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A young child plays with a mobile phone. R. C.
Spanish government plans to raise minimum legal age for creating social media accounts from 14 to 16
Technology

Spanish government plans to raise minimum legal age for creating social media accounts from 14 to 16

Spain is cracking down to protect minors from the risks and dangers of the internet and these are some of the other proposed measures included in the draft bill

Alfonso Torices

Madrid

Wednesday, 5 June 2024, 10:44

Opciones para compartir

The Spanish government wants to raise the minimum legal age for adolescents who want to create an account on social media from 14 to 16 years old.

Minors under the age of 16 will only be able to register on social media with authorisation from a parent or guardian, under the new law which aims to protect youngsters online.

This would be the effect of the provision contained in the draft bill approved on Tuesday 4 June at the government's cabinet meeting, which indicated the minimum age for giving free consent to the processing of personal data by different internet content operators, and without which it is legally impossible to register on one of these platforms, will be raised to 16 years of age.

Of course, this age limitation will only make sense, and will not become a dead letter, if the public authorities are capable of making network operators comply with another of the obligations set out in the future regulation, which is to have a more effective age verification system.

Adult content

The law contains a range of measures and legal changes which seek to establish systems to protect minors from the current easy access to adult content such as pornography, violence or gambling; it implements mechanisms for early detection of the harm caused by the problematic use of mobiles, tablets or computers; it imposes obligations on manufacturers and suppliers and actions against those who ignore them; it seeks to train minors so they are aware of the risks; and it makes changes to the criminal code and procedural laws to prosecute cyber criminals more harshly, especially paedophiles and stalkers.

The law still has several stages to go before it becomes a reality. After its first passage through the cabinet, the draft bill will then have to be reported by the government's consultative bodies before it reaches parliament for processing and approval.

These are some of the changes and provisions included in the draft:

Right to a safe digital environment

Article 2 includes the safe use and enjoyment of the digital environment as a right of all Spanish minors. "Minors have the right to be effectively protected from digital content that may harm their development... they have the right to receive sufficient and necessary information in an age-appropriate form and language about the use of technologies, as well as about their rights and the risks associated with the digital environment... they have the right to access to information, to freedom of expression and to be heard... they have the right to equal and effective access to devices, connection and training for the use of digital tools."

The paediatrician, attentive to addictions

The programme that paediatricians and nurses at health centres use to prevent and detect ailments and harmful behaviours or habits in childhood and adolescence will incorporate questions into their usual tests that allow early identification of signs of problematic use (or even addiction) to screens or the internet, in order to provide specialised help. Its implementation and the design of protocols will be carried out in coordination with the regions, which are the healthcare providers. Specialised centres have detected an increase in technological addictions in adolescents. Boys tend to be addicted to video games and girls to social media.

Digital restraining order

The draft bill introduces in the penalties of the criminal code the penalty of distancing from digital environments. It would be the virtual equivalent of the physical penalties of prohibition of communication by any means with the victims or of removal from their home, work or place of residence. The penalty consists of a ban on access or communication through social media, forums, communication platforms or any other place in virtual space, when the offence is committed within them. It is applicable to a wide range of crimes involving digital use, such as domestic abuse, cyberbullying, gender-based violence or sexual harassment or assault.

Jail for 'ultra-counterfeiters'

A new offence is created to imprison the increasingly common cases of manipulation of images or voices of third parties through artificial intelligence, distributed over the internet without their permission, with high sexual or vexatious content and causing serious damage. "A prison sentence of one to two years will be imposed on those who, without the permission of the person concerned and with the intention of undermining their moral integrity, spread, exhibit or transfer their body image or voice audio generated, modified or recreated using automated systems, software, algorithms, artificial intelligence or any other technology, so that it appears real, simulating situations of sexual or seriously degrading content". If the distribution is massive, the penalty will be two years.

Fake virtual identity, aggravating factor

The use of fictitious identities on the internet, including the attribution of false age or sex, to facilitate the commission of crimes will now be considered an aggravating circumstance in the penal code and the corresponding penalty will be increased to the upper half of the range. It is intended above all for sexual crimes against minors (harassment, grooming, aggression, exhibitionism, corruption), in which paedophiles are increasingly pretending to be boys or girls of their own age in order to trap their victims.

Urgent removal of content

The regulation extends the current system of legal procedures and swift action for the removal of pirated content from web pages or any other digital site, or even its closure, to those that may infringe children's rights. It grants public authorities the same possibilities of action used in the case of infringement of intellectual property rights for situations in which the best interests of the child must be defended.

Free parental controls

All mobile phones, tablets, computers and televisions sold in Spain will be obliged to include an effective and free parental control system so parents or guardians can take measures to protect minors from the risks of using these devices and browsing the internet, chats and social media. Manufacturers and providers will have to offer activation of the system by default in the initial configuration process of the device, as is the case with languages. It will be up to all parents, regardless of their financial means or abilities, to decide whether or not to activate such shielding and what limitations on device and internet use they impose on their children. Its configuration should be user-friendly and accessible to the majority.

Risk warnings and age verification

The draft bill foresees that the parental control device forms a protective triangle with the duty of providers to use an effective age verification system to provide access to adult content (pornography, gambling or violent content, among others) and with their also new obligation to label, with clear information and simple language, all inappropriate content for minors as well as to publicise the risks for these young people of their products and functions. These obligatory alerts will facilitate bans on websites, apps, forums, networks or functionalities that parents can carry out through parental control.

Digital literacy

The regulation orders the implementation of a national strategy for the digital protection of children, with short, medium and long-term measures, most of which will come from the proposal that the group of 50 experts will present this month. One of the basic measures will be a digital literacy programme, which, in coordination with the regions, will be taught from primary, to give children tools for protection and detection of fake news. It will not be a specific subject but rather a cross-cutting teaching that will permeate all education, for which teachers and counsellors will also have to receive specific training.

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