European Commission to fund 'Safer Internet' hotlines

Six million euros are up for grabs in European countries that have not yet implemented Internet safety projects

A European Internet safety project has received six million euros to fund a beefed-up awareness campaign promoting the dangers of children using Internet chatrooms. A portion of the money will also be used to set up "safer Internet" hotlines across Europe, providing a simple mechanism for reporting abuse online.

The funding awarded by the European Commission will form the final part of the Safer Internet Action Plan, originally set up to tackle illegal and racist content on the Internet. The awareness projects will create a European platform for the exchange of information about child protection online, while the hotlines will allow members of the public to report harmful content encountered on the Internet.

"The majority will be spent on trans-European awareness actions -- we hope to come out of the project with a co-ordinated European network," said a spokesman at the Safer Internet Action Plan.

For the next couple of months, the EC will be accepting bids for funding from European non-governmental organisations wishing to promote awareness of safer Internet use. Preference will be given to organisations wishing to create multi-country hotlines, or to countries that are currently hotline "blackspots". Countries that have not been involved in Internet safety projects to date include Finland, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg and Portugal.

The hotline projects will be coordinated by the INHOPE Association, which groups the hotlines in 11 member states and has associate members in the US and Australia, offering expert support on Internet safety issues. The hotlines then deal with abuse reports by passing them on to the appropriate law enforcement body, in the hope that sufficient evidence will be gained to identify and prosecute Internet predators.

"Hotlines have already had an impact in helping countries to deal with safety on the Internet," said Nigel Williams, director of Childnet International. "It is an area for international collaboration, but hotlines are an initiative that will only go so far -- they will not solve the problem of protecting children online."

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