro elections. She is the only woman on the list of six. As National Women’s Officer for the Party, she is acutely aware of the need to open up politics for women and as a mother herself of the need to protect children online.
 
The Internet has opened up a vast resource of information to all of us, one that shifts and changes literally by the second.

We have instant news, 24 hours a day, wherever we are; we can check ahead if a flight looks likely to be delayed; we can know in advance if there’s a traffic problem on the way to work.

That, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg. Underneath, you can find out information on everything from the ancient Romans to how to build your own home. Kids can get the answers to homework questions and some, unsurprisingly, can just buy or copy their essays.

Cyberspace, for all its value, can be a very nasty place. Perhaps it is inevitable that alongside freedom of speech and the open resources the Web provides, there will always be those who seek to abuse.

Pornographers are the most obvious and potent. In 2009, Lothian and Borders Police managed to catch a particular group of men.

This ring of eight paedophiles was convicted of child abuse and producing indecent images of children. They were found guilty of more than 50 charges, ranging from abusing infants from three months old to conspiracy, and holding more than 125,000 images of child pornography.

Email and photographs are easy tools for people like this. Children are vulnerable to the kind of friendly overtures such criminals make.

I try to protect my own children. Their access to online information is carefully controlled in our house but I recognise that we need stronger and even more effective weapons, if we are to really keep them safe.

And that’s where the EU comes in.

Granted, there is only so much legislation can do, but if you operate the same laws across 27 countries and 504 million people, then that can really increase its effective leverage. There is nowhere to run. The European Arrest Warrant – that David Cameron wants to get rid of – means that member countries will automatically return the accused to the country in which the crime was allegedly committed.

European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmström, said last May:

”We are living in the digital age and the younger generations are those most active online. These young people are particularly at ease with the use of the Internet but they are still vulnerable to online threats. It is our duty as parents to keep our children safe – and this includes on the Web.

“We have to reinforce cooperation at European and international levels to combat cybercrime, and especially the most horrible acts such as sexual exploitation and the dissemination of child sexual abuse material online”.

The Internet wasn’t created for children but they are using it more and more and from an earlier age. Alongside all of the vast opportunities for business and education, we need to protect our children from abuse online just as we do on the street.

Ultimately, it’s up to us as parents to make sure we have the controls in place, but it’s reassuring to know that the European Commission is aware of the issues and seeking to act through its Digital Agenda for Europe:

“The Digital Agenda will help parents and their children keep safe online. In particular, through the Safer Internet programme, all EU countries will be encouraged to set up hotlines for reporting offensive online content and offer teaching online safety in schools. Providers of the online services that are most popular among the younger generations (e.g. social networks, mobile phone operators) will be asked to further develop self-regulatory measures regarding online safety for children by 2013.

“Finally, the Digital Agenda proposes to reinforce cooperation at European and International levels to combat cybercrime (e.g. alert platforms online at national and EU levels to tackle sexual exploitation and dissemination of child sexual abuse material online) and other forms of cyber attacks, identity theft and spam.”

As a nation, Scotland needs to be in there with an independent voice, giving us the ability to contribute fully to these debates.