Safety group wants internet think-tank

The Internet Safety Group, which earlier this month helped run a survey of adolescent girls' use of the internet, plans to establish a 'think-tank' on a wide range of internet issues.

The Internet Safety Group, which earlier this month helped run a survey of adolescent girls’ use of the internet, plans to establish a “think-tank” on a wide range of internet issues.

Technical, legislative, educational and social questions should be covered, and ISG hopes to bring in experts on all these aspects, says Liz Butterfield, co-ordinator of the Auckland Women’s Refuge and spokesperson for the group.

“We’re also hoping to involve ISPs, the producers of other technologies like filtering software and some of the dot.coms – the people who run websites.” The group is open to suggestions as to what other interests should be represented.

The think-tank is in its early stages but is likely to be launched with a two-day conference. “I’m hoping it will be some time [this] winter,” says Butterfield.

Already, the ISG includes representatives from schools, community groups and government – Child Youth and Family department and the department for Courts, as well as law-enforcement authorities – the police and the Department of Internal Affairs censorship compliance team.

It is important to involve technical people in the think-tank, Butterfield says, “because they can tell us what new technologies are coming down the pipe and what their consequences might be”. For example, she says, emerging internet use via cellphone is worrying, because such calls are less able to be monitored by parents, guardians and teachers.

Prominent figures among retail computer sellers could also be productive partners in the think-tank, she says. “It would be good if we could ensure that every computer sold [to home users] goes out with a set of safety guidelines.”

Leading aims of the group are to ensure internet users, particularly young users, are not put in the way of offensive or doubtful material, and that they do not indulge in “unsafe” behaviour, such as giving out their name and address to net acquaintances, or arranging unaccompanied face-to-face meetings with them.

The survey - a self-selection of 347 girls through the nzgirl.co.nz site - found a disturbingly large proportion had behaved unsafely (33.5% meeting internet acquaintances personally, and 35.5% giving out personal information).

Some media reports may have used these results to portray the internet as a dangerous place better avoided, but this is certainly not the group’s intention, says Butterfield. “We have been specific that we want to encourage use of the internet, not put people off it,” she says. “But oddly, that’s the one comment that never gets reported in the media.”

The group plans a study of internet use over the range of school student ages, using the primary, intermediate and secondary schools in Mount Roskill, Auckland.

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