Raise digital consent age to 16: McDowell
Senator opposes ‘gradual erosion of childhood’
FORMER tánaiste Michael McDowell will today urge the raising of the digital age of consent from 13 to 16 years of age.
Mr McDowell, currently a member of Seanad Éireann, told the Irish Daily Mail last night: ‘I am against the gradual erosion of childhood and the commercialisation of kids, which is increasingly happening at a young age.’
The high-profile barrister will introduce an amendment to legislation today to hike the age at which a person can create a Facebook profile or an Instagram account by three years. His amendment has been cosigned by independent senators Victor Boyhan, Joan Freeman, Billy Lawless and Pádraig Ó Céidigh, and Fianna Fáil’s Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill.
Mr McDowell said the only reason the online age of consent had been pitched at such a Proposal: Michael McDowell young age was because the Government was ‘acutely sensitive’ to the fact that Ireland is a hub to high-tech industry and many of the world’s largest firms in the social media sector.
The former justice minister also suggested the threshold of 13 years, agreed last year, had come about because of an imbalance of power. The independent senator said: ‘Look at who was campaigning on the issue. Kids aged 13 to 16 are not organised. Their parents have no awareness, and apart from Mary Aiken and Professor Barry O’Sullivan, nobody is campaigning on it.
‘But if I introduced a measure in the morning seeking to reduce the age for the purchase of a National Lottery card from 18 to 13, there would be an outcry.’
Mr McDowell will make his case in the Seanad today and try to gather support for the increase over time, promising to return regularly to the fight. He is also hosting an information meeting in Leinster House today, to be addressed by international experts Dr Aiken and Prof. O’Sullivan. They will make a presentation to members setting out why the digital age of consent should be 16.
Mr McDowell’s amendment to the Data Protection Bill ‘is very simple in its effect’, he said. ‘It means that the minimum age for consenting to data retention in respect of kids’ images and information is to be 16, as is the minimum prescribed in most of Europe, rather than 13.
‘If you’re not old enough to buy a lottery card or to do a host of other things, then why should you be old enough to enter into a contract with a multinational tech firm? ‘The current age is not old enough for consent to allow them to have control of your data or your profile, or for that material to be available to others. How could it be?’
Mr McDowell said the ‘threat from paedophiles is one thing, but you are making your interests known to companies who will effectively create a file to target you for advertising, whether it be based on your favourite rock group or your favourite sport’. He added: ‘We will be holding a discussion on raising the age in the Seanad, and we will go from there.’