I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire. Tuigim go mbeidh sé ag tacú leis an mBille, nó ar a laghad ag ligean dó dul tríd. My understanding is that the Government is not opposing this Bill. I welcome that and thank the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to introduce the Digital Safety Commissioner Bill 2017, which is a significant move towards promoting a positive and safe online culture for all. I acknowledge the work of the Law Reform Commission report on digital safety and harmful communications, particularly its author, Fiona O'Regan. That report prompted the discussion of a digital safety commissioner, which is supported by the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, ISPCC, the Ombudsman for Children and CyberSafeIreland, and the Minister has spoken positively about it. I propose this Bill because I want to keep this on the agenda. The Minister has broadly supported the concept but the Taoiseach has not always been so enthusiastic in his support for it. The Dáil needs to make clear that this is an important role and office.
The office should be a permanent statutory body with considerable powers rather than an office internal to the Department. In the Bill I have outlined several powers. When it goes to Committee Stage, Deputies may have other suggestions and observations on any additional powers and functions that such an office should have. I hope the Minister will hold to the line that the office would be a statutory body, responsible for the promotion of digital safety for all, supporting and implementing measures to improve digital safety and advising the Government of the day on policies relating to digital safety. It is a new departure which would bring us up to date given the times in which we live and the risks and potential harm experienced by users of the Internet, especially children, and it would attempt to mitigate some of those risks.
However, it is not intended as an office solely responsible for child protection functions. It would also deal with online abuse, harassment, hate speech, and so on. It would also be responsible for the promotion of a positive online experience, which should be emphasised. The Internet is a significant public space. It is part of the life of most citizens and increasingly of the lives of younger citizens. It creates great value which must be reflected also in discussions on the risks and harms associated with it. It has already changed our relationships with one another to a large extent and will continue to change public life in ways that we are yet to imagine. We should consider legislation that will ensure the Internet plays a healthy and restrained role in public life. That applies across a wide range of areas.
Technology and online platforms evolve very rapidly and dramatically. The difference between the range of products and platforms available in 2007 and today is night and day. The rate of change over the next ten years could be just as rapid. It is vitally important that the remit of the office be drawn in such a way as to ensure that it stays abreast of all changes and is in a position to evolve as the challenges evolve. We need a measured, proportionate and sensible response to the risks and hazards. This Bill and a digital safety office commissioner is a part of that. We face significant challenges and many, particularly parents, are concerned about what is happening. It is hard to blame them when we read the stories of predatory behaviour, harmful material and online bullying. While bullying in any circumstances is bad, the idea that it can follow the child home bothers many parents and must be a very difficult experience for the children affected. While it is true to say we face significant challenges, there is no sense or value in a moral panic. It would not assist us in resolving the difficulties. We need legislation which ensures that safeguards exist and that criminalises behaviour that deserves to be criminalised while also promoting a positive experience and a healthy online public space. We also need increased resources for the relevant offices that ensure corporate responsibility. The Taoiseach has correctly said that there is a role for the major providers and platforms. We also need legislation to ensure that where they are not stepping up to the mark and putting in the safeguards, they should be made to.
The remit of the commissioner has been defined in a broad manner in this Bill so that the scope of his or her work and the subject matter can evolve over time. The primary proposed functions of the commissioner would be, among others, to promote digital safety for all, to support and encourage the implementation of measures to improve digital safety, including oversight and regulation and a timely and efficient procedure for removal of harmful digital communications. He or she would ensure that take-down procedures and removal of material are made available to all affected individuals by digital service providers free of charge. He or she would ensure that there is a code of practice for safe and responsible Internet usage, develop national digital safety standards and ensure compliance with them, and he or she would have powers to revoke a certificate of compliance with same. He or she would collect, analyse, interpret and disseminate information relating to digital safety. The rate of change will continue and needs to be analysed and evaluated constantly and responses to it developed. The commissioner will also be responsible for advising the Government of the day on policies that may or should be implemented to ensure all users of digital platforms are protected in a way that keeps up to speed with the ever-changing nature of digital technology.
The commissioner would also have the responsibility of working with the Ombudsman for Children in publishing guidance material, including guidance material for schools, relevant to digital safety for children and to harmful digital communications, which would include support and guidance material for parents. Crucially, the commissioner would be responsible for ensuring digital service providers, such as websites and social media platforms, abide by minimum codes of practice and national digital safety standards. Central to this would be the take-down mechanisms I mentioned. It is essential that this provides timely, quick and effective remedies so that people can be confident that the website or platform they or members of their family are engaging with will deal swiftly with abusive material, harmful communications or material posted without consent.
There should be recourse directly to the office, but we should seek to have quick, effective and timely remedies put in place by the platforms themselves, having been forced to by the commissioner, in order to reach the standards because if there is a significant delay in dealing with harmful material then damage is done, even if it is eventually removed. Some providers have good mechanisms, but some do not have any. Certificates of compliance will ensure that users and parents can distinguish and choose between safe websites and unsafe websites and platforms.
One of the significant differences between this Bill and the Bill proposed by the Law Reform Commission is the establishment of an advisory committee. This would be focused on the wider community with 50% of the committee drawn from civil society, youth and children's groups. It would include young people. This would ensure that new developments, technologies, trends and platforms would come to the attention of the commissioner quickly and that the office would have the ability and scope to evolve over time, as technology does.
This Bill would be a significant step in improving the online experience of all and in giving people more confidence in their safety from abuse and harmful material.