To shape policy, eChildhood puts forward submissions that address children and youth online safety and wellbeing. Our submissions are listed below and include:
Our comprehensive submission (November 8, 2019) argued that a key component underpinning the success of a safer online digital environment for children is the implementation of an Age Verification regime within robust updated legislation underpinned by safety, security and privacy. eChildhood recommended that good government policy include the implementation of such a system, no matter where content is hosted, to restrict minors’ access to all commercial porn websites.
Summary of the eChildhood Recommended Approach
- The overarching objective of eChildhood is for the prevention of harm arising from children’s access to pornography online. We believe that the best way to restrict children from accessing pornography online is to require pornography websites to implement Age Verification.
- eChildhood does not recommend the introduction of legislation which effectively copies the
Digital Economy Act in the UK (explained in our submission). Instead, eChildhood emphasises that Australia has a unique opportunity to:
(1) learn from the challenges of the UK;
(2) investigate an Age Verification regime which appropriately weighs the public health benefits of protecting children from access to online pornography with the rights of adults to access online pornography; and
(3) take lead position globally for the effective implementation of Age Verification within robust updated legislation underpinned by safety, security and privacy.
- Australia should implement a third-party Age Verification ecosystem which contains a number of safeguards explained throughout our submission, underpinned by safety, security and privacy.
- Any Age Verification ecosystem must be capable of restricting minors access to pornography, whether pornographic content is hosted domestically in Australia or is hosted Internationally.
- The system must be clear, unambiguous and ubiquitous. For Age Verification to be effective, it is important that the regulator, the content provider and the consumer all understand the system’s requirements and the penalties for breaching those requirements.
- The system must include provision for parents and other concerned community members to report non-compliant sites, and for there to be widespread awareness of this service. Such a reporting service already exists, managed by the Office of the eSafety Commissioner —an established body with the requisite resources and expertise, which would be ideal to support an Age Verification regime.
- eChildhood recommends investigation into broader policy challenges and implications, including consideration of potential long-term social and economic benefits of implementing an Age Verification regime—with a particular focus on schools and other organisations who serve children and young people. In the interim, relevant funding allocation is required in order to effectively respond to the repercussions of the current inevitable exposure of children and young people to pornographic sites.
- eChildhood recommendations are consistent with Australia’s international obligations; namely, our obligation to protect children under the Child Convention, balanced against freedom of expression and the right to privacy, including an individual’s right to be forgotten.
- The measures recommended by eChildhood equally apply to restricting minors’ access to online wagering, alcohol and cigarette purchases, and other products or activities that are otherwise deemed illegal for children to access.
eChildhood has framed a Public Health Approach and is calling on Australia to implement a public health response. Under the Child Convention, Australia has an obligation to protect children, and this obligation is extended to children’s use of the internet.
eChildhood has developed Age Verification FAQs in an attempt to provide some guidance around what's being explored by the Australian Government as a result of the enquiry.
- August 1, 2018: Reviews of the Enhancing Online Safety Act 2015 and the Online Content Scheme. Our submission did not support the Online Content Scheme as we felt the scheme was not robust enough. eChildhood recommended that the Online Safety Scheme be completely reworked to reflect the same process the UK is currently implementing with Age Verification measures. Under the Digital Economy Act, 2017, all content classified as prohibited must be placed behind an Age Verification gateway. In addition to shifting the bulk of the responsibility to the porn industry through Age Verification measures that focus on child safety and public health, an ‘all-encompassing’ digital legislation considers a broad range of factors such as the overhaul of telecoms infrastructure and regulation, internet speeds, copyright issues, privacy and data. Relying on parents and the general public to protect children via filtering is leaving children vulnerable, for all reasons stated throughout our submission. Therefore, we need an updated and ‘all-encompassing’ legislation to implement Digital Child Protection Buffers so that no matter where kids go, access to hardcore pornography and other harmful content is restricted as much as possible.
- May 23, 2018: Australian Human Rights Commission Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). We presented solid arguments as to why children and young people have a right to be protected from hardcore pornography and provided with health education resources to combat its negative effects and how it's contributing to a range of significant harms including mental health, physical and emotional developmental impacts.
- June 8, 2018: Queensland Anti-Cyberbullying Taskforce. We presented solid arguments as to why children have a right to be protected from hardcore pornography and how it is contributing to a range of significant harms, including Online Sexual Abuse, a subset of cyberbullying.
- July 17, 2018: Inquiry on International Internet Policy Priorities (with US-based NTIA - National Telecommunications and Information Administration). We commented on the U.S. Government's international internet policies and priorities, and the importance of implementing policy that ensures the prevention of access by minors to online hardcore pornography.
- August 1, 2018: Reviews of the Enhancing Online Safety Act 2015 and the Online Content Scheme. This submission by eChildhood is underpinned by 4 main points. First, it is the view of eChildhood that the current responses of the eSafety Commissioner are limited by legislation that is outdated, convoluted and requires extensive overhaul in order to enable effective digital protection of children from hardcore pornography. Second, the harms of pornography on children and young people are extensively supported by research. Third, a Child’s Rights approach must be adopted for this issue. Finally, pornography is a social problem and hence cannot be simply addressed by focusing on an individual level.