Key points from the presentation in Congress of the State Pact to protect minors in the digital realm

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The State Pact to protect minors in the digital realm – an initiative promoted by the European Association for Digital Transition (EADT) – continues to gain momentum. On February 13, 2024, the EADT organised a presentation of the proposal with a symposium in the Congress of Deputies, which was inaugurated by the president of the Chamber, Francina Armengol.

It was a full morning of work and reflection, structured around several roundtables and speeches. Below please find a summary and videos from the three roundtables, as well as the final speeches by the president of the EADT, Ricardo Rodríguez Contreras, and the minister of Youth and Children, Sira Rego.

Advocates for the pact: It’s time to get serious

The first roundtable, moderated by Paca Sauquillo, a lawyer, featured the six entities that have signed the pact. Representing the associations were Ana Caballero, vice president of the EADT; Nacho Guadix, head of Education and Digital Rights of Children at UNICEF España; Catalina Perazzo, director of social and political advocacy at Save the Children; Alejandro Villena, director of Research and Clinical Care at Dale Una Vuelta; Marta Pellico, vice president of iCMedia; and Benjamin Ballesteros, program director at the Fundación Anar.

First roundtable: Presentation of the State Pact in defense of the rights of minors in the digital sphere

At this first roundtable, advocates of the pact stressed the need for regulations that go far beyond minors having access to pornography and other extreme content. It is an area in which, as Ana Caballero pointed out, there are no more excuses, because we have tools to limit minors’ access to inappropriate content”, in reference to the course of action being finalised by the Spanish Data Protection Agency (AEPD) and the Royal Mint of Spain (FNMT-RCM).

But pornography is not the only problem. Commercialisation of data, cyberbullying, addiction to social networks, etc. This is where “minors pursue unattainable ideals, and then look in the mirror and don’t like what they see. Often the consequences are eating disorders, self-harm, problems with low self-esteem…”, explained Ballesteros. Moreover, with social networks the bullying is no longer only at school but seeps into the home. And it even continues if the victim changes schools, as the program director at the Fundación Anar, specialised in helping children at risk, explained.

“This isn’t about kicking the can down the road”, Caballero insisted: “We all have a responsibility, and we want to hold accountable the [online services and content] industry, an industry led by non-EU companies that see Europeans as a huge database. It’s not about hyper-regulating, but rather about everyone playing with the same rules”. As Pellico, of iCMedia, concluded, “If there’s a will to do it, you can implement solutions, even if the tech companies say they can’t”.

Institutions: Different approaches to the same problem

The roundtable led by the institutions that have formalised their support for the proposed State Pact made it clear that public authorities still have much to do in this area, although the situation has improved markedly in recent years. The panel featured Mar España, director of the Spanish Data Protection Agency; Cani Fernández Vicién, president of the Spanish National Markets and Competition Commission (CNMC); Rosa María Henar Hernando García, prosecutor attached to the Juvenile Unit in the Attorney General’s Office; and Margarita Guerrero, Director-General of Injuve. The moderator was Isabel Peñalosa, director of Institutional Relations at the Asociación Española de Fundaciones.

Second roundtable: The role of institutions

Mar España and Fernández Vicién agreed on the need to make the content industry share responsibility. “If we do not start from the responsibility that content platforms and search engines have, it will be impossible to control the situation”, said the president of the CNMC, while pointing out shortcomings in the General Law on Audiovisual Communication, such as not setting deadlines to establish identification of advertising on networks and labelling of content by age.

As for Hernando, the prosecutor, she emphasised how the consumption by minors of porn, which is, in fact, performing a pseudo-educational job”, can create “distorted behaviours, based on dominance and submission” that, if done in the physical world, can turn them into criminals”. She continued, “We shouldn’t blame the child, who’s an especially vulnerable person, but rather accept our responsibilities and get to work”.

“To educate, at times, means to forbid. And there is content that minors are obviously not ready for”, stated Mar España, director of the Spanish Data Protection Agency, who emphasised the “networked” and “silent” labour that has been done over these months, with the State Pact proposal as one of its high points. Now she expects “a step forward by the telecommunications industry and by the internet industry in this country project, which is also being supported by the president of the Spanish government”.

Finally, Margarita Guerrero, Director-General of Injuve, highlighted the Organic Law on the Protection of Children from Violence, from 2021, as an example of political consensus on the needs of children. This regulation does not affect the phenomena that take place in the digital sphere, an area in which Guerrero asked to “not place all the responsibility on the educational community or on mothers and fathers; we need to include the tech companies, who see childhood as a data niche they can commercialise”.

Parliamentary groups: Looking toward industry responsibility

The last roundtable of the day featured the parliamentary groups, with representation from five of the eight that have made up this legislature. Moderated by the journalist Ángeles Caballero, its representatives – all of them members of the new Commission on Youth and Childhood in the Congress – were Noelia Núñez, from the Popular Party (PP); Inés Plaza, from the Socialist Group (PSOE); Blanca Armario, from Vox; Nahuel González, from Sumar; and Pilar Calvo, from Junts.

Third roundtable: Debate on the proposal with specialized spokespersons from the parliamentary groups

All the speakers agreed on the need to involve the services and content industry in solving the problems of minors on the Internet. The nuances appeared in an emphasis on the need to develop existing legislation – such as the Digital Services Act and the General Law on Audiovisual Communication – and on the role that families must play in the policies to be developed.

Symposium close with the minister of Youth and Children

The president of the EADT, Ricardo Rodríguez Contreras, and the minister of Youth and Children were in charge of closing the symposium.

Symposium close

The president of the EADT, Ricardo Rodríguez Contreras, insisted on the need for all parties to assume their responsibility in the problems that children face on the Internet, emphasising the role of the digital platforms and their top management as well. Rodríguez Contreras also alluded to the need for more transparency in our relationships with the digital environment in regard to the use of data and the application of algorithms.

For her part, the minister of Youth and Children, Sira Rego, thanked the six entities for their work promoting the proposal for the State Pact, and especially the EADT, and promised that it would not fall on deaf ears. “We need to maintain this work structure from civil society and not be afraid to talk about limits”, she affirmed. The European Association for Digital Transition would like to thank all the participants for their collaboration as well as the presence of important representatives from the political world and civil society, with large representation from the more than 160 entities that have signed the proposal for a State Pact. Among them, to cite just a few examples, the Asociación Española de Fundaciones, the Fundación Atresmedia, the Fundación Mujeres, FAD Juventud, UTECA, Clabe Club de Editores, and many professional and scientific associations.

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