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A safer internet is a better internet for our children

11 February, 2014

Globally this year , the 11th of February is celebrated as the Safer Internet Day (SID). A special day was designed to inform parents and their children and societies in general about the risks and dangers lurking in the use of the vast collection data that we call internet.

On the one hand, internet enables us to communicate with each other; it is an inclusive tool that allows participation in decision-making, it is universal (although not equally accessible by some), it allows the free flow of ideas and it is a catalyst in freedom of expression. On the other, it poses an open threat to human rights, where freedom of expression, privacy, dignity and reputation, personal data and information are susceptible in this virtual reality. These threats are often translated into hate speech, discrimination, cyber-bullying, pornographic material, online solicitation/grooming of minors and corruption of children.

Today, organisations, insitutions and groups worldwide have recognised the permanence of information recorded online and are therefore drawing on the importance of taking preventive actions through educational activities with children and protective actions through tracing, identifying and halting a potential threat and even persecuting individuals who believed to have violated the rights of cyberspace. Notably, the InSafe network is a European collection of actors who are actively participating in initiatives that seek to make internet a safer place to be. Within the EU, States are acknowledging the need to protect citizens in the online world, and some are bound legally to do so, remarkably through the Convention on Cybercrime of the Council of Europe. The Convention, with its attached Protocol on Xenophobia and Racism is the only binding international instrument on this issue, which serves as a guideline for national legislative frameworks against Cybercrime and for facilitating international and inter-State cooperation. In Cyprus, the aforementioned Convention was ratified and incorporated with a law in 2004 in order to be enforceable on a national level. Moreover, Cyprus has a specialised Data Protection Law to protect against expolitation of data in any way.

According to EU Kids Online research results, 9/10 parents in Cyprus do not know the problem that already exists, while only ¼ of parents monitor the use of the Internet by their children. Parents themselves are unable to manage the problem, either because they do not know the risks, because they do not know how to deal with them or because of lack of time. In another survey conducted, it was found that young people in Cyprus can only understand the meaning of "Security", which includes protection against viruses, altering personal files and damage to software, but not the term "Safety", which refers to the protection from fraud, malicious content and especially the security of personal data. “Hope For Children” UNCRC Policy Center participates in various intitiatives whose aim is to educate and inform children on the use of internet but also to sensitise parents on the issue. The ‘Beat Bullying’ Campaign includes activities targeting cyber-bullying and also positive measures using technological tools, such as the HFC Beat Bullying App (available for download on the Google Play Store), and the ONE in FIVE Campaign to stop sexual abuse against children, which focuses on online grooming and solicitation in an effort to lobby for the ratification of the most comprehensive legislation on this topic, the Lanzarote Convention, by Cyprus.
Safer Internet Day is a reminder for all; its moral lies in its resonance that we can build collectively a better internet, one that is safe for our children, one that constitutes a baseline platform for the cultural and social development of societies at large, always with its responsible and prudent use.

The above collage consists of a collection of pictures taken from a social media platform, as part of an experiment of the institution “Hope For Children” UNCRC Policy Center. There is no intent to exploit or misuse any personal data but rather to depict the simplicity that the internet offers in obtaining personal information of children for any purpose. It only took 5 minutes to acquire the above pictures. With a simple research your child’s photos can be found easily and then used at the person’s discretion. It is our responsibility to create a safer internet and ultimately, a better internet for our children.