Data protection officials to lobby for new child-protecting laws

Data protection authorities from all over the world have agreed to call for legislation specifically limiting the collection and use of children's personal data.

In a motion co-sponsored by the UK's Information Commissioner, data protection officials who had gathered at their annual conference agreed to lobby for the new laws all over the world to protect the children whose private information is increasingly being digitised.

"As the number of internet-based computer applications and technologies grows, increasing amounts of personal information will be collected and stored," said the resolution. "Already, children today are often unaware that their information, habits and behaviour are all being tracked online."

"While many young people recognise the risks associated with their online activities, they lack the experience, technical knowledge and tools to mitigate those risks. They are often unaware of their own legal rights," it said.

The commissioners agreed to push for child-protecting legislation amongst other measures designed to protect children from the harm associated with abuse of their information.

The commissioners backed education programmes as a way to encourage young people to protect their own information, and said that they would work with teachers to make sure that learning about privacy was made a part of children's standard education.

The motion also called for specific limitations on the gathering of information on children to form the basis of targeted advertising.

It also said that commissioners would put pressure on publishers to behave responsibly towards young people. It said that data protection officials would "urge operators of websites created for children to demonstrate social responsibility by adopting privacy policies and usage agreements that are clear, simple and understandable, and educating users about existing privacy and security risks and website choices available to the users".

The resolution was proposed by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and was co-sponsored by the UK's Information Commissioner and the data protection authorities of Ireland, France, New Zealand and Berlin.

"Young people today are sophisticated users of the internet, and they use this medium with ease and enthusiasm," said Jennifer Stoddart, Canada's Privacy Commissioner. "While the opportunities are tremendous, we must ensure that they understand the impact that these technologies can have on their privacy, and provide them with the tools and information they need to make smart decisions."

The resolution was adopted by the International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners, at which 78 commissioners were present, with representatives from every continent.

The European Commission also announced action to protect children from digital dangers. German news outlet Heise Online said that a meeting on internet governence in Strasbourg was told of action that the Commission would take to tackle cyber-bullying.

Richard Sweetman of the section of the Commission which deals with the information society told the meeting that the Commission is working to harmonise laws across Europe dealing with cyber-bullying and the online grooming of children for sexual purposes.

Sweetman said that the Commission wanted to harmonise law through a framework agreement, Heise Online said.