Wednesday, August 2, 2006 - The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog

"The Protection of Minors Needs to be Guaranteed"

When my daughter was born eleven-plus years ago, male friends of mine asked me what I'd do when she was a teenager and boys began expressing interest in her. "No problem," I would reply. "I'm going to lock her in a tower until she's thirty."

I was only half-joking. I know what teenage boys are like, and I'm not looking forward to my near-term future. But I also know absolute protection is impossible. Someone should explain that to European Commissioner Viviane Reding. The woman who has proposed moving broadcast regulations onto the Internet has now launched a "public consultation" on the risk to children from mobile phones. In a statement announcing soliciting comments, Reding says mobile phones "are a part of our daily lives," but then drops a big "but": "However, at the same time, the protection of minors needs to be guaranteed." Here's my comment in one sentence: The only way to guarantee minors are protected from mobile phones is to ban mobile phones.

I would never advocate such a thing, but I wouldn't put it past Reding. She has already begun a crusade to outlaw wireless roaming charges in the EU, despite the fact that the market has more than handled thorny interconnection issues in Europe.

She wants to examine all sorts of perceived dangers to minors with mobile phones, including harmful content, improper solicitation, privacy, and bullying. (Yes, bullying. When one kid sends a mean instant message to another kid, shouldn't that be handled by a team of EU bureaucrats?) She also telegraphs her true intent: "The more efficient self-regulation can become, the less the need for State intervention." Thus the Sword of Damocles is again suspended; I suggest European wireless carriers and phone manufacturers read Adam Thierer's latest recommendations on self-regulation, and quick.

I recognize there are threats to minors from any communications device. (I have developed an elaborate system for Internet access with my two children at home; if anyone is interested in the details just ping me.) The way I have dealt with the mobile phone issue so far is to not get my daughter one, despite her weekly entreaties. Now at some point in the future when she spends more time away from the house I will get her a phone, if only so I can easily reach her. I suspect I will get one that has a spending ceiling or is pre-paid, to avoid her inadvertently running up large bills (believe it or not, this is another area Reding may regulate). I will also research the various wireless carriers to find which has taken the most aggressive steps to satisfy a parent with safety concerns for his daughter. That is an advantage of a competitive market.

But where does the government fit into this equation? If I were a European I would be quite insulted at Reding's suggestion that I am not capable of protecting my child. I don't need the village raising my daughter, I'm quite capable of doing that myself.

It's always easy to stake out a position aiming to "protect" children. When I was growing up in the Valley of the Sun, every summer there were accounts of children drowning because they sought to escape the heat by sneaking into a neighbor's pool and swimming unsupervised. The Phoenix City Council passed an ordinance requiring that all pool owners surround their pools with a fence of a minimum height. Apparently the politicians determined that children are incapable of mounting a short fence. Unfortunately, children continued to drown every year. The only way to "guarantee" that no children drowned would have been to ban pools altogether. I don't recall our city leaders ever proposing that. Europeans should hope Reding isn't serious about her need for a guarantee, or they may see her call for a mobile phone ban. That would likely go over as well as her Television without Frontiers proposal, which fortunately has been moribund for the last seven months.

posted by Patrick Ross @ 12:25 PM | Free Speech