Leaving children unsupervised on the internet is like giving them the keys to a Porsche and letting them loose on the motorway, Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff says.
Privacy Awareness Week began yesterday, with events focused on two privacy hotspots: the security of official information and internet awareness for young people.
Shroff said cases like that of Kaiapoi man Malcolm Spark who last week was jailed for 2 1/2 years for offences that stemmed from his prowling through internet chatrooms and enticing underage girls into discussions about sex highlighted the dangers the internet posed.
“Children need to realise it’s not a safe, secret playground,” Shroff said.
“Young people don’t particularly understand the reasons for the road code, so why should they understand the need for discretion and care and privacy on the internet? They are going to have to learn this.
“We are going through an explosive phase in technology and global information, and we have hardly started yet in knowing how to make sure that gets done according to normal human rules, human rights and social considerations.”
People were not thinking through the ramifications of what they posted online, Shroff said.
British surveys showed more than three-quarters of respondents would change or delete personal information on their webpages if they knew work colleagues or prospective employers were going to view it, but one in six did not know that such material was permanently available online.
Shroff said many people had argued today’s younger generation had a different attitude to privacy to their parents, a generational shift led by the development of social networking sites on the internet.
“I do not agree with that,” she said.
“That’s people making a judgment of what is only two to three years of something happening.
“It’s like when roads and fast cars were first invented, you don’t let your 13-year-old go out on the southern motorway with a Porsche, any more than you should be comfortable with your 13-year-old being on the information superhighway completely without any guidance, rules or controls.”
Parents needed to make sure their relationship with their children was trusting enough so that they could check what they were doing online, Shroff said.
She said internet safety organisation Netsafe had an excellent website with information for both children and adults.
Privacy Awareness Week events include a seminar on business and security which will focus on portable storage devices such as USB sticks, cellphones and PDAs a forum on sensor technology, and an exhibition of cartoons by Chris Slane.