Recommendation of the Council of Europe on children’s rights in the digital environmentJutta Croll
How to better respect, protect and fulfil the rights of the child in the digital environment is at the core of the new Recommendation adopted on July 4th by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers.
When the Council of Europe adopted the Sofia-Strategy for the implementation of the UN-CRC in April 2016 the enforcement of children’s rights in the digital environment was addressed for the first time and established as one of the five pillars of the strategy. In light of the rapidly advancing process of digitisation of our everyday life this was a reasonable step forward to ensure that children’s rights are also respected in the digital environment.
The task resulting from the Sofia-Strategy was commissioned to a group of experts - the CAHENF-IT, to which on behalf of the project childrens-rights.digital also Jutta Croll belongs. During the last 18 months the group has examined the effects of digitisation on the realisation of children’s rights and formulated recommendations for a child-centered implementation. Building on international and European legal instruments, the text provides comprehensive guidelines for action by European governments.
The digital environment shapes children’s lives in many ways, creating opportunities and risks to their well-being and enjoyment of human rights. Governments are recommended to review their legislation, policies and practices to ensure that these adequately address the full range of the rights of the child. States should also ensure that business enterprises and other key partners meet their human rights responsibilities and are held accountable in case of abuses.
Poor access to the digital environment may affect the ability of children to fully exercise their human rights. States should ensure that children have adequate, affordable and secure access to devices, connectivity and content specifically intended for children; in dedicated public places such access should be rendered free of charge. However, specific measures should be taken to protect infants from premature exposure to the digital environment.
States should guarantee the rights of the child to hold and express any views, no matter if their opinions are received favourably by the State or other stakeholders. As creators and distributors of information, children should be made aware by the States of how to exercise their right to freedom of expression in the digital environment, how to respect the rights and dignity of others, and be informed of the legitimate restrictions on the freedom of expression, for example to prevent intellectual property rights violations and counter incitement to hatred and violence. It is crucial to provide high-quality content tailor-made for children.
States should also take measures to protect the right of children to engage in play, in peaceful assembly and association, as well as to foster participation, inclusion, digital citizenship and resilience both online and offline. States must respect, protect and fulfil the right of the child to privacy and data protection. States should not prohibit in law or practice anonymity, pseudonymity or the usage of encryption technologies for children. Processing of personal data should only be possible with the explicit and informed consent of the children and/or their parents or legal representatives. Profiling of children to analyse or predict their personal preferences should be prohibited by law.
Measures to strengthen digital literacy, including critical understanding by children of the digital environment, and educational resources should be promoted. Given the speed at which new technologies emerge, the guidelines also propose measures to address risks for children in the digital environment. These include regular risk assessments, use of effective systems of age verification, putting in place principles for products/services addressed to or used by children, protecting children from commercial exploitation, age-inappropriate advertising and marketing, harmful content and behaviour, sexual exploitation and abuse, grooming, online recruitment for the commission of crimes, participation in extremist political or religious movements, human trafficking, as well as from bullying, stalking and other forms of harassment. Accessible, affordable and child-friendly avenues to submit complaints and seek remedies, both judicial and non-judicial, should be ensured for children and their representatives.
For the first time, these guidelines provide an instrument under international law to support children’s growing up well in the light of the digital transformation. For stakeholders on all levels - be it in politics, industry, academia or educational practice - the recommendations build a basis to focus on the child and implement appropriate measures to realise protection, empowerment, and participation of children in the digital world.
Child Safety and Internet Governance - a brief look back and forwardJutta Croll, Stiftung Digitale Chancen
Even in 2006, when the IGF itself was in its infancy, the topic of child safety and protection was on the agenda of the forum. Not necessarily as a top priority and not free of conflicts. Strategies targeted at the prevention of access to potentially harmful content for children were contentious and had its detractors from the Freedom of Speech Community. Through the years empowerment of children and youths for a safe and responsible usage of the Internet gained in importance. This was mirrored also in numerous activities to engage young people themselves in the Internet Governance Forum.
