Letter of concern to the Draft General Data Protection Regulation #13To16



EU policy makers are thinking about introducing a new law which means that anyone under the age of 16 will have to get permission from their parents before accessing the internet. This policy is currently being considered and the EU will reach a decision by this week. 

If you are concerned about this too for the reasons explained in the letter below, please act quickly in the following ways to help us encourage EU policy makers to rethink this decision:

1. Sign our petition and encourage others to do the same: SIGN PETITION

2. Get involved in the discussion on social media using the hashtags #13To16Privacy #KidsPrivacy

3. Add your organisation's support to the letter below (written by Janice Richardson) by emailing antibullying@diana-award.org.uk or by posting in the comments box below. 

Dear MEP,

We are very concerned to learn of a modification to the wording of the draft General Data Protection Regulation requiring anyone under the age of 16 to secure parental consent before using information society services. If this is indeed the case then we, as organisations and experts working for the safety and wellbeing of children online, wish to protest in the strongest terms and request that you urgently reconsider this decision. We have a considerable amount of expertise to bring to bear on questions of when it is and is not in the interests of children to require parental consent.

As you are aware, the text of the General Data Protection Regulation has been under consideration now for a period of nearly 4 years, since January 2012, and we have taken a keen interest in this process. The original version of the text proposed by the European Commission and the amended European Parliament text set the age requirement for parental consent at 13 for children wishing to use information society services. If the intention now is to move the age from 13 to 16, then this is a major shift in policy on which there has been no public consultation, at least that we are aware of.

The consequences of the proposed change are very significant for European society. These are some of the areas that we think need to be discussed further before any such change should be considered.

This change is contrary to well-established research on child development. Navigating the online world as an adolescent or parent is certainly not without challenges. As children reach adolescence, they are curious about the world around them and are learning how to express themselves and interact safely and confidently with friends online. Adolescents need guidance from their parents and other trusted adults, and online services should work to provide tools that help adolescents make the right choices about their safety and privacy. But child development experts know that, given the right tools and guidance, adolescents can develop critical skills of self-expression and relationship management in the online environment. Recent surveys have indicated that teenagers are by and large very knowledgeable about how to control the information they share online—more so than many adults. Research has also shown that schools play an important role in guiding children and teens in the safe and responsible use of information society platforms such as social media (cfhttp://www.eun.org/teaching/smile). As society, including government institutions, is increasingly using social media to disseminate important information, such platforms play an integral role in developing literacy skills for young people preparing to play their role in the world of today and tomorrow. The added layer of bureaucracy required to procure parental permission before any teacher could use information society tools in class would undermine any possibility of schools fulfilling this role, and at the same time stop the valuable flow of guidance that young people are able to take home to parents and siblings.

Raising the age to 16 ignores many years of industry best practice around offering online services to children aged 13 and above. Given the prevalence of the Internet in modern society, adolescents aged 13 and above have long used online services to access important information about current events, conduct research for their schoolwork, and express themselves on issues of social, political and cultural importance without being required to seek their parents’ consent every time they use a new app or website. These are fundamental rights, as expressed in articles 12, 13 and 14 of the UNCRC, which also underlines the importance of children having the right to have their voice heard in a decision that impacts on their future such as age requirements for parental consent.

Children aged 13 and above shouldn’t be restricted from accessing critical online support services. Sadly, we know that some parents do not always act in their child’s best interests. The Internet can represent a lifeline for children to get the help they need when they are suffering from abuse, living with relatives who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, or seeking confidential LGBT support services, to name a few. Although the proposed recital 29 makes an exception for direct counselling services, we know that peer support through media platforms often plays a positive role for young people under physical or mental duress.

This higher age threshold may incentivize children between the ages of 13 and 15 to lie about their age. Children aged 13 and above have long accessed online services; an artificial and sudden change to this threshold will likely result in many children between the ages of 13 and 15 lying about their ages in order to continue accessing online services-- rather than asking their parents to consent. This development would make it far more difficult for online services to offer children age-appropriate guidance and tools to ensure a safe and privacy-protective experience online.

By and large, online services have provided children with a safe place to explore and learn and indeed, according to renown researcher Dr David Finkelhor (http://www.pennlive.com/opinion/2014/12/heyparentsthekidsare_alrig.html), appear to have had a significantly positive impact. We would urge you to take the above elements into account and not make it more difficult for children aged 13 to 15 to continue using the Internet in these positive ways, as they have been doing for many years.

We understand the negotiations over the text are in their final stages and would ask you to reply to us at your earliest convenience to indicate whether you are supportive of the change from age 13 to 16 being made in this way without any public debate. If you are not happy with this outcome then we would urge you to use your voice in the negotiations to ensure either that the change is reversed or that the issue is reopened for a period of full debate in which experts like ourselves can participate.

Yours sincerely,

  • Janice Richardson, expert to ITU and the Council of Europe, former coordinator of European Safer Internet network, Luxembourg
  • SOS il Telefono Azzurro, Italy
  • Family Online Safety Institute (UK)
  • Diana Award, UK
  • Pablo García Mexía, J.D., PhD.Digital Lawyer/University professor, Spain
  • Cyberhus, Denmark
  • Our Clubs
  • YouthNet
  • London Youth
  • UK Youth
  • Get Connected
  • Fler Unga (More Youth) Sweden