The Irish government is to build a national register of 3G mobile phones - and by extension, their users - that are capable of carrying video clips. The protection of minors is an "absolute necessity" which outweighs concerns over costs and practicality, Dermot Ahern, communications minister, said.
"A national register of picture phones has proven impractical by virtue of the fact that we already had millions of GSM handsets in existence when picture phones became available. "But 3G is different," he said. "Handsets will not be available until the end of the year and we have an opportunity now to provide increased safety mechanisms." Ahern intends to "work closely" with the mobile operators on the details of the register.
A three-pronged initiative aimed at ensuring the secure and responsible use of mobile services was launched today by Ahern on behalf of the Irish Cellular Industry Association (ICIA) and mobile operators O2, Meteor and Vodafone. An industry code of practice, a parental guide to mobile phone services and a mobile content-filtering trial were announced.
The code of practice represents a "common commitment" by the mobile phone industry and will be updated as technology develops. It includes the facilitation by operators of parental access to minors' accounts. "This could also be a basis for dialogue about what responsible use happens to be," said Paul Donovan, chief executive officer of Vodafone Ireland.
The code states that operators are to establish telephone lines for the reporting of unsolicited commercial communications. They will report and co-ordinate with premium rate phone regulator RegTel and the Data Protection Commission, if necessary. Operators are also to adhere to the Internet Service Provider Association of Ireland (ISPAI) code of practice and are to advise customers to report suspected cases of child pornography. Also, operators are to assist customers in reporting malicious person-to-person communications.
02 Ireland, Meteor and Vodafone are to conduct one of the world's first mobile content-filtering trials. Danuta Gray, chief executive officer of O2 Ireland, said the technology will act as "another safeguard". The content filtering is to be trialled first over the O2 network in the summer and then over Meteor's and Vodafone's.
"We think this is a world first," said Gray. "One way of working is to filter out known blacklisted URL Web addresses. more complicated is to detect images being transmitted over the network via indicators such as skin tones and the relative position of people in photographs which determine whether an image may be classed as inappropriate."
There are a "lot of questions" remaining and the upcoming trial will be used to make a content filtering system work, she added. There are no plans to charge for the service.