Experts discuss practical mechanisms to protect children’s data

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New Delhi:  A one size fits all approach should not be adopted by the Personal Data Protection Bill 2019 (PDPB), for defining the age threshold for classifying users as children, Rajya Sabha MP Amar Patnaik has said.

Speaking at  a webinar ‘Practical Mechanisms to Protect Children’s Data’ organised by Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS), Mr Patnaik favoured  a graded approach in this regard, instead of universally fixing it at 18 years of age,, especially when other countries have adopted lower age thresholds.

Participating in the webinar, another Member of the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on PDPB Mr Gaurav Gogoi, cited the increasing uptake of data driven digital technologies by children, especially in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, which could increase risks to children.

He called for academic institutions to impart awareness amongst children to empower them to safely navigate the online world. He also called for capacity building of Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs), and urged them to be proactive, instead of reactive.

Mr Deepak Maheshwari, Distinguished Fellow, CUTS, who also moderated the event, said that children are often more adept at digital usage being digital natives than their parents who are digital migrants. However, children remain more vulnerable to online harms.

He also cited myriad age thresholds for children across different Indian laws and regulations for different purposes.

Mr Brijesh Singh, Inspector General, Maharashtra Police, cautioned against risks faced by children related to cyber-bullying, cyber-stalking, sex grooming, radicalisation etc.

He highlighted the implementation challenges associated with efforts for raising awareness amongst all children in a large country like India, and presented a case for LEAs access to encrypted data, to protect them from such harms. Discussion also included children’s exposure to problematic content online, and the need for sanitising the Internet.

Ms Janice Verghese, Manager, Cyber Peace Foundation, opined that children need a support system without the stigma of victim-shaming. She also emphasized on the need to sensitise parents, teachers and LEAs.

Ms Aditi Chaturvedi, Head of Legal, Koan Advisory Group underscored the role of age-appropriate design code and privacy labels while Mr Deepak Tewari, Founder & CEO, Privately SA highlighted the role of emerging technologies like edge AI that can do age estimation with high level of accuracy using a combination of image, voice and the usage of text or emojis.

Participants advocated for data protection laws to be aimed at enabling and empowering children, supported with pragmatic and optimal parental consent that does not restrict children’s digital access and allows them to accept and appreciate the greater responsibility with increasing age.

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