EU looks into mobile phone dangers for kids

The European Commission has launched a consultation into the dangers mobile phones pose to minors.

The European Commission has launched a consultation into the dangers mobile phones pose to minors. The outcome might be new European Union legislation to protect kids from stalkers, bullies and dangerous Internet material, the Commission said Tuesday.

According to a Eurobarometer survey conducted two months ago, 70 percent of European youngsters from ages 12 to 13 years and 23 percent of children from eight to nine own a mobile phone.

As handsets get more sophisticated, the threats to children from misuse mount, said the Commission, which is the E.U.'s executive and regulatory body. Simple text messaging has been used by pedophiles to lure children, it said.

School bullies have used camera phones to film their assaults and taunt their victims later. Phones with access to the Internet open up an even wider range of hazards, the Commission said.

Mobile phones pose economic risks too.The market for ringtones, which is targeted almost exclusively at children and adolescents, generated about Euro 500 million (US$600 million) in sales in Europe last year.

Mobile network operators, content providers, handset and network manufacturers, as well as regulators, child safety experts, parents and consumer organizations are invited to participate in the consultation, which will run until Oct. 16.

Some countries, including the U.K., rely on self regulation to prevent mobile phones and mobile services from being misused to the detriment of children. Other countries, including Germany, have strict laws that require age verification as well as other security measures.

The Commission would prefer a system of self-regulation. But if that isn't sufficient it may propose internal market laws, said Martin Selmayr, a spokesman for Viviane Reding, the European commissioner for information society and media.

The consultation launched Monday is part of a process which started in June 2005, when a plenary session of the Safer Internet Forum attracted 200 representatives from industry and child-welfare organizations. The Safer Internet Forum is part of the Commission's Safer Internet Program, which has been running since 1999 and aims to equip parents and teachers with the knowledge and tools they need to ensure Internet safety.

The current four-year program, which ends in 2008, has a budget of Euro 45 million to combat illegal and harmful internet content. It also covers other media, such as videos, and explicitly addresses the fight against racism, and unwanted e-mail. More information on the program is at: http://ec.europa.eu/saferinternet.

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