WHATEVER happened to Jim Daly’s sizzling idea to stamp out online bullying and trolling, as well as exposing paedophiles who stalk children on websites? His Internet Access for Minors Bill 2017 was intended to do all that.
How? By fining parents €100 if the child used an internet-enabled device unsupervised. As well, retailers would be hit with a €100 penalty if they sold a smartphone to a child under 14.
Here’s what Jim, the FG man from the Cork South West constituency, said: ‘Essentially you’re giving your child of seven or eight years of age a mobile device that allows them to access unlimited pornography of every type.’
His proposed law was intended to help end all that. Significantly, last May, he told the nation his legislation would be debated in the Dáil before the summer break. It wasn’t; and we wonder why.
In recent days, attention has been focussing on Jim’s missing Bill because of the jailing of a Dublin man who possessed thousands of child porn images and who encouraged children to send him sexually graphic internet pictures.
Certainly the Bill was controversial. Under it, social media users legally would be forced to ‘hand over’ passport or public service card details before they could use Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Snapchat, Kik and similar sites. The purpose was to ensure that those entering websites were not young children.
And although his public statements didn’t indicate to whom such personal information should be given, basically he wanted internet companies to be more responsible ‘in safeguarding our children.’
According to Our Jim, the best way for that to happen was to have a system of cross-checked social security numbers or passport numbers which would confirm a person’s true date of birth. The knock-on effect, he said, would be to oblige ‘multi-billion tech companies to take more responsibility for the content of their websites.’
It was a novel idea and undoubtedly Jim Daly, a onetime máistir, had his heart in the right place even if his plan eerily resembled a Blueshirt incarnation of Big Brother (or should that be Big Daddy?).
Jim should not feel embarrassed at the disappearance of his Bill, gone from our lives like a busted balloon. It’s a fairly common response for government politicos to try to enact laws if something unpleasant gets up their nose and the irritant has relevance in the collective consciousness. Such a tactic is always worth a few headlines even if it means the Oireachtas is strewn with Bills that never see the light of day.
But, we hasten to add, in Jim’s case, his course of action was not orientated in any way towards headline grabbing. Of course not! Perish the thought, although some critics – as was their prerogative – rubbished the mini-minister’s proposal.
They said it was high-risk in the sense that murky social media websites from the other side of the world, or God knows where, could be the recipients of an individual’s personal details as revealed in social security and passport numbers.
So, the question arises if Jim’s Bill was inoperable from the beginning and hadn’t a ghost of a chance of ever being voted into law? Was that the reason for the mysterious evaporation of his exercise in legislating?
Or did Vlad cruelly dump the Bill because he considered it a bucketful of the proverbial doo-dah? Perhaps Jim momentarily took his eye off the ball and forgot that the core belief of his party focussed on economic individualism and not wishy-washy dogma relating to socialist-style theories of what constituted the common good.
Was it that party gurus considered his proposed legal way of dealing with perves as too ideological and too collective in the realm of politics? In other words, was it too ‘left-wing’ and not the way to go?
Heavens above! Jim a radical! Is it possible that Vlad and the Attorney General, the legal adviser to the Government, viewed his imaginative proposal as a bit like cracking a nut with a North Korean sledgehammer?
Let’s not forget that he wanted to implement change by means of draconian legislation that would punish parents for allowing unsupervised internet watching! Question is, how could such a law be implemented?
By having the Special Branch peep through the sitting room window or electronically snoop on the programmes children were watching? The danger was, as Vlad and pals probably realised, that the FG legislation would have gone down in social history for its comical originality!
Yet, there is no doubt that Jim meant well. In a statement to The Irish Times he said that ‘children were protected from things like sunbeds by law, just like alcohol and tobacco, but there was no regulation whatsoever of what children can watch on the internet.’
Sadly, from the beginning, the response was not enthusiastic. An anti-bullying research centre at DCU gave it a thumbs-down on the basis that it would push online activity underground and create a barrier between parents and children.
The ISPCC agreed that unsupervised internet activity by children was not a good thing when there existed the horrific risk of sexual grooming.
However, it diplomatically suggested to the government that it put in place ‘a national cyber-safety strategy for children which incorporated education, law reform and increased regulation.’
A director of the US-based Cyberbullying Research Centre, Professor Sameer Hinduja advised Jim to think twice before criminalising children’s access to the web.
He said it was unfair to hold parents accountable.
‘They can’t fully control their child at all times, but what they need to do is to be able to see right from wrong for themselves,’ he said. (Prof Hinduja’s observations were relevant within the context that less than 20 per cent of parents supervise their children’s viewing habits).
But the weakness in Jim’s hardline stance on internet viewing is that he failed to acknowledge the fact that the unsavoury influence of the internet can be managed if there is good interaction and discussion between parents and children regarding the internet.
In other words, education rather than legislation is the way forward. Parents have a responsibility to ban smart phones in the child’s bedroom, limit use of the smart phone and internet to certain times of the day, to keep control of the password and only release it when the child is considered responsible enough to use it.
Most importantly, parents must discuss safety issues with the child. Simple, really!
It’s an approach that this newspaper already has put into action as part of its obligations regarding issues of right and wrong and the internet.
A visit by interested readers to www.southernstar.ie/news/roundup/articles/2017/12/22/4149871-timely-tips-for-parents-with-children-online/, which discusses advice, strategies and best practice for parents, can be a learning experience. Try it!