Government loses vote on setting digital age of consent to 13

Opposition parties united today to defeat the Government's proposal to set the digital age of consent at 13.

This afternoon, TDs voted in favour of a Fianna Fáil and Labour amendment to the Data Protection Bill to set it at 16.

The vote was carried by 55 to 51.

Speaking in the Dail during a deabte on the Data Protection Bill 2018, Labour's Sean Sherlock said the digital age of consent only applied when personal data was being processed.

But he said children under the digital age of consent should be provided with platforms that do not exploit their personal data.

“Our approach on the age of 16 is to facilitate parents to give them the opportunity to parent and not create a situation where the law gives a 13 year-old the right to consent to profiling and the use of their personal information for all sorts of services, be it exploitative or not.”

“I do not believe we should legislate on the basis that we know children will lie about the age they give in respect of the age verification process. We have to legislate on the basis of what we believe to be the correct course of action.

"If we are talking about the rights of contract law, the age of consent at 16 errs on the better side in terms of the expression of clear judgment in ensuring that parents have the right to parent,” he added.

Explaining his opposition to the Government's proposal, Sinn Féin's Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said 16 was more appropriate.

However, he acknowledged that this was not a silver bullet for protecting children online.

Fianna Fáil's Education spokesman Thomas Byrne said children would not be limited from participating online.

"If someone is profiled without their consent, the penalty is not on the child.. or the parent.. the penalty is on the tech company," he said.

“There is no doubt that we can properly choose to protect children by having the digital age of consent at 16, as it is in the regulation the Europeans have set for us.

"The Minister has helpfully listed countries that are going for 13. We have also listed large and important countries that are going for 16. I urge the Minister to let us know who has advised him for 16,” he said.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said the proposal to set the age at 13 was the result of careful consideration and wide consultation.

"Ireland will be firmly in line with many other EU states such as Denmark Finland and Sweden..countries that, more than most, we look to for examples of good support in the areas of child support and child protection," he said.

Indepent4Change TD Clare Daly backed the Government's proposal to have 13 as the digital age of consent.

She said setting the age at 16 was the modern equivalent of the "just say no" approach, adding that it could deny children access to important services.

Roisin Shortall, of the Social Democrats, too expressed concern at setting the age at 16.

She said: “The predominant point is that raising the age of consent to 16 - or whatever age- does give a false sense of security that it solves the problem, when we know that simply is not the case.”

“This is a once-off action a parent takes in handing over consent. If they say no, it means the child is denied access to that platform. If they say yes, which an awful lot of parents will do because they do not know what they are handing over, that is a problem also.”

By Daniel McConnell
Political Editor

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