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Lords committee calls on Prime Minister to make the internet a better place for children

The House of Lords Communications Committee today launches its report - Growing up with the internet. The Committee call on the Government to establish a Children's Digital Champion to ensure coordinated and sustained action from Ministers across all departments and to present robust advocacy on behalf of children to industry.

The report highlights that children are adopting recently innovated technology in their everyday lives before policy makers, schools or parents can consider the implications of such technology.

The Committee heard evidence that the internet does not take sufficient account of the fact that the needs of children are different to those of adults, and the current regime of self–regulation is underperforming. The Committee believes that intervention at the highest level of the Government is needed to promote the best interests of children online.

The report has set out a series of recommendations to the Government that will better enable children to navigate the complex world of the internet:

  • Minimum standards should be established for child-friendly design, content control filtering, privacy, data collection, terms and conditions of use, and report and response mechanisms for all businesses operating on the internet, public bodies and the voluntary sector.
  • Digital literacy should sit alongside reading, writing and arithmetic as the fourth pillar of a child's education. Therefore, online responsibilities, social norms and risks should be part of mandatory, Ofsted-inspected Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education—in all schools whatever their status.
  • Irrespective of its membership of the EU, the UK should maintain legislation which incorporates the standards set by the General Data Protection Regulation in respect of children, including the right to be forgotten, as a minimum.

The Committee welcomes the Prime Minister's announcement that she will hold round-table discussions with industry to develop an Internet Safety Strategy. The Committee recommends that these should culminate in a summit with the aim of establishing minimum standards of behaviour for industry and a code of conduct.

Commenting on the report, Chair of the Committee Lord Best, added:

“In the past twenty years, the internet has become an all-encompassing aspect of growing up. One Minister described this as “almost the largest social experiment in history”. It is in the whole of society's interest that children grow up to be empowered, digitally confident citizens. This is a shared responsibility for everyone, it is essential that we improve opportunities for children to use the internet productively; improve digital literacy; change the norms of data collection and to design technology in ways that support children by default.

“We believe that children must be treated online with the same rights, respect and care that has been established through regulation in offline settings such as television and gambling.

“The Government's Internet Safety Strategy is a welcome start in addressing many of the dangers children are faced with online but action must be broader than a focus on preventing harms, and it must be sustained in the long-term.”

Other findings from the report include:

Parents and carers need clearly communicated information about the digital world. The Committee recommends that the Government and industry should invest in regular public campaigns to promote information and tools that help parents and carers.

The Government should commission research based on in depth consultation with children. This should include the impact of screen time on social and cognitive development. Because of the rapid nature of technological change public policy may on occasion have to anticipate the conclusion of long-term research.

Embargoed copies of the report are available to the media from the Lords Press Office on Monday 20 March. To request a copy, or for an interview with Lord Best, please email or call 020 7219 8535.

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