The UK government should not legislate to directly control children’s exposure to new technology, according to Culture Secretary Matt Hancock. Despite not ruling out laws to protect children online, Mr Hancock hinted the UK would not follow the French government in banning mobile phones from school premises.
In an interview with The Guardian, he said: “In some places laws are required. In other places, it’s just that as a society we have to mature to make the most out of this technology, which is amazing and brilliant, rather than use it badly.”
A law passed in 2010 in France bans phones in classrooms and from September this year, children under 15 will not be able to use phones on school premises. However, Mr Hancock also said the “digital age” is one of the hardest times ever to be a parent.
He revealed his children don’t have access to mobile phones, while adding the government should play a role in helping ensure children are safe online. He said: “They [the children] don’t have access to the devices. They don’t have phones. Why do they need phones? They’re children, they’re 11.
“There’s a responsibility for parents, but there’s a responsibility for government too in ensuring that it’s as easy as possible for parents to do this properly, to keep their children safe.
“So for instance, making sure that internet companies properly police their own terms and conditions is important.” The European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into force in May, made the rules stricter for companies to process data about children.
Under the regulation, the “processing of the personal data of a child” is only allowed by law when the child is at least 16 years old – unless countries specifically legislate to lower it to 13, which the UK did under the Data Protection Act 2018.