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Brown launches 'Zip it, Block it, Flag it' net code for children

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Prime Minister Gordon Brown will today be launching a new internet safety strategy for children and young people, drawn up by an unprecedented coalition of Government, industry and charities at the first the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) Summit in London today.

As Children’s Secretary Ed Balls commented today, taken as a whole, this set of initiatives make up an integrated bundle that "mark a watershed in government and industry cooperation". However, some critics are concerned that this entire initiative reflects little more than a doomed attempt by government to micro-manage use of the internet by young people.

Key planks within the "Click Clever, Click Safe" strategy are:

- An ongoing independent review of internet companies, charities and the Government against new UKCCIS standards

- A new Digital Code "Zip it, Block it, Flag it" for internet safety, which will be adopted by retailers, social networking sites, schools and charities and displayed where appropriate

- Access to a one-stop shop website for internet safety advice hosted by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre (CEOP)

- Making online safety a compulsory part of the school curriculum within the personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) heading, which already includes drug awareness, bullying, sex education, healthy living and personal finance

The "Zip it, Block it, Flag it" campaign is backed by £2m of government investment, and will encourage children to:

Zip: not share personal, intimate details with strangers they have met online, while at the same time closing off some parts of the web to children by using security PINs or other parental controls.

Block: Block emails or any other contact from people or companies they do not know and block children from accessing certain sites.

Flag: Highlight any suspicious individuals, activities or websites to the relevant authority, including site admins, teachers or even police.

The Government also announced today that all 270,000 computers to be provided under the Home Access scheme will incorporate the CEOP Advice, Help, Report button. This is designed to help children and their families quickly report inappropriate content or internet approaches from strangers as well as get help and advice on issues such as cyberbullying, viruses and hacking.

Launching the initiative, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said:

"The internet provides our children with a world of entertainment, opportunity and knowledge - a world literally at their fingertips. But we must ensure that the virtual world is as safe for them as this one.

"Today we are launching our online version of the 'green cross code'. We hope that ‘zip it, block it, flag it’ will become as familiar to this generation as ‘stop, look, listen’ did to the last."

A lone dissenting voice was Anastasia de Waal, of think tank Civitas. Speaking to the BBC, she questioned whether the measures would have much of an impact. She said: "The curriculum is already massively overstretched. It's difficult for teachers to fit everything in."

As a result, teachers would "cover a lot with not much depth". It would be much better for teachers to talk about everyday situations, including websites, rather than teaching it in isolation.

UKCCIS was set up in September 2008 to implement the recommendations from Professor Tanya Byron’s review "Safer Children in a Digital World". It is made up of over 140 organisations, including Google, Microsoft, Bebo and the NSPCC.

This approach, wide-ranging in scope, appears to mirror the inclusive approach set out in the original Byron Review, which talked about the need to match solutions to stakeholder – from parents to industry – rather than focus all efforts on one or other group within the mix. ®

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