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Online Safety – How effective is the ‘right to be forgotten’ law likely to be?

With children starting to use the internet and social media earlier and parents sometimes not being quite as aware of the digital world as perhaps they would like, it is important to keep abreast of developments.  Online safety training is a vital part of keeping children and young people safe, but we also recommend that you take a few minutes a week to keep up with current developments and practice. Our blogs are a useful source of information as we always do our best to let you know about important news. At the moment, one hot topic is the effect of Brexit on safeguarding practice, particularly online safety.

Next year, there are plans to introduce an EU-wide law that is designed to protect our privacy online with a series of quite strict measures. On the introduction of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), any business, including the major social media platforms, will need to adhere to stringent rules that will govern how they collect and use our data. From a safeguarding point of view, probably the most important of these is that the user will be in total control over how their information is used. With the new rules, companies who store a child or young person’s data must make it clear how that will be used and give the consenting person control through a clear ‘opting in’ process.

However, all these new protections are proposed as EU law, and of course, Brexit means potential changes in the relationship between the legal systems of the various UK nations and the EU. Matt Hancock, the UK Digital Minister, has recently moved to clarify the situation and issued some details of a new Data Protection Bill that will effectively bring the GDPR into use in the UK. While some of the details are still being worked out, it looks like the spirit of GDPR on control of information, and the imposition of heavy fines on those who break the rules, will be upheld.

From the point of view of safeguarding, this is all good news. One area that is very welcome in the new legislation is that the current ‘right to be forgotten’ on search engines will likely be extended to other areas such as social media. This means that young people, who, as we know, tend to be particularly prone to sending ill-considered posts, will be able to ask for them to be removed across all platforms. This is all to the good, and we welcome anything that increases online safety. Strengthening of the right to be forgotten, an awareness of a young person’s rights, and regular e-safety training, will significantly help in your school’s safeguarding practice.

Sadly, as always seems to be the case with the internet, the law cannot fully cover the online dangers. There are several questions still to be answered about enforcement of these laws. For example, GDPR is EU-wide and therefore can be enforced throughout the union – but if the Data Protection Bill covers the UK only, then it could lack the bite to enforce the fines on overseas businesses.

Regardless of any other considerations, we still need to remember that the right to be forgotten can never be fully enforced because nobody fully knows where information is stored. When a swipe of the hand can screen dump an ill-chosen picture or comment, we need to instil in our children and young people the need to be vigilant about what they post.

It is still the case that following the principle “nothing is ever really deleted from the internet and social media” is the best advice. Regardless of legal changes, online safety and safeguarding are still about empowerment by learning. Not posting the wrong thing in the first place is, and always will be, the best form of protection.

The new laws are expected to come into effect in 2018.