Proposed ban on ‘unrestricted’ smartphones for kids discussed

10 May 2017

Image: Veja/Shutterstock

A new proposal is being drafted, calling for the ban on the sale of smartphones with unrestricted access to children under the age of 14.

Blanket availability of everything and anything online is causing headaches at legislative levels in Ireland.

Fine Gael’s Jim Daly is one politician taking the issue seriously, claiming that “child-friendly” smartphones are needed to ensure the safety of the younger generation.

New bill

Daly is behind the newly proposed Internet Access for Minors Bill 2017, currently being drafted ahead of a possible debate in the Dáil.

According to RTÉ, the bill’s origins lie in “stark testimony” to the Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs in recent months.

This testimony saw children’s rights groups claim that unfettered access to the internet was “among the greatest threats facing young people”.

Daly wants it to become an offence for parents to allow children below the age of 14 to own devices with full internet access. Going further, the bill could make it illegal for shops to sell these products to children of that age.

The West Cork TD told “I do not see this as nanny-state policing, but rather a law in place to assist parents to say no to their eight, nine or 10-year-old who is begging to own one of these devices because all of their friends have one.”

Smartphone impact

It would be an interesting piece of legislation should it come to pass, given the push in the technology industry to preload more, not less, content on phones.

For example, Fox, Telstra and Ericsson are trialling a new mode of movie consumption in the US, with films preloaded onto smartphones.

Meanwhile, using smartphones as payment tools and identification is a growing trend, too. However, many devices do have parental controls.

Several recent studies have claimed that toddlers using tablets could have a negative impact on their development, with the smart devices linked with less sleep and, therefore, recovery.

With general concern mounting around social media pressures and access to content that many consider unfit for minors, Daly feels it is time to act.

“When people ask me, ‘What age should my child be before I buy them a such a device?’, I reply: ‘Whatever age you are happy with them viewing pornography,’” said Daly to The

Prohibition never works

CyberSafeIreland, a group aiming to educate children, parents and teachers on how to navigate the internet responsibly, is against the initiative.

In a statement provided after this article was originally published, Alex Cooney, CEO of the organisation, said that Daly’s prohibition wouldn’t work.

Despite the focus on keeping children safe online being welcomed, he said that the proposed bill doesn’t offer the right approach. “Prohibition does not work. We know this from talking to thousands of children and parents across Ireland over the past year.

“Children as young as nine are regularly accessing the internet, often on their own devices and often without appropriate supervision.

“We agree that adult supervision and guidance is absolutely critical but we strongly believe that the answer lies in education, not prohibition.”

Updated, 12.20pm, 10 May 2017: This article was updated to include comments from CyberSafeIreland.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic