Online safety: Parents back new protection regime

PARENTS have backed the prospect of a new, strengthened protection regime to tackle online threats to youngsters.

Experts will now look at what more can done to protect children at a summit later this year. Picture: PA

It follows the tragic case of a teenager who killed himself after falling victim to internet blackmailers.

Experts will now look at what more can done to protect children at a summit being hosted by the Scottish Government later this year, children’s minister Aileen Campbell has ­announced.

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The issue has become a “real concern” for parents after 17-year-old Daniel Perry, from Dunfermline, killed himself earlier this year after falling victim to a scam where internet users are lured into webcam chats and then blackmailed with the ­footage.

The teenager is said to have believed he was talking to an American girl on Skype but was told by blackmailers that the conversations had been recorded and would be shared with friends and family unless he paid them a sum of money.

Iain Ellis, chair of the National Parent Forum of Scotland, said parents would welcome moves to make it harder for cyber bullies and blackmailers to operate in Scotland.

He said yesterday: “We know this is something that really concerns parents. Whilst schools sometimes do run internet safety information evenings for parents, we would really benefit from receiving clear, consistent and regularly updated information as the possibilities and risks of the internet are fast-changing.

“Using the internet in positive ways is a crucial part of everyday life. It is important that our children develop healthy, constructive internet habits and that they learn to keep themselves safe. Parents need to know how to help them with this.”

Ministers hope the summit will help find innovative ways to protect youngsters, as well as ensure worried parents are better informed about how to deal with the dangers of the internet.

Ms Campbell said internet safety had become a priority issue following cases of children and young people being threatened and blackmailed online, sometimes with tragic ­consequences.

The minister said: “Over recent weeks and months we’ve seen too many reports of young people’s lives being damaged or ending tragically after being targeted on chat and social networking sites.

“That is why I am arranging a summit to invite experts, including those who work directly with young people, to see what more we can do in Scotland to protect our children as well as inform worried parents.”

Daniel’s family had pleaded for a crackdown on cyber crime in the aftermath of his death.

“We need to be taking this very seriously,” said his uncle Ron Reilly. “There has to be some way that those people can be reported easily to the police and dealt with accordingly. The threats are at the end of a keyboard, making people’s life a misery.”

Online safety in Scotland is overseen by a government body. It includes representatives from Police Scotland, the Young Scot group and Respectme campaign, Local Authority e-safety partnerships, the Internet Watch Foundation, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre (Ceop) and government figures.

Ms Campbell, together with learning minister Alasdair Allan, will invite leading figures from organisations with a clear role in child internet safety from Scotland and further afield to take part in the summit.

Ms Campbell added: “While much of internet safety is not devolved to the Scottish Government, we are committed to making sure child internet safety is properly recognised in Scottish education, policing and child protection policies, and that the best support is available to anyone targeted.

“The national anti-bullying service Respectme offers excellent support and advice to both parents and young people. We can build on this by looking at what more can be done and how we can share the wide-reaching expertise at our disposal.”

Child welfare charities have warned they are getting dozens of calls a week from “suicidal” children as young as 11 being targeted in cyber bullying and online scams.

Investigators say a number of the scams are run from Morocco or the Philippines.

It is thought they use stolen footage of pretty American girls and sophisticated computer software to interact with their targets.