Also from the beginning the topic of human rights was anchored in the IGF events, in fact much less controversial than the topic of child safety. But only in 2015 when Jasmina Byrne, John Carr and Sonia Livingstone published their report One in Three - Internet Governance and Children’s Rights, proving that worldwide one third of Internet users are under the age of 18, the relevance of engagement of young people in Internet Governance processes related to them became evident.
Before the twelfth Internet Governance Forums was opened officially in the frame of the pre-conference on day zero a three hour debate on digital literacy education was organised by the Council of Europe.
Frank La Rue, former UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Speech opened the discussion with the indication, that every technology advance in history is a wonderful leap forward for humanity, but every technological development brings with it its own dangers and its own pitfalls. Society would need to react to that fact. Of course there is content available that is illegal under current legislation, f. e. child pornography, and it can be censored, said Frank La Rue. But the actual challenge is to empower children and youth and those responsible for their education for a safe and responsible use of the Internet. That calls for massive capacity building campaigns for teachers.
Villano Qiriazi from the Council of Europe presented the Framework of Competencies for Democratic Culture to be established in all forms of education. Now not all young people have the opportunity to be digital citizens. And the development of relatively inexpensive technology means the digital gap is more likely to be on the side of competencies required to make best use of technology than access to technology per se. Participation and confident use of technology, so Villano Qiriazi are very much connected to values and attitudes necessary to engage in active participation. These need to be addressed in education to achieve non-discriminatory participation.
At the end of the discussion participants dealt with the ten domains defined in the Digital Citizenship Education Project of the Council of Europe to be found at Digital Citizenship Education Project.Overall this was a good start for interesting debates at this years IGF, although there was no doubt that first and foremost empowerment of children was considered in this workshop as key to ensure their rights and their protection. Therefore it remains exciting how the debate will continue in the days to come, if the song of songs on multistakeholderism will continue to set the tone, which stakeholders will be ready to take responsibility for the safety of children and what role industry will play. More reports from the next days of the IGF will be published at News.
November 20th 2017: Today is International Day of Children´s Rights
November 20th 2017: Today is International Day of Children´s Rights, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is celebrating it´s 28th birthday. Since the adoption of this convention the world has been changing, today internet, apps and online games are a matter of fact for children. They bring new opportunities for playing and learning and they can strengthen the rights of children, but they also carry endangerment.
To understand and realize children´s rights today we have to consider benefits as well as risks of digitization and engage in the children’s digital world. Every child has the right to access to digital media, to education with digital media and to media literacy education. Of course the right to information and freedom of expression is reinforced by the internet but obviously the protection from new forms and phenomena of discrimination, for instance cyberbullying or hate speech, must also be ensured. The Convention on the Rights of the Child guarantees the right to leisure, play and participation, but so far digital playgrounds are not (yet) established as a matter of course. The privacy of children has become more vulnerable through the internet, violence and abuse are present also online. Therefore the digital world must provide for measures of protection appropriate to the children’s age and evolving capacities.
On World Children’s Day it’s about time to strengthen children’s rights in the digital world. As for children the internet does not turn the world upside down but it makes the world bigger, more colorful and diverse.
In the course of international co-operation the project childrens-rights.digital took part in the World Congress on Child Dignity in the Digital World at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome on Oct 3rd to 6th, 2017, and developed a program for the implementation of the „Declaration of Rome“, presented in an audience to Pope Francis on Oct 6th. The declaration urges governments, companies and the civil society to undertake measures to ensure the protection of the rights and the dignity of children in the digital world.
The Declaration of Rome is available here.
Contemporary Child Protection on the InternetJutta Croll
Child protection must cover all areas of children’s lives, a safe everyday life in the real world as well as growing-up well with media. When article 19, 34 and 36 of the UN-Convention on the Rights of the Child demand the protection of children from violence, sexual abuse and exploitation, these rights nowadays must be interpreted and applied in a new way in regard of risks arising from or being reinforced through the internet. But how could contemporary child protection on the internet be envisaged? What are the preconditions for children using the internet for information and participation, for education and play, without being unreasonably endangered? What role does the protection of children’s data play in this regard?
In the early years of the internet filter programmes were seen as an appropriate tool. Yet, software that identifies certain content based on word lists and blocks access to it, was initially not developed to protect children from violent or pornographic content. In fact, the purpose was to prevent staff in companies from surfing on certain improper websites during work hours. The filtering of the content was based either on word lists or on lists of domain names or URLs . Though from the beginning, this type of filter software was accompanied by the accusation of censorship. The legitimate interest to prevent access to certain types of content for child protection reasons was perceived as a potential gateway to further reaching limitations to the right to freedom of information.
The debate, whether filtering of content is an adequate means of contemporary child protection, is also mirrored in the change over time of the naming of the respective software products. In the decision of the European Parliament on establishing a multiannual Community Programme for promoting safer use of the internet and new online technologies, published in 2005 (854/2005/EG), filtering technologies were named explicitly as an instrument for tackling unwanted and harmful content. In the implementation of the programme, the EU Commission released a call for tender for a benchmarking assessment of such technologies and commissioned the task under the title SIP Benchmark. The first benchmarking report, released by Deloitte in 2009, was followed by a second call for tender in the same year. Therein the software products intended for assessment were termed „Parental Control Tools“, which considerably less suggests an association with censorship of content. The new term also gave higher priority to parents’ responsibility for the protection of children on the internet. The tests in the following two benchmark studies, (SIP II und SIP III), therefore were more focused on supporting parents, and other persons responsible for children, in their educational tasks. In addition to the effectiveness of the filtering, the tools’ security against circumvention, their additional functionalities and their usability were assessed as well. For many products good filtering results could only be attested in regard of English language content with a sexual connotation. The tools are less effective in detecting violent or otherwise problematic content and they often by mistake block access to unproblematic content. Simultaneously to their efforts to improve the filtering, the companies developed their products further and added functionalities to control and restrict times of access or to monitor the children’s internet usage - some of the tools even allow to do so remotely via a second device in the hands of the parents.
Since the middle of the 2000s, new options for communication and production of content via the internet emerged, collectively known as Web 2.0 and ‚User Generated Content’. Today, mainly social media applications provide the platforms for interaction between users. Technical tools for child protection, which filter the content based on a word list or domain lists, can neither handle the huge amount of user generated content nor are they able to address the risks resulting from the users’ interaction comprehensively. Herein lies a new potential for endangerment of children that massively challenges contemporary child protection. The technical tools designed for child protection often cannot keep pace with the rapid innovation of digital applications.
In article 3, the UN-Convention on the Rights of the Child gives highest priority to the best interest of the child, in all decision making processes concerning the child. Article 5 obliges the signatories to respect parental rights and demands from the persons responsible for the education of a child „to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognized in the present Convention. “ For many parents and persons responsible for children’s education it is very difficult to decide what an appropriate manner of guidance, consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, would be with regard to the child’s internet usage. The I-KiZ - German Centre for Child Protection on the internet has dealt with that question and developed the Intelligent Risk Management Model. Contemporary child protection is based on three pillars ‚Design and Content of the Service’, ‚Technology’ and ‚Media Literacy’. Depending on the age of the child these pillars can bear different weights. For younger children technical tools provide higher protective effects, as the children grow older their media literacy develops and their individual responsibility becomes more important. For adolescents their ability to manage risks on their own should be trained by media literacy education and should be supported by the design of the services themselves. The abilities to decide on their own and to weigh risks develop individually and depend on personal maturity and conditions. Especially with regard to the internet and the usage of digital media it is necessary to provide orientation for parents. They are very often less acquainted with digital world, usage of social media platforms and digital services than their children. Thus they need technical tools for protection but also pedagogical recommendations that act as guard rails for safety.
