Security professionals welcome government’s child cyber safety proposals

Proposals are a “promising start”, says Symantec director of government affairs

The Australian government’s proposed child cyber safety policy has drawn a positive response from the information security industry.

The policies, which have been released for public discussion, include establishing the role of children’s e-safety commissioner, developing an effective complaints system to remove harmful material from social media sites faster and examining whether there is a need for a simplified cyber-bullying offence.

The government’s discussion paper seeks public comment on implementation of these measures, including what constitutes a large social media site, who can make a complaint and what is a reasonable time frame for the social media site to respond.

The discussion paper can be downloaded from the Department of Communications website. The deadline for submissions is 7 March 2013.

Symantec Asia Pacific and Japan director of government affairs Kai Koon Ng said the proposals are a promising start to address online child safety by providing a legal framework.

“We are confident that the Department of Communications will also be rolling out further initiatives, such as raising awareness for parents and educators on identifying the signs of cyber bullying.”

He added that Symantec will be studying the paper carefully and plans to make a submission “where appropriate”.

“Cyber bullying is a scourge on society and governments all over the world are trying to tackle the problem. We hope to be able to share our experiences from working with other governments on this issue so that Australia is best equipped to protect children online,” Koon Ng said.

Based on feedback it has received from schools, Kaspersky Lab Australia and New Zealand managing director Andrew Mamonitis said teachers are often left wondering how best they can support students that come to them with complaints about harmful content posted on online.

“To date, this is an issue which has not been adequately addressed. Accordingly, we would welcome initiatives aimed at engaging with key stakeholders to address these gaps,” he said.

“It is important for schools, parents and students to be able to access lines of enquiry and complaints processes that immediately address concerns relating to online content affecting children.”

According to Mamonitis, the value of any cyber safety proposal would be measured by how aware schools are of which organisations they can reach out to for advice and where they can access services in a timely manner.

“Teachers and schools are often on the frontline facing these issues and their input will be vital to the future success of cyber safety initiatives,” he said.

Mamonitis added that the vendor will study the report closely before making a submission.

“On a broader issue highlighted in the report, whilst welcoming engagement with the community and industry on this important issue, the Australian public would be sensitive to any body which expands its mandate beyond children's online safety towards broader issues involving freedom of expression.”

However, not everybody in the IT industry is happy with the government’s proposal.

The Australian Interactive Media Industry Association (AIMIA), AIMIA Digital Policy Group, Microsoft, Yahoo!7, Facebook, Freelancer, eBay, Google and Twitter criticised the government’s proposals on Wednesday, saying that it would be “counterproductive” to the online safety work they are already doing.

"The creation of a new statutory body and new regulation on complaints handling seems at odds with the government’s stated strategy to reduce regulation and to streamline government agencies," the companies said in a statement.

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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