“Independently safeguarding” children’s websites

The new Independent Safeguarding Authority is attracting a lot of media coverage today, with news stories focusing in particular on compulsory registration for those regularly giving children lifts to social/sports clubs.

However, those operating websites (and other “interactive communication services”) for children should be aware that their activities may also fall within the ISA’s remit when the new regime becomes fully operational in just over a year’s time. The Safeguarding Vulnerable Children Act 2006 (PDF) defines the “regulated activities relating to children” for which ISA-registration is required. These include:

moderating a public electronic interactive communication service which is likely to be used wholly or mainly by children

(see paragraph 2(1) of Part 1 of Schedule 4, on p.67 of the linked PDF).

So if you are operating a website for children, anyone involved in “moderating” that site will need to be registered with the ISA. “Moderating” involves any function relating to:

  • monitoring content;
  • removing or blocking content; or
  • controlling access to, or use of, the service,

for the purposes of protecting children, where individual concerned either has access to the content involved or contact with users of the service (see paras 2(4) and 2(5), Sch.4 Part 1).

Equivalent provisions apply to those operating websites and other interactive services for vulnerable adults.

Employers who engage people who are not ISA-registered, or who are recorded by the ISA as being barred from working with children or vulnerable adults, could face a £5,000 fine or even imprisonment. The ISA website summarises employers’ obligations in more detail.

Paid employees will need to pay a £64 fee to register with the ISA (registration is free for volunteers). For existing employees, in all likelihood it will be the employers who end up paying these fees. Any barred individual is committing a criminal offence by being engaged in any regulated activity, even as a volunteer.

This new regime is still some way off from coming fully into force. The ISA will start the registration process in July 2010, and the legal requirement on employers to check employees’ status will only come into force in November 2010. However, businesses involved in regulated activities – including children’s websites and interactive services – should be making plans to ensure their staff are registered in a timely fashion next summer.