The European Union's top legislator on digital issues has said that education and awareness are the best way to protect children online, dealing a blow to plans for a so-called European Union firewall.
"We cannot, and should not, put our children and youngsters in a digital glass cage, hoping they will never encounter any harmful or illegal content online. This will simply not work," said Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes.
The Commissioner's comments fly in the face of the Council of the European Union's plans to create a "virtual Schengen border" (the so-called Schengen area is the common passport area within the E.U.) with ISPs required to block "illicit content" from outside the area.
Much of the justification for this plan, which was discussed at a Law Enforcement Work Party (LEWP) meeting in February, is centered around blocking child porn sites and protecting children. But in a very common-sense approach Kroes said: "Prevention, protection, prosecution must be strengthened at the European and international level. But we must also remember that building safety also means building trust: trust in our children and youngsters that they have the intelligence, capacity and maturity to use these wonderful instruments in a positive and empowering way."
Later this year the Commission will begin work on an initiative and the Commissioner said that parental control tools and age-rating systems could play a part in this. "This will not be a top-down approach, but a collective effort to make the Internet and the digital world a safer place; to make sure that our children get all the protection, help and support they need," she said.
Kroes' comments show that she understands the Internet and offers great hope for the creation of effective, pragmatic child-friendly policies in the future, said Joe McNamee, advocacy coordinator for European digital rights group EDRi
"We simply cannot develop effective policy as long as we listen to snake-oil salesmen that are selling us an unachievable totally secure, 'civilized' Internet. Even if it were achievable, such 'security' would destroy the value of the Internet for fundamental rights, innovation, society and the economy," McNamee added.