Council of Europe: EU states must ‘intensify their efforts to protect children’s privacy in the COVID-era digital world’

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EU countries have been told they must improve safeguarding measures in processing personal data of children, notably that which is health-related and also collected in education settings.

The aim of this, say Council of Europe (CoE) ministers in a formal declaration, is to minimise potential adverse effects, including the public identification of a child as a COVID-19 carrier.

With the focus on protecting children’s privacy in digital environment, the ministers also made the point that while information and communication technologies (ICTs) are generally a vital tool in children’s lives, there are also risks from its usage. This is particularly true, they say, in the current context of COVID-19 pandemic which puts children at a greater risk with due to the increased use of ICTs and also seriously impacted the full enjoyment of their human rights.

In particular, the ‘traceability’ of children’s activities in the digital environment could potentially expose them to criminal activities, such as sexual exploitation, including content generated by children, and other illegal and harmful activities like discrimination, bullying, stalking and harassment.

‘Seriously impacted the full enjoyment of their human rights’

Personal data can be used to the benefit, but also to the detriment of the child, and at present the understanding of the impact of processing biometric data, digital tracking and surveillance, automated decision-making and profiling is still limited. The increasing reliance on systems based on artificial intelligence (AI) can bring both challenges and opportunities for children’s full enjoyment of human rights, the Committee of Ministers noted, underlining the fundamental importance of achieving a high level of digital literacy among children, as well as among parents, in addressing these challenges.

The ministers, through the declaration, have urged EU member states to ratify and implement Convention 108+ (the modernised Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Processing of Personal Data), to step up efforts to promote the rights of the child in the digital environment as one of the key priorities of the Council Europe’s Strategy for the Rights of the Child, including children’s data protection in an education setting, as well as to develop and promote critical digital literacy, youth empowerment initiatives and parenting skills.

In addition, countries should also work together to address the risks posed by the development of AI systems and take any further measures to ensure that the sharing of, access to and use of children’s data are undertaken in accordance with the child’s best interests.

Source: Council of Europe

Author: Simon Weedy

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