Minister defends Government's decision to set digital age of consent at 13

Opponents of the proposal have called for it to be set at 16 instead

Minister defends Government's decision to set digital age of consent at 13

Denis Naughten. Photo: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

The Communications Minister has defended the Government's decision to set the digital age of consent at 13.

The digital age of consent refers to the age at which a child can consent to use online services.

The proposal to set it at 13 years has led to concerns that children will be at risk if the age set too low - with opponents of the move highlighting issues such as cyberbullying and data protection.

Cyber Behavioural Scientist Professor Mary Aiken and Artificial Intelligence & Data Scientist Professor Barry O’Sullivan appeared before an Oireachtas commitee earlier this week to voice their objections to setting the digital age of consent at 13.

In their opening statement, they stated: "Given the substantial risks to the safety, security and wellbeing of children and young people online, Ireland needs to put in place a policy framework and an associated educational programme that ensures that our children are sufficiently aware and responsible to understand and exercise their digital rights by the time they reach the digital age of consent.

"In the absence of a rigorous basis for any specific age at this point, a prudent approach would be to set the digital age of consent in Ireland at 16."

However, others argue that setting it at 16 years will not keep young people any safer on the internet.

The Ombudsman for Children has previously said the Government's proposal "takes a more realistic view of children and young people’s internet use".

Minister Denis Naughten says he is listening to people's concerns.

He argued: "We have to set the bar at a point in relation to this.

"I know there has been some debate over the last number of days. We're listening to those issues - but remember there is not a uniform view on this right across the sector. Right across the children's sector, there's quite a varying view in relation to it."

He added: "At the end of the day, Government has to make a call on that."

The measure to set a digital age of consent at 13 years is included in the draft version of the Data Protection Bill, which is currently before the Oireachtas.

If enacted, children under 13 will need parental or guardian approval to sign up to online services such as social media.

While the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) sets a digital age of consent at 16 years, member states have the option of setting their own age limit at no lower than 13 years.

Additional reporting by Paul Quinn