The National Assembly House hosted the founding meeting of the Parliamentary Digital Security Network and its very first topic was the safety of children on the Internet. The very time the meeting began - 11.55 am, symbolically indicated that it was high time for the society to take this topic seriously.
National Assembly Speaker Ivica Dacic addressed the attending saying that all countries deal with digital literacy and digital security today, both as their lever of development, as well as a risk to basic human rights, combating crime and all other destructive phenomena that threaten the stability of modern society. On the occasion, Dacic pointed out that Serbia is a highly digitalised society, with nearly four million of our citizens using the Internet every day and 80% of households having an Internet connection.
"Of course, we all use the Internet to read the news, as well as to have fun. But all these useful sides of digitalisation hide the big, dark side of virtual space that we are here to address today", said Dacic, adding that the Internet has become a place where serious crimes are committed, where the safety of anyone who does not have the knowledge or awareness that they might become an unwitting victim, is endangered.
He stressed that we live in an age when crime has acquired a new face, it is not on the streets and cannot be suppressed by traditional methods. "It is potentially in the home of each and every one of us, we are exposed to it and we have to find an effective way to protect ourselves”, said Dacic.
The Chairperson of the Committee on Spatial Planning, Transport, Infrastructure and Telecommunications Katarina Rakic thanked the National Assembly Speaker for the welcoming address, adding that she would keep the MPs duly informed about the Network's activities and that the Network would be honoured for the Speaker to take part in its work.
In the introductory part of the meeting, Minister of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications Tatjana Matic also addressed the gathering and explained that defining digitalisation as Serbia’s priority plan five years ago has enabled our country, above all, to realise its development potentials, as well as be ready for the unexpected pandemic crisis. This much was evident throughout the many sectors where digitalisation was successfully conducted which mitigated the impact of the pandemic crisis. As the Minister explained, this was seen primarily in the education and e-commerce sector. Thanks to the adoption of relevant legislation, stimulation of the development of telecommunications, digital security and advancement of digital skills among the public, business, education, communication and overall social functioning in the pandemic was made possible. "Along with the development of new technologies and services that are increasingly provided electronically, there is a need for a higher level of information security, primarily introduced into our legislation through the 2016 Law on Information Security, and I must say that even then Serbia was already one of the few countries, even in the European Union, that had passed such a law", said the Minister. She added that Serbia has already recognised the existing information risks to the citizens and the economy, which are the first to be hit by high-tech crime. She went on to say that the Law on Information Security focused special attention on the protection of children, which is additionally regulated by the Directive on Child Safety and Protection in the Use of Information and Communication Technologies. The Minister pointed out that so far, the National Contact Centre for Child Safety on the Internet has conducted 397 lectures for 14,717, adding that the Centre coordinates with the relevant ministries and health institutions.
Katarina Rakic stressed that as the Chairperson of the Committee on Spatial Planning, Transport, Infrastructure and Telecommunications she enjoys excellent cooperation with the Ministry and believes that it will be the same within the Parliamentary Digital Security Network in its future activities.
Dejana Kostadinova, Director of UNICEF Serbia, also addressed the gathering, emphasising that the digital world has become part of our everyday activities and our rights, just like in the real world, can be endangered there. This especially refers to children and their safety. The digital world enables children and young people to learn, communicate, better understand the world, express their views and raise their voice, Kostadinova said. On the other hand, this opens up a new venue for child abuse and exploitation, which is why it is important to develop mechanisms to keep them safe and protect their privacy in the digital world, Kostadinova pointed out. That was why it was vital to form this Parliamentary Network. Dejana Kostadinova also stated that the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child had adopted the General Comment on Children's Rights in Relation to the Digital Environment last month, which will be delivered to all governments of the world.
Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Francine Pickup then took the floor to point out that this topic is gaining more and more momentum around the world, given that information technologies have become vital for everyday life, especially during the pandemic with the increasing number of people working and students listened to classes from home, while the Government, made it easier for the citizens to communicate with state authorities and complete administrative work via the eGovernment portal. As she said, UNPD sees information technologies as a kind of accelerated mechanism for the achievement of sustainable development goals and it has helped the National Assembly and the Government of the Republic of Serbia in a number of projects.
Katarina Rakic thanked Dejana Kostadinova and Francine Pickup, highlighting the plans to dedicate this year to the safety of children on the Internet, and invited UNICEF and UNDP to join the future activities of the Parliamentary Digital Security Network.
The Chairperson of the Committee on Spatial Planning, Transport, Infrastructure and Telecommunications Katarina Rakic stated that the Parliamentary Network is primarily focused on the safety of children on the Internet, but added that the parents must take the first line of defence and educating them how to monitor every digital step their children make is key. "We have to face the fact that today's children are confronted with completely different challenges than the ones we were as children", Rakic emphasised, adding that it is important to act preventively rather than deal with the consequences.
Katarina Jonev, expert on children’s protection on the Internet, spoke about the types of child harassment on-line. She reminded the attending that last week we witnessed a potential suicide of a child due to a so-called challenge on one of the social platforms, where teenagers are the most active, and the examples of abuse of photos on the Internet are commonplace. AFA representative Sanja Kekic said that, according to the research of the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity, the number of cyberattacks in 2020 increased by 600% compared to the year before. She added that both in the world and in Serbia, the numbers of people trained to work in the field of cybersecurity are insufficient, and the representation of women in this area is only 11%.
In the working part of the meeting, the Decision on the establishment of the Parliamentary Digital Security Network, founded by 17 MPs, was adopted, and the Statute of the working body was also formulated, stating that the Parliamentary Digital Security Network is active on and for the safe use of the Internet. The Network will work to improve digital security by participating in relevant institutional reforms and cooperating with competent state bodies, economic entities, local self-government units, civil society organisations and private citizens. The Network also elected a Chairperson and Deputy viz. Katarina Rakic and Natasa Mihailovic-Vacic.