Child Protection Online

14 November 2007 - A Best Practice Forum on Privacy in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil



Department of Communications, IT and the Arts (DCITA), Australia and the European Commission

Additional Information

Challenges, experience and action taken

Australia has been managing the issue of children’s safety in an online environment for several years. Working cooperatively with industry bodies such as the Internet Industry Association (IIA), the Australian Government has developed a number of initiatives, both domestic and international, to address online content issues. We would like to share our experiences in this context. These include:

  • regulation and legislation relating to online content issues,
  • Industry Codes of Practice which place obligations on content hosts and service providers to protect the public from prohibited Internet content,
  • the creation of an advisory body NetAlert (, to provide practical advice on Internet safety, parental control and filters for the protection of children, students and families,
  • special initiatives such as the Protecting Australian Families Online (PAFO) initiative aiming to make free PC filters available to all Australian residents,
  • the Australian Federal Police contribution to the Virtual Global Taskforce through the operation of the Australian High Tech Crime Centre, and
  • associate membership of the Internet Hotline Providers Association (INHOPE) which supports global Internet Hotlines in responding to reports of illegal content.

Lessons Learned

  • There are limits in attempting to regulate/legislate Internet content. Adopting other measures, such as education campaigns directed towards parents, have been effective.
  • The hosting of inappropriate content on overseas websites is a concern. As Australia has a complaints-based approach in identifying offensive foreign URLs, the launch of the PAFO information website will provide greater opportunity for Australians to identify inappropriate web content.
  • Accusations of Government censorship must be addressed when developing initiatives such as PAFO and legislation amendments.
  • Children’s safety on the Internet is a global concern and there is a need to encourage greater cross-border cooperation, particularly regarding the issue of Internet Content classification given the diverse perspectives currently held on this issue.

Future challenges

Policy and regulatory responses must continually evolve to deal with emerging technologies such as:

  • Internet access on 3G mobile phones;
  • Interactive websites, including social networking sites eg MySpace;
  • Peer to peer file-sharing software;
  • Online gaming programs; and
  • ‘Virtual worlds’ such as Second Life.

· Cyberbullying is a phenomenon that is difficult to track and regulate.
· There has been an emergence of websites promoting controversial issues such as suicide, anorexia and bomb-making.

More and more children and young people across the world are using online technologies for communication, leisure and schoolwork. Internet and other electronic communication technologies give all members of society great opportunities, but the use of these technologies pose some risks, particularly to children and young people: Documentation of sexual abuse of children (child sexual abuse material/child pornography) is being circulated online, and there are also risks associated with children's own use of these technologies: contact with potential abusers (grooming), access to harmful content, high expenditure on services, bullying etc.

Protection of children in the online environment has been the focus of a succession of Safer Internet Programmes run by the European Commission since 1999. The European Commission's Safer Internet plus Programme is the only existing pan-European initiative relating to child protection online and deals with a wide range of challenges concerning child safety online, including the above-mentioned challenges that have proved effective.

Two main actions initiated by the Programme are the European networks of national hotlines (INHOPE), where members of the public can report illegal content; and awareness raising national nodes (INSAFE), that aim to raise the awareness of parents, teachers and children about the possibilities and risks concerning the online use of Internet and other electronic communication technologies. Both networks have ties with actions in other countries around the world, and have strong visibility in relevant forums.
In order to share the experiences of this unique pan-European initiative, we propose to organize a Best Practice Forum during the IGF meeting in Rio de Janeiro this year.
The Best Practice Forum would address solutions proposed in form of international and national policies and strategies to make the online environment a safer place for children as well as industry self-regulation, research, benchmarking studies and public-private cooperation. It would elaborate on the lessons learned from the different approaches. In this context after a brief introduction by the Commission on the general framework and the way how it adapted itself over time from 1999 onwards based on the experiences made, the networks would be asked to present the main challenges they see, how the challenges are dealt with in a European and international perspective, the consequences their experiences have had for their work, and how they propose to deal with the challenges in the future. Participants would be encouraged to make contributions and in particular give feedback on their perspective of the European approach.