Fianna Fáil TD Noel O’Flynn, chairman of the Dáil Committee on Communications, has called on Ireland’s mobile operators to bar children from using adult services on their phones but industry figures have said that the problem is already being addressed.
O’Flynn said that mobile providers in the UK had introduced new technology such as issuing PIN numbers that would prevent children from accessing unsuitable content.
“As chairman I will be writing to all three Irish mobile companies (Vodafone, O2 and Meteor) asking them to urgently explore these vital controls currently being examined in the UK. I will also be asking them to appear before my Committee in order to fully debate this issue and ensure action is taken to protect our children,” he said in a statement.
“New regulations published recently by the six largest mobile phone operators in the UK — Orange, O2, T-Mobile, Virgin, Vodafone and 3G — will prevent children from entering unmoderated chatrooms, porn sites and gambling services with the use of a PIN number. Parents there will be able to apply filters to the mobile operator’s service so that the Internet content is restricted.”
He also called for a review on the sale of camera phones to children under 18 years of age.
However, Joan Keating, head of corporate communications with Vodafone Ireland, questioned the usefulness of a restricting access to services that are not in existence yet. She said that there are no adult services on mobile phones available in Ireland.
Keating is incoming chairperson of the Irish Cellular Industry Association, a representative body for the mobile industry that has discussed the issue. She said that all three Irish mobile operators are already drafting a code of practice and have begun discussions with several technology providers about possible tools for filtering unsuitable content. The Internet Advisory Board has said it is satisfied with the progress being made so far on the subject, she added.
John Fallon of Alatto, a developer of mobile applications, pointed out that the PIN proposal would only block access to certain adult services but would not address the more pressing issue of transmitting pornographic or paedophile images from one camera phone to another. “It protects against paid-for online content but there’s more content that’s around, circulated directly,” he told siliconrepublic.com. “Parents’ concern is about person-to-person communication, where children could get an illicit or unsuitable image.”
In recent weeks a pornographic picture of an underage schoolgirl was circulated among camera phone users in schools in the south-west of the country.
However, according to experts it is technically impossible to screen images across the mobile network to tell in advance whether they are suitable or not. The Irish mobile operators are still in discussions about the best technical means to tackle the problem but have not as yet settled on a solution.
By Gordon Smith