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Age Appropriate Design Code

Volume 799: debated on Monday 30 September 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they intend to lay before the House the necessary secondary legislation to implement the age appropriate design code under Section 123 of the Data Protection Act 2018.

My Lords, it is vital that we lead the world in making sure that our children are safe while they are online. As a result of that, the Data Protection Act made provision for the Information Commissioner to produce an age-appropriate design code. That will be laid before the Secretary of State on 23 November.

My Lords, I am sure that the Minister shares my confidence that the ICO will produce a very effective code. Will it cover things like the false information about vaccination and immunisation, which is having an impact on take-up, or the grooming of young people into gambling by free games? Would she not agree that there is a lot to do to ensure a real duty of care in this sector, and that this is only a first step?

The noble Lord brings up two very important subjects which we must sort out. These come under the remit not of the ICO but of the online harms White Paper. Alongside that, the gambling question mentioned by the noble Lord is also being looked at—the DCMS Select Committee produced a report on immersive and addictive technologies. The Government are going to look at that very closely before they make a response.

My Lords, the noble Baroness has given us the critical path for what we now expect to happen. Enormous claims have been made for the verification code in question. There have been four Secretaries of State at DCMS in the time it has taken to get the Data Protection Act on to the statute book. All kinds of things have been happening in the political world and I am trying to learn how to speak very politely and humanely about these and other matters in your Lordships’ House; but certainly, it is an unsettled time. In addition, there is evidence of pushback from certain internet companies that are reluctant to go this way. In the light of the uncertainties, the change-over of the head of the department and all the rest of it, is the Minister prepared to give us some real reassurance that the timetable will be met and that the Government’s programme when we begin the new Session will include a commitment to taking this forward? There is little that we could all want more than the safety of our children, especially as this concerns their relationship to and use of the internet.

As the noble Lord rightly said, the safety of our children is paramount. As we know, this issue is completely cross-party. I know that the Government have every intention of making sure that implementation takes place. Sadly, the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, is not in her place today; she is the real expert on this subject. However, she sent a brief note to all Peers who are interested. I would like to read what she said because it shows how important this matter is: “The Government has rightly committed to making the UK the safest place in the world for children to be online, from the UN special rapporteur on privacy to the broadband commission, the OECD and the US Federal Trade Commission, currently reviewing its own children’s privacy rules. Policymakers around the world are watching the code’s progress and waiting to follow to our lead. Introducing a strong code would demonstrate that wider regulation is politically and technically possible”.

My Lords, I must declare an interest as deputy chairman of Telegraph Media Group. My noble friend will be aware of serious concerns among news publishers about the scope of the proposed code, which could have a disastrous impact on their commercial position if they were caught accidentally in its terms. Does my noble friend therefore agree that a total exemption for publishers who do not present any danger to children should be written into the code and not left to the chance of guidance?

That is not a question I can answer at the moment, but the Information Commissioner is certainly talking to stakeholders and everybody concerned with the Act. That is exactly why the matter went out to consultation and why there were more than 1,000 responses. However, there is no doubt that this code is needed and that the Information Commissioner will ensure that it makes our children safe online.

My Lords, I think that I am right that 25% of internet users are children. I am concerned to hear that there has perhaps been some pushback from internet companies on the development of this ground-breaking code. Can we be assured that the code really will be strong and will not be watered down in any way by some of the responses that have been presented?

My Lords, I think that I can safely stand here and say that that is true. Of course, the code works in conjunction with the GDPR, whose guidelines are already out there. This code is to gold-plate that part of the GDPR. It is true that there has been pushback from online companies. The Information Commissioner is working closely with them for them to understand how important it is. It is up to those companies to realise that this issue is vital and that they have to get their world in order.

My Lords, the standards in the code will apply to all users unless there are robust age-verification mechanisms to distinguish adults from children. The BBFC has recently conducted research showing huge support among parents for the age-verification guidance under the Digital Economy Act. Can the Minister confirm that the guidance will be tabled at the earliest possible opportunity—that is, this week?

As he knows, that has been with the EU. The standard three-month TSRD, where they look at the whole thing, is due to expire on 2 October, which is the day after tomorrow. We have not heard anything from them, so it seems unlikely that they will suddenly come up with a whole lot of comments between now and then, but obviously I cannot guarantee that.