Advocates of online child protection and freedom of expression share a deep-seated belief in the importance of protecting basic human rights. Yet these beliefs are often clouded by perceived (and real) opposition in the actual practice of law, policy, and regulation. This has restricted the policy options available for dealing with threats to both child safety and free speech online and has often resulted in these interests being portrayed as diametrically opposed.
Advocates on both sides of this debate met in Oxford in October 2009 to explore their different perspectives on these fundamental rights and to identify possible areas of agreement. By defining a new framework to discuss online child protection that rejects the current moral panics that have dominated the debate and focuses instead on accurately defining risks in line with the evolving capacity of the child, participants were able to find some common ground. The most fruitful avenues came from calls for precision and transparency in policy responses that touch on these issues. Participants discussed how, by working together, both sides could advance their agendas and defend the rights of children while preventing child protection from being used as a strategic pretext for broader goals of censorship and repression. This report lays out the proceedings of the meeting and offers brief thoughts on the next steps for making child protection policy.