The European Commission is considering making it illegal for social media sites to let 16-year-olds use their services without parental permission.
The requirement has been put forward on the eve of one of the final discussions on the Draft Data Protection Regulation that is due to be voted on this Thursday.
At its core, the amendment states that any site that processes personal data must ensure that parents have given permission for children under 16 to use the website.
"The processing of personal data of a child below the age of 16 years shall only be lawful if, and to the extent that, such consent is given or authorised by the holder of parental responsibility over the child,” the amendment reads.
The amendment will be debated by the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs on Thursday. If passed it will then be voted on by MEPs before the end of the year. The law would come into force by 2017, if not sooner, and would apply equally to all European nations.
The decision to raise the legal age at which children can use social sites to 16 will no doubt frustrate firms like Facebook and Twitter by cutting off a source of new users for three years and creating legal headaches about how to police such a requirement.
The ICT Coalition for Children, a group that counts Facebook, Google and Twitter among its members, criticised the amendments for being made so late in the process and without any discussions.
"Negotiators have rushed this amendment without soliciting any meaningful input from stakeholders, including child safety organisations," the group said in a published repsonse.
"Negotiators should also explain the rationale for raising the age to 16; to date no explanation has been given."
The move has also raised concerns from children’s groups. An open letter signed by several prominent charities and individuals, such as Anti-Bullying Pro and the Family Online Safety Institute, claimed that restricting access to social sites is likely to do more harm than good.
“Children aged 13 and above shouldn’t be restricted from accessing critical online support services. Sadly, we know that some parents do not always act in their child’s best interests,” the letter reads.
"The internet can represent a lifeline for children to get the help they need when they are suffering from abuse, living with relatives who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, or seeking confidential LGBT support services, to name a few."
The letter also noted that the change would undoubtedly prompt children to lie about their age, meaning that sites would struggle to offer age-appropriate content or information to younger users.
The Draft Data Protection Regulation has been debated for several years now, and many new, harsher provisions are included in the draft law.
These include requiring 'explicit consent' from people to use their data for marketing purposes, and fines totalling two percent of turnover for non-compliance.
Companies are also likely to have to appoint a dedicated data protection officer. This is likely to apply to all companies with over 250 employees, or with turnover of a certain amount.
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