Bad news and good news from Brussels

I spent the latter part of last week in Brussels at the EuroDIG meeting. It was an impressive and large gathering with a star-studded cast of speakers. Well done to the organizers.

Two Commissioners from the European Union spoke: Ansip and Oettinger. Neither of them talked about children or young people. Not a word.

No platform speaker at any point mentioned the GDPR and its impact on children’s and young people’s rights or safety. I  also spoke to a member of the European Parliament who seemed to think the GDPR had something to do with child abuse images and referred me to the IWF.

When I challenged a member of the Green Party Secretariat about the GDPR debacle  – remember it was Green MEP  Jan Phillip Albrecht  who, as Rapporteur, presided over the whole process on behalf of the electorate of Europe, the staffer made no attempt to justify or explain the decision. He simply said

It’s always the same. In a trilogue the Parliament always loses.

Maybe we should campaign to change the name from trilogue to duologue? 

A trilogue requires all three actors to concur so this explanation is  really an evasion rather than an answer. It is also disingenuous because it implies the Parliamentarians had an alternative and better position which was resisted by one or both of the other institutions. Hey ho.

I need to get out more

I truly was surprised how few people at the Euro DIG were even aware of the age dimension of the GDPR – and this within an expert community. I guess we are all to some degree or another trapped within our own little bubble. It also underlines the importance of not taking anything for granted. If you want busy people to know about something you really have to focus on reaching them individually.

What is a young person?

EuroDIG – and the IGF for that matter – speak in highly self-congratulatory language about their apparently continuing success in reaching out to “young people”. I saw quite a vocal and energetic bunch of them in Brussels at EuroDIG. Many of the males had beards and as far as I could tell they all went partying until at least 2.30.a.m. Please don’t think I’m jealous or anything. Oh no!

The point is they were not children. Young? Yes, but every single one of them, or at any rate most,  as far as I could see would be classed as adults in just about every jurisdiction in the world. From a policy and legal point of view they might as well be in their 50s.

Obviously I appreciate the difficulties of finding effective ways of representing the voices of children at gatherings of this kind but is this the best we can do? By the time children have reached the age  of 11 or 12, for good or ill they have already formed a number of key online habits. The ages of greatest vulnerability in relation to many of the points of concern about  children and the online world hover around or are some way below the age of 16. Thus if education, empowerment and digital/media literacy are central to what we are meant to be doing in the “young person” stakes, we need to be connecting with audiences well below 18 and with those who work with them.

Should we engage with young adults – those aged 18 and above? Of course. But let’s not forget that 1 in 3 of all internet users in the world (rising to 1 in 2 in parts of the developing world) are below the age of 18.

Brilliant speech from Secretary General Jagland

For me the undoubted highlight of EuroDIG was the speech given by  Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland.

Among other things he referred to the continued problem of web sites being used to distribute child abuse images. Remember the web remains the part of the internet which is still the easiest for most internet users to access. If we cannot deal effectively with that what hope is there of us dealing with challenges elsewhere? Both symbolically and in real terms the web is crucial and ICANN has simply not yet come up with a convincing answer. Indeed they have repeatedly insisted it is a “content issue” and therefore outside the scope of their concerns. Jagland was saying to ICANN

You have to do a lot better and sooner rather than later

If Jagland wasn’t already the Chair of the Committee which awards Nobel prizes, I for one would nominate him.  Going on my Christmas card list seems a poor second best but at least it is  movement in the right  direction.

Jagland is the most senior political figure to have spoken out so specifically on this long- festering problem.  Let’s see what happens next.  Watch this space.

About John Carr

John Carr is one of the world's leading authorities on children's and young people's use of digital technologies. He is Senior Technical Adviser to Bangkok-based global NGO ECPAT International and is Secretary of the UK's Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety. John is now or has formerly been an Adviser to the Council of Europe, the UN (ITU), the EU and UNICEF. John has advised many of the world's largest technology companies on online child safety. John's skill as a writer has also been widely recognised.
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