McNelis calls for digital age of consent to be raised to sixteen

The commercialisation of personal data by social media companies, and the harvesting of such data by companies like Cambridge Analytica, show the need for stronger online protections for children and young people.

This is the view of Labour Galway City West councillor and the party’s Galway West general election candidate Niall McNelis. Labour is currently seeking to bring forward amendments to the General Data Protection Regulation Bill which will set the digital age of consent to 16.

The digital age of consent is the age at which a child has the capacity to consent to the processing of personal data by the provider of an ‘information society service’. The regulation deals with personal data, data that identify or are about an individual person, and includes names, addresses, dates of birth and anything that a person shares on social media such as his/her preferences, status updates and, in many cases, private conversations over messaging apps, among other elements.

Setting the digital age of consent to 16 would bring the Republic of Ireland in line with Germany, the Netherlands, France, which Cllr McNelis said “have best-in-class approaches” to protecting children online.

“Many parents are rightly concerned at the so-called digital age of consent. The default in the GDPR regulations is 16, but the Government appears to have accepted the lobbying of tech giants on this, and reduced it to the lowest possible limit of 13,” said Cllr McNelis. “In simple terms, this allows children between 13 and 16 to have their data used to profile them for commercial purposes, targeting of ads, and services. The question we must ask is does a child at age 13 have capacity to contract?”

Cllr McNelis said the proposed amendment and Bill was “not about when children can go online or use devices”, and that it only relates to situations where the processing of the personal data of a child is performed.

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