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Child safety tsar demands faster action

Byron review, not all bad

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The UK may be a world leader when it comes to internet safety – but it needs to do more - that was today’s verdict from Professor Tanya Byron – author of the government’s current policy on the internet, Safer Children in a Digital World.

Byron confirmed that the UK is the world leader in child internet safety but advised that government and industry need to make faster progress if the UK is to stay ahead of advances in technology.

In her progress review, published today, two years after her first report, Byron highlighted what she claimed to be key successes. These include ‘Zip it, Block it, Flag it’, the public awareness campaign for parents; the creation of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS), a coalition of government, charities and industry; and the publication of a groundbreaking internet safety strategy.

Speaking ahead of the launch of her progress review at a Number 10 reception, Professor Byron said:

I am impressed with the work that has taken place since my original review in 2008. The progress on video game classification, the public awareness campaign and improvements in education through schools should be commended.

Raising awareness of, and improving education in, the way in which children and young people deal with risks online is an important first step. The UK has taken this first step but there is more to be done.

Parents should be confident to let their children explore the opportunities the internet and new technologies can bring. However, they need to be able to support their children to develop the skills to become savvy and risk aware digital citizens. Whilst good progress is being made to raise awareness – this needs to continue at pace.

Today’s report makes the following new recommendations:

  • UKCCIS must better engage with and listen to children, young people and parents to ensure that work focuses on the issues which are important to them.
  • Industry should speed up work on a self-regulated code of practice without delay and they should take account of changes in new technologies, such as Wi-Fi access on mobile phones.
  • The UKCCIS Board must have an independent chair.
  • UKCCIS should work with mobile phone manufacturers to improve parental controls on mobile phones and consider the need for minimum standards for parental controls on games consoles. This should include more support for parents on how they can use and access these controls.

Overall, the focus of her report is on empowering children and young people to take control of how they use digital technology responsibly, rather than simply blocking what they can access.

For the government, Children’s Secretary Ed Balls welcomed Professor Byron’s recommendations. Asking the UKCCIS to consider her updated report and agree a full response by July 2010, he said:

"In the two years since Professor Byron’s original review, we have set up the UKCCIS, created a new digital code for parents, and published a groundbreaking internet safety strategy. This shows we are world leaders in tackling child internet safety."

He added: "We need to make sure we are constantly assessing progress against the rapid advancements in new technologies."

Whilst this news may not be welcome to those who believe the internet should continue to be largely unregulated, Byron has so far proven to be a fairly safe pair of hands from the government point of view. Her report is careful to stress that internet safety is the business of many different stakeholders – not just the government. She has throughout been clear on the importance of empowering parents and children rather than simply imposing rules from the centre.

Anastasia de Waal, of think tank Civitas, was a lone critic when the report first came out, telling the BBC that she felt Professor Byron’s proposed measures would have far less real impact than hoped. ®

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