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UK plans for online safety laws not enough, says BCS

Government plans for online safety laws need to be complemented with a national cyber safety programme in schools, according to IT and computer science professional and educational body

BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT has called for a cyber safety programme to be introduced in response to the government's online harm plans.

Although welcoming the government’s plans to set up a new independent regulator to make the internet less harmful, the BCS said regulation alone is not the answer.

The BCS said it also welcomes the government’s consultation on the intended regulator, and will be submitting its view on this and other aspects of the white paper during the consultation period.

However, the BCS said that if young people are to be protected, there needs to be a national cyber safety programme in schools to enable youngsters to identify potential dangers online.

Adam Thilthorpe, director of external affairs at BCS, said education is the key to preventing harm online and it should be introduced in tandem with regulation.

“Without also informing children and young people about the dangers and teaching them how to navigate the internet safely, they will always be vulnerable and open to exploitation from unscrupulous elements online.”

The government’s newly announced Online harms white paper outlines a series of proposed tough new measures to clamp down on online companies to deal with serious harms facilitated by the internet.

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The measures are aimed at ensuring companies take more responsibility for the safety of their users and meet stringent requirements to ensure child abuse and terrorist content is not disseminated online.

However, the BCS said clamping down on social media platforms is only one side of the story. “Not enough responsibility is being taken by parents, schools or the government about the wider role of teaching children about how to stay safe,” said Thilthorpe.   

A BCS survey of more than 6,500 young people aged between seven and 17 found that children aged between eight and 13 would welcome more education in schools about online safety and they wanted that information to come from trusted sources.

According to the BCS, head teachers are also calling for more action. Alan Johnson, head of Newent Community School in Gloucestershire, believes that guarding young people from the potential dangers of the internet should not be left to regulation alone.

“The safety of our children is far too important to be left to chance. This was drummed into us when I was a child, learning to cross the road with ‘Tufty’ and the ‘Green Cross Code Man’. Yet today our young people are expected to navigate the dangers of an increasingly connected world without a coordinated strategy to keep them safe online.”

Teachers have an important role to play

Teachers, said Johnson, have an important role to play, adding that Newent Community School and Sixth Form Centre already weaves cyber safety throughout its personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) courses, in addition to its computing curriculum.

“Learning about, and understanding internet safety is not something that happens by osmosis. Having witnessed the emotional, mental and physical impact on young people, I am simply not willing to leave internet safety to chance. The stakes are too high.”

In a recent outreach session for young people in a local primary school, Johnson said that after explaining the potential risks to year five to six students, they were angry there was not more awareness nationally on the potential dangers of the internet.

According to Thilthorpe, the tech sector and the government need to work together to develop a government-backed national awareness campaign aimed at educating our young people.

“These young people are tomorrow’s adults, and it is society’s responsibility to help them manage risks, reduce harms, but more importantly understand how the internet works so can they take full and empowered advantage of it in the future.” 

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