In view of the Safer Internet Day on February 9, 2021, the Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT)’s Cybersecurity Bureau conducted a webinar imparting online safety advice and information. The webinar is titled “Safer Cyberspace for Children: A Safer Internet Day” and was livestreamed via the DICT Cybersecurity Facebook Page.

Cybersecurity Bureau Director Carlos P. Reyes stated that the COVID-19 pandemic aggravated the problem of child online exploitation, so the Cybersecurity Bureau is focusing on educating parents, teachers, guardians, and even children themselves, on how to mitigate dangers that are encountered online.

“Every adult has an important responsibility toward every child, to protect them and ensure they can grow up healthy, safe, secure, and free of worries so they can grow up with a brighter future,” Reyes said.

The webinar featured Ms. Fleur-de-Lis Nadua from the Cybersecurity Bureau as she conducted a brief lecture on the cyber threats to which teachers and students are exposed during online learning, including zoom bombing, cyberbullying, catfishing, grooming, and exposure to inappropriate content.

Participants were given tips and other preventive information to help them avoid falling victim to these online threats. The key advice was to maintain open communications among parents or adult supervisors and children, to build awareness and ensure proper guidance in using technologies.

Nadua also tackled the more serious threats involving child pornography and other forms of child online sexual abuse, wherein children from low-income families are more vulnerable. The lecture looked into the long-term harmful effects of exposure to these threats on our children’s emotional and mental well-being.

Moreover, Ms. Maria Sinag Abello discussed how children and the youth can ensure a safer gaming experience. Abello explained that gamers are exposed to various information security threats, data breaches, and other online issues. Because of this, there is a need to focus on the security of children’s recreational and learning experience.

“The DICT had always been advocating a safer cyberspace not only for our children, but for our children’s children; and to support this advocacy we have child online protection programs and initiatives in partnership with various civil society organizations,” Director Reyes provided.

To this end, the Department launched the Child Online Safeguarding Policy (COSP) on December 18 last year. The policy aims to protect children from harmful and age-inappropriate contents by prescribing mechanisms in the implementation of Republic Act 10929 or the Free Internet Access in Public Places Act.

During the Inter-Agency Council Against Child Pornography (IACACP)’s #SaferInternetDay2021 Kick-Off on February 9, 2021, DICT Assistant Secretary Diana May Cabrales provided an overview of the salient features of the COSP, presenting the prescribed mechanisms and standards from the policy as it aims to protect the youth in their use of government-provisioned free internet access points.

The COSP can protect children’s studies by blacklisting harmful websites and blocking or censoring images, videos and other content containing inappropriate information, allowing children and young people to use online resources in a safe and secure manner.

Cabrales explained that the DICT shall continually consult with experts and relevant stakeholders in updating the COSP, with the best interest and welfare of the child as the primary consideration in all decisions.

“The policy also enumerates important behavioral policy protocols such as acceptable uses of the Internet, and the DICT shall assist or encourage the creation of positive online content for children on online child safety zones,” Cabrales said.

Moreover, the COSP provides that child-friendly preventive messages and warnings will be placed in the captive portal or landing pages to provide information on the proper use of Internet for children, online risks, proper online behavior, and data privacy.

“Online safety remains a top priority for the government and we are determined to safeguard our children and other vulnerable individuals by pursuing more comprehensive plans, policies and programs related to child online safeguarding,” DICT Secretary Gregorio B. Honasan II said.

“To advance our vision of a healthy offline and online community, your DICT will continue to minimize the cybersecurity threats so that children can fully maximize the opportunities of the digital world,” he added.