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Securing the Internet for children in Asia-Pacific

At a recent UNICEF event, the role of the ICT industry in East Asia and the Pacific was examined in respect to promoting children’s rights and UNICEF’s “Guidelines for Industry on Child Online Protection”. In the course of the day the discussion turned to childrens’ self-esteem, and need for love and sense of belonging that may result in risky or inappropriate online behaviour. Just as importantly, it was pointed out that children may be unaware of the negative repercussions of their behavior to themselves and others, one of which is the loss of privacy through data collection by service and content providers. These trends inevitably have far-reaching implications for online trust and confidence.

Cooperation and partnership are key especially as laws to tackle the dissemination of child sexual abuse materials (CSAM), the prosecution of abusers, awareness-raising and children’s recovery from exploitation are not in place in many countries. Governments, private sector, local associations/champions, educators, civil society, parents and caregivers all have important roles in ensuring a safe and secure Internet for children.

It was established that there needs to be a careful balance between children’s right to protection on the one hand, and their right to information and freedom of expression on the other. Although there are numerous tools to facilitate childrens’ positive Internet use, such as hotlines/helplines, international education campaigns, and child empowerment programmes, these still need to be scaled, and best practices culled from existing approaches.

This is very much in line with our five-point Collaborative Security Framework wherein we suggest ways by which society can tackle security challenges to bring about a better and stronger Internet. These include (1) Fostering confidence and protecting opportunities (the Internet is a driver of economic and social innovation, and security will foster confidence in the Internet and ensure its continued success); (2) Collective responsibility (Internet participants share a responsibility towards the system and should not act in their self-interest but with everyone’s welfare in mind); (3) Fundamental Properties and Values (Security solutions should be compatible with human rights and the fundamental properties of the Internet); (4) Evolution and Consensus (Agile, evolutionary steps based on the expertise of a broad set of stakeholders) and; (5) Think Globally, Act Locally (The most impactful solutions are likely to be reached through voluntary, bottom-up initiatives).

So the fundamental question is: Should businesses and individuals accept the increased risk and liabilities of attack along with the increased reach, potential and usage of the Internet? An analogy is that crossing the road may have its risks but one can also gain and accomplish a lot in that journey.

The reality is that we may not have much choice but to go with the flow. Children will often want what their peers have and, be creative in getting it. Equipping them with knowledge can be a good step forward. Close collaboration is needed every step of the way. With Asia-Pacific being home to more than half of the world’s young people, the steps we take now will inevitably impact the lives of hundreds and millions of Internet users in the near future.