Spain proposes law to improve online safety for children, including virtual restraining orders

Spain proposes law to improve online safety for children, including virtual restraining orders

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Spain’s government has proposed a law to protect children from online threats that includes virtual restraining orders for felons, a higher age for opening social media accounts and health screenings for teenagers to detect related emotional disorders.

“The health, well-being and security of our children, as well as the tranquility of our families, are at stake,” Justice Minister Félix Bolaños said Tuesday as he presented the proposal at a post-Cabinet press conference. Spain’s left-wing minority government will need the support of other parties to make it law.

Public concern has grown after a string of cases of sexual violence and abuse linked to the internet. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has said Spain is facing an “authentic epidemic” of pornography targeted at minors. About 25% of children 12 and under and 50% of those 15 and under have been exposed to online pornography.

Spain’s government has banned the use of cellphones in elementary schools and required high schools to justify their use for educational purposes. The government says the average age for children to receive their first cellphone is 11.

The bill would modify the criminal code to create specific crimes for sharing pornographic material with minors and the creation of “deepfake” images using artificial intelligence, especially if they target victims with sexually abusive material. It also targets so-called “grooming” by sexual predators to try to win the trust of minors.

Convicted criminals who use the internet to perpetrate felonies would face virtual restraining orders prohibiting them from contacting victims online and a ban from certain online activities.

The minimum age for opening a social media account in Spain will increase from 14 to 16. Technological companies will be required to install age verification and parental controls on social media and video-sharing applications.

Teachers would be trained on how to instruct students on internet safety and launch public awareness campaigns on the dangers of digital addiction, abuse and privacy concerns.

“This is about education,” said Catalina Perazzo of Save The Children, a non-profit organization that Spain’s government consulted to write the bill.

“In the same way that sexual education with a focus on emotional health is critical to preventing sexual abuses … the responsible and ethical use of digital applications must be part (of the curriculum),” Perazzo told Spanish state broadcaster RTVE.