European Commission Seeks To Limit Under 16s Online Access

Leticia Fonseca, Sylvia Fonseca
The Associated Press

The European Commission is attempting to rush through new regulations limiting access to the internet for under 16 year olds. Children would be prevented from setting up social media accounts without parental consent, and would face restrictions on their use of search engines. Critics have called the proposals “unworkable.”

Under current rules, children under 13 face certain online restrictions, especially when trying to set up social media accounts. But the Commission wants to force under 16 year olds across Europe to ask parents for permission when setting up accounts, or even when downloading certain apps.

The law, which is being debated today, will cause significant problems for social media sites, not least as they will face fines of up to four percent of turnover if found to contravene the rules, a figure which represents millions of pounds for the biggest firms.

The proposal has been widely criticised, with many pointing out that children will merely lie about their age to access the sites. Others have suggested that it would curb children’s ability to use online and offline services, make it harder for children to use the internet for homework and socialising, and would degrade their ability to learn to navigate the online world.

According to The Times, a coalition of US tech firms, including Google, Facebook and Twitter, yesterday launched a last minute lobbying campaign designed to derail the plans. They have accused officials of failing to consult with child safety experts.

Digital consumer lobby group Digital Europe has called on the Commission to drop the “unworkable provisions” which they say “deviates from industry best practices and makes it unnecessarily burdensome for parents and children of appropriate age and maturity to access offline and online services.”

Although they initially welcomed the aim of the regulatory package, which was originally envisaged as harmonising digital privacy laws across Europe, they say that this aim has been lost in the process.

“As the EU institutions enter the final stages of negotiations on the draft Regulation, the question over whether a proper balance has been reached between supporting privacy rights and enhancing economic competitiveness still remains,” they said in a statement.

“Following almost four years of negotiations, it is troubling that this question must still be asked.

“Against this backdrop, DIGITALEUROPE wishes to voice our deep concern that the original objectives of the European Commission’s proposal have been overshadowed by disproportionate and unbalanced rules.

“We fear that the expected agreement set to be reached during the trilogue discussions on 15 December 2015 will severely undermine the ability of European businesses to invest, innovate and create jobs. Such an agreement would mean that the much sought after balance would be lost.”

Following today’s debate, the proposed law will face a vote in the European parliament’s civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee on Thursday. If successful, the law will be ratified in the new year, giving member states two years to incorporate it into their statute books.


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