TD praises operators’ efforts to protect minors’ mobiles

25 Feb 2004

Noel O’Flynn TD, chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Communications, has praised the Irish mobile operators for reacting quickly to address the problem of young users accessing unsuitable content on mobile phones. The Irish Cellular Industry Association for its part has already prepared a draft version of a code of practice and is in the initial stages of developing an education campaign aimed at highlighting the issue.

As reported previously in, the industry organisation has already spent the early part of 2004 looking at this issue to formulate a code of practice for mobile operators and to evaluate technology that could help to block offensive or pornographic images being sent over mobile phones.

Yesterday the group held an informal meeting with Noel O’Flynn TD, who had previously voiced concerns about the issue. He came away satisfied that the mobile phone industry shares his concerns. “Camera phones are an example of good technology but they can be misused and abused,” he said, noting that the operators had reacted very quickly to address the situation. “The fact that they’re working on a code of practice and evaluating new technology indicates to me that they’re very serious about this.”

The ICIA yesterday outlined the work already being undertaken to tackle the problem. Joan Keating of Vodafone, who chairs the ICIA, said the meeting was beneficial. “It gave us the opportunity to update Noel O’Flynn directly about the progress we have been making. It was an informal meeting but it was quite useful,” she said. “We talked him through the access controls we are looking at; we intend to stay in touch.”

According to Keating, O’Flynn was very receptive to the presentations made by the industry group. “He saw we were trying to make an effort and working hard to make progress. We want to ensure there are the right checks and balances for young users especially; we were able to cut through to what is and isn’t possible.”

Some steps have already been taken to address concerns. Irish operators now know the names and addresses of 80pc of prepaid users – a figure understood to be 40pc higher than that in the UK. The existence of such a database would allow mobile users found to have circulated unsavoury images to be tracked down and have their mobile phones disconnected from the network.

Although a PIN code system has been introduced in the UK to prevent underage users from accessing online adult services, this technology would effectively be redundant in Ireland because no such services exist here. Neither would it prevent inappropriate content being circulated directly from one phone to another, as happened in a recent case involving Cork schoolchildren sending a pornographic image over their mobiles.

As a result, finding technology capable of policing the use or misuse of mobile phones will not be easy. The ICIA is in the process of looking at various submissions but has not yet decided on what filtering or blocking technology will work best in the Irish market.

O’Flynn said he was aware that some technologies proposed to address the problem have drawbacks or limitations. He acknowledged the pitfalls in a system such as one developed in the UK which only allows images of a person’s head to be sent, by deleting the picture from the neck down. “We’re all on a learning curve on this,” he said.

The ICIA now meets on a weekly basis. It will convene again tonight as part of its programme to develop a code of practice and formulate an education campaign, which will be launched in May.

By Gordon Smith