On May 25th 2018 the General Data Protection Regulation comes into force in Europe (EU-GDPR) , regulating the collection, storage, and processing of personal data. In recital 38, the specific protection needs of children with regard to their personal data are acknowledged for the first time. Article 8 accordingly regulates the conditions applicable to a child's consent in relation to information society services. For children below the age of 16 years, the GDPR requires consent given or authorised by the holder of parental responsibility over the child for the usage of information society services offered directly to a child. Simultaneously, the GDPR allows member states to set by law a lower age for those purposes, provided that it is not below 13 years. Across Europe stakeholders from media education, research, data protection authorities and technicians dealing with authentication and age verification are concerned with the question, which age threshold might be reasonable and appropriate. The project children’s-rights.digital and the coordination office for children’s rights at the German Children’s Fund ‘Deutsches Kinderhilfswerk’ are currently holding dialogues with experts, in order to build a knowledge base for the various questions regarding child protection and children’s rights arising from the GDPR. We thereby intend to contribute to contemporary child protection on the internet and to provide guard rails for the safety of children on the internet. We will keep you in the loop regards the results of the dialogues here - stay tuned!
The World is Changing - About Growing-up in a Digital EnvironmentJutta Croll
In 1989, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN-CRC) was adopted by the United Nations. To this day 195 states have ratified the Convention, making it the United Nations’ most widely recognized human rights document. The Convention is meant to grant special protection to young people under the age of eighteen. The ratifying states commit themselves to implement and guarantee the rights to freedom and protection as laid down in the 41 articles of the treaty.
Human rights are granted to everybody, regardless of their age. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is based on the assumption that it is essential to the well-being of children under the age of eighteen to emphasise and protect their rights and to provide the framework for their implementation.
Coinciding with the elaboration process of the UN-CRC, Tim Berners-Lee developed the World Wide Web at the CERN Research Centre in Geneva. The code, initially designed for the exchange of information among researchers, has made the usage of the internet possible for everybody. Today more than 3 billion people worldwide are connected to the web and are using online services on a regular basis, one third of them being under the age of eighteen and thus children in terms of the UN-CRC. In Germany, according to the KIM- and JIM-Studies , 97 percent of the children aged six to 19 years have access to the internet at home. Hence, there can be no doubt about the already significant impact of digitisation on the everyday life of children, both in a positive and a negative way.
The agreements of the Convention on the Rights of the Child are related to all areas of lives. They grant certain rights to children and set a regulatory framework to warrant that entitlement. For some paragraphs, for instance the right to freedom of expression (Art. 13) and the right to access to information (Art. 17), the impact that digitisation has on the availment of the rights defined therein is obvious. For other paragraphs it is necessary to scrutinise what consequences the digital environment of children has on exercising their rights to freedom and protection, or to ask how digitisation provides grounds for a broader understanding of these rights. Among the latter is the right to express their own views, as laid down in Art. 12. The appropriate consideration of the child’s opinion in all matters affecting the child can be considerably simplified by means of digital media. Children’s capacity to develop and express their own positions towards certain issues increases with their age. Online participation platforms can support and accompany this process of learning and personal development, thereby making the voices of children of any age heard. The rights of the child to freedom of association and to freedom of peaceful assembly, as defined in Art. 15, can also be exercised by children in various ways via the internet and social media platforms, regardless of their place of residence or social background. Likewise, digital media provide new possibilities to enhance the right to education through educational resources online. Nowadays, children exercise their rights to rest and leisure, and to engage in play and recreational activities, as laid down in paragraph 31, to a growing extend via digital services. The building regulations in most German states explicitly stipulate the establishment of children’s playgrounds, often equipped with an age threshold for children up to fourteen, in order to provide a protected areas for leisure time. In the digital environment such offers specifically designed for children under a certain age, often described as Walled Gardens or Sandboxes, are seldom to be found and so far there is no obligation to create such safe areas.
Paragraphs 19, 34 and 36 demand the protection of children from all forms of (physical or mental) violence, sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. Today, this protection must also be interpreted with regard to risks that are emerging or reinforced through the internet.
Even in the light of digitisation, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child retains its high relevance and the best interest of the child has the highest priority. It is not necessary to amend the UN-CRC with new paragraphs relating to children’s life in the digital environment. Rather, the existing agreements need a new understanding adapted to the digital environment children are living in and substantiated, where appropriate, by a ’General Comments’ General Comment. Current technological developments of digitisation, materialising in connected devices like toys or clothes collectively known as the ‘Internet of Things’, emphasise the necessity to monitor the preconditions for the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.