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Internet Safety

Volume 794: debated on Tuesday 4 December 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what financial and other resources will be available to the UK Council for Internet Safety.

My Lords, the UK Council for Internet Safety is a voluntary non-statutory body; it does not receive any government financial support. Members of the council, who are drawn from the public sector, the tech industry and civil society, voluntarily commit their organisations’ resource to deliver collaborative projects in support of internet safety. UKCIS is supported by a small secretariat team in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

My Lords, internet safety is needed more than ever and we cannot just rely on part-time volunteers to do the job—this is what they tell me. To ensure that this new council deals with the enormous challenges of hate crime, sex abuse, fraud, and violence against women and children, will the Government properly support its work through substantial resources to initiate and pay for research and events linked to its primary objective of keeping the nation safe online, especially our children?

I completely agree that it is important that UKCIS helps to contribute to online safety. That is why we expanded its role from concentrating just on child internet safety to include, as the noble Baroness mentioned, hate crime, serious violence and extremism. As far as resources are concerned, the previous body—the United Kingdom Council for Child Internet Safety—has demonstrated that getting together a mix of tech companies, public bodies and government achieves good results. That is not the only thing we are doing. The online harms White Paper, which is coming by the end of the winter, will address some of the other issues, one of which will have to be funding.

My Lords, as the Minister said, the body we are speaking about has developed from being concerned specifically with children to having a more generic nature. It has a complex set of relationships with various departments of government, including health, the Home Office and education, especially the part dealing with young people’s mental health. It is a complicated structure. In the consultation, a lack of direction in the previous body was bemoaned. Can the Minister assure us that there is a sense of direction and purpose, appropriately monitored, in this voluntary body? Given that we have extended the remit from just children to a generic range of interests—and given that in the past month or so in this House, children and obesity, knife crime, bullying, gambling, image and performance-enhancing drugs and the internet have all been discussed—can the Minister assure me that the needs of children are not being diminished as a result of being wrapped up into a more generic body?

On the noble Lord’s first question, there has just been a board meeting and the council has reaffirmed the areas of focus: first, online harms experienced by children; secondly, radicalisation and extremism; thirdly, violence against women and girls; fourthly, serious violence; and fifthly, hate crime and hate speech. So there is a definite desire to address these very important matters. As I said in my previous Answer to the noble Baroness, we will look at other areas in the online harms White Paper.

There is absolutely no doubt that children are still a prime concern, as the composition of the board shows. The director of BBC Children’s, the CEO of Childnet, the Children’s Commissioner, the CEOs of Internet Matters and the Internet Watch Foundation, the lead for the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the head of child safety online for the NSPCC and the deputy director of child protection for the Scottish Government are all members of the board and they will certainly make sure that children’s issues are at the forefront of their work.

My Lords, the council is developing a programme of online guidance for schools. Does the Minister not think that there should be government funding for a digital literacy campaign supported by the council? That is particularly important when it comes to the ability to read the terms and conditions used on websites and tech company sites.

My Lords, may I extend this question a little further? This is such an important issue and our generation will be judged on it as the internet and digital age takes over. Noble Lords will know those clever algorithms that are so good at selling us things—if we buy one thing they will try to sell us something else. Those could be turned towards the interests of internet safety by advancing something called safety by design. What consideration are the Government giving to much more forward-thinking legislation not just to support bodies such as the Council for Internet Safety, but to introduce measures to make our inhabiting of the digital world safer and more creative?

Yes, the right reverend Prelate makes a good point. That is why the Internet Safety Strategy Green Paper set out the need for the industry to think safety first by designing products and platforms in a way that makes them less likely to cause harm. We need to make that as simple as possible for the industry and we need to be aware of the impact on SMEs and growing companies. The White Paper will address this issue further and will, for example, examine the case for a set of safety-by-design guidelines for the industry. It will also set out the Government’s approach to the use of safety technology.

Will my noble friend consider instructing the committee to look at the anonymity of social media and in particular whether or not tweeting should be allowed from anonymous people?

No, it is not part of the Government’s thought process to instruct the committee to do anything. The Government will consider issues such as those raised by my noble friend in the online harms White Paper.