Original publication: February 2018
Author: Ghent University: Eva Lievens
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Solutions and policy dilemmas regarding minors' protection online

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The full range of the rights of the child is impacted by the digital environment in which children grow up. To ensure that those rights are respected, protected and fulfilled, a range of regulatory instruments is available. These instruments can be situated along a ‘regulatory continuum’, differentiated by the actual involvement of different actors and the role they play in the different phases of the regulatory process. Self-regulation, co-regulation and legislation have been used in the past to shape the digital environment, and, hence, influence how children navigate risks and opportunities therein. In addition, technology, education and digital literacy have significant potential to support the regulatory mechanisms along the continuum.

Whereas much emphasis has been put on the use of self-regulation in the past, gradually, a shift to more sophisticated types of co-regulation can be observed. Recent legislative instruments (or review procedures thereof), such as the General Data Protection Regulation or proposals for a new Audiovisual Media Services Directive, require for instance that codes of conduct that are drafted by industry actors are approved by regulatory authorities or impose more stringent procedural safeguards and evaluation mechanisms. Such an approach is especially suitable to reach delicate policy goals, such as the realisation of children’s rights in the digital environment.

In order to support existing regulatory instruments and adopt a holistic approach to ensure that resilience is built, technology and digital literacy are indispensable. At the same time, it is important to assess the impact of the use of technical tools on all rights of the child – such as freedom of expression or the right to privacy –, to acknowledge that different types of technology are suitable for different ages, and not to overestimate the effectiveness of technology. Providing children (and parents) with digital literacy skills and information, for instance by means of (consistent) rating and labelling schemes, must therefore be a key element of any regulatory strategy.

If, at the EU level, a consistent and coordinated regulatory strategy on the rights of the child in the digital environment is to be adopted, a number of policy dilemmas should be considered.

Solutions and policy dilemmas regarding minors' protection online

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All rights of the child – protection, participation and provision rights – must guide EU policymaking. Rights are often interlinked, and may at times conflict with each other. Measures to protect children’s privacy or right to data protection may have unforeseen consequences for their right to freedom of expression and association; and for older children, conflicts may, for instance, arise between their right to the development of their sexual identity and their right to protection. Child rights impact assessments are therefore required before adopting policies that may affect the rights of the child.

Equally, policies should, where necessary, be differentiated on the basis of age, maturity and evolving capacities of the target group, or on the basis of the vulnerable situations in which certain children find themselves. This entails that policies should be adaptable and flexible to take into account the needs of vulnerable children, and also ensure that they are provided with equal and non-discriminatory access to the digital environment, high-quality and child-friendly content and services, and digital citizenship and literacy skills.

When designing regulatory policies, the roles and responsibilities of a variety of actors must be carefully considered. Governments (at different levels), civil society organisations, industry, educators, parents and children themselves all carry a certain degree of responsibility, although the weight of the responsibility for each actor is still shifting today. In addition to the unquestionable added value of EU level policies in an inherently cross-border digital world, the responsibility – and accountability – of powerful actors, such as industry and data controllers has been increasingly emphasised over the past few years. Moreover, the increasing shift towards co-regulation engages (state) legislators, regulators and industry. When such regulatory mechanisms are based on impact assessments, constructed in a careful manner, with clearly-defined aims, sufficient safeguards, monitoring and evaluation systems in place, and where there is a constructive cooperation between (co-)regulators and regulatees, there is a significant potential for reaching policy aims. Actors that could, and should, be engaged more in policymaking processes are civil society and children themselves. Children want to be involved in policymaking processes that aim at shaping the digital environment and their use thereof, and could contribute significantly.

Finally, all policymaking should be grounded in an up-to-date evidence base that monitors children’s experiences with and use of digital technologies, both from a qualitative and quantitative perspective. This, of course, requires resources and a mandate to commission such – interdisciplinary and participatory – research that encompasses all EU Member States.

Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/617-455

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Further reading:
Child safety online: definition of the problem
Recommendations for EU policy developments on the protection of minors in the digital age


Child safety online: definition of the problem – Research4Committees · February 7, 2018 at 12:02 pm

[…] Solutions and policy dilemmas regarding minors’ protection online […]

Recommendations for EU policy developments on the protection of minors in the digital age – Research4Committees · February 7, 2018 at 12:07 pm

[…] Further reading: Child safety online: definition of the problem Solutions and policy dilemmas regarding minors’ protection online […]

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