Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Questions (419)

Bernard Durkan


419. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent if any to which communications technology can be utilised to prevent unwarranted, unwelcomed and uninvited electronic communication resulting in stalking or bullying; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10340/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

As the Deputy will be aware, Social Media are online platforms that allow people create, share and exchange information, and to comment amongst themselves in virtual communities and networks. To date, these media have not been subject to a formal regulatory regime akin to that used to ‘regulate’ traditional radio and television broadcast media, either in Ireland or in other jurisdictions. There is a range of reasons for this, not least the rapidly evolving nature of the technologies involved, the sensitivities around regulating media and the multi-jurisdictional nature of the Internet.

It is important to acknowledge the economic and social benefits that the widespread use of social media have brought to people, communities and to business. However, some of the issues that have arisen as a consequence of this bear consideration. These challenges include dealing with harassment and bullying online, as well as issues around defamation, data protection and even copyright.

There has been a very considerable amount of discussion on these matters in the recent past at EU and Council of Europe level, in which my Department has been involved. Indeed this matter is also the subject of a fundamental debate at EU and national level at present, a fact reflected by the recent decision of the Joint Oireachtas Committee to examine the issue.

As Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, I have policy responsibility for providing a supportive legislative and regulatory environment to facilitate the development of high quality communications infrastructure and services. However, I should highlight that I do not have sole responsibility for addressing as to how that infrastructure is used. Responsibility, in the context of abuse over the Internet in particular, also sits with the Minister for Justice and Equality, and the executive agency of his Department, the Office for Internet Safety.

It is clear that there are no simple answers to the challenges posed by the development and abuse of social media, not least because of the international basis of the services and because any possible policy responses fall across a range of Government Departments. In recognition of this complexity my Department maintains open and regular contact with all Departments and State Agencies with responsibilities in this area.

My Department also monitors international developments with a view to ensuring that domestic policy within its remit reflects best practice and that the regulatory framework is amended as necessary. In that regard, I look forward to the deliberations of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications, and I also look forward to meeting the Committee on this subject.