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Head of Data Protection Unit, European Commission Marie-Hélene Boulanger: On the necessity to protect Children and Youth privacy


The rapid development of new technologies, the increasing use of on-line services including on-line searching, joining social utilities such as, for example, Myspace and Facebook, and sharing private lives and experiences on-line challenge the protection of the personal data of individuals and the extent to which individuals are able to control the use of data relating to themselves. What can data subjects, whether adults or children, do themselves in order to avoid becoming the victims of the challenges posed by technology? And how can the European Union help?

It is necessary to prepare a level playing field and to make clear the limits and set norms for the operators of all those trendy on-line tools and services in order to safeguard the fundamental right of children to the protection of their personal data.

In accordance with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, children's safety and data protection on the internet have to be ensured. This protection must be provided while respecting children's rights to freedom of expression and access to information.

Protecting children on-line is an objective which is largely recognised in the European Union. On the occasion of the 2010 Data Protection Day, the data protection community sent all young people a clear message on the importance of exercising their fundamental right to the protection of their personal data and their private life. This is particularly important in an era of ever-evolving new technologies, instant messaging, massive use of on-line social networking sites and individuals exposing their everyday activities on-line.

In order to protect children effectively while guaranteeing their access to the internet, innovative solutions to empower children to make themselves safe on-line have to be provided.

Cooperation with Member States, and especially the national data protection authorities, to monitor how the implementation of data protection rules works in practice is essential. At the same time it is necessary to raise awareness among the public.

Stakeholders, technology and service providers, should also be encouraged to self-regulate and commit to best practices, in particular, to fill gaps in grey areas where there is either no legislation, or existing legislation is not specific enough.

Empowering and protecting children and young people through awareness raising initiatives, and fighting illegal and harmful online content and conduct, are the principal objectives of the Safer Internet Programme of the European Commission. The effective combinations of legislative tools with practical initiatives such as "Safer Internet" will continue remain important.

The Commission has also revised the existing legislative framework in the fight against sexual exploitation and child pornography. If adopted by the Council, this new legislative proposal will, for example, criminalise new forms of sexual exploitation of children, such as webcam abuse, grooming and increase penalties. Systems could be developed to block access from the EU to websites containing child pornography, something essential to counter the dissemination of child pornography by images located outside the EU.

Enhancing the protection of personal data and its effective enforcement are among the priorities of the review of the Data Protection Directive currently under way by the European Commission. A major task is to prepare legislation which responds to new technological challenges, building on the core European data protection principles, empowering individuals and strengthening their rights. Of course particular attention to the specific needs of children, particularly when they go on-line will have to be paid.

Challenges ahead include helping people understand what happens with their data when they go on-line, how and where they leave traces, who can see them, who profits from these data, and what are the threats… And to make sure that everyone knows his/her rights.

An education-based approach is the best way to teach children and young people how to surf the Internet responsibly and in a privacy-friendly way while also respecting the rights of others. Parents and teachers should play a substantial role in this regard!



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