27 September 2013 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Some very sound and practical advice on online security and the protection of children from the dangers of the Internet were contained in presentations given to Co Monaghan Joint Policing Committee on Monday (see stories, page two).

We recommend a perusal of our news reports on these topics, and visits to the websites referenced in them as additional sources of reassurance and assistance, to all our readers who might have concerns about what have become extremely important elements of our personal security.

A superficial overview of how information technology has become integrated into almost every dimension of our everyday lives might suggest that this rapid change has been comfortably accommodated.

But beneath the apparent ease with which we avail of electronic media and social networking and its accompanying technology undoubtedly lies a general unease and a widespread sense of always being several steps behind the pacesetter when it comes to the frequent new developments in this sphere of modern life.

Our underlying insecurity when it comes to interaction with information devices can leave us vulnerable to having the security of our identity or that of our personal financial details compromised, often without our immediate knowledge – and young users of the technology, often regarded as having a confidence and facility in this area greater than their elders, are perhaps the most vulnerable of all when it comes to predatory exploitation by adults or cyber-bullying by their peers.

In this context Monday’s presentations, by Crime Prevention Officer Garda Sergeant Noel Harraghy and Leona McEnroe of Castleblayney Enterprise Centre, offered considerable reassurance.

They indicated that adequate protections of both ourselves and the children in our care are achievable by adherence by precepts founded in reliance on good common sense rather than necessitating a deep immersion in the intricacies of how information and communications technology function.

The exploitation of this technology for criminal financial gain has become widespread, and no user of it will have been spared some attempt, be it transparently amateurish or chillingly sophisticated, to part them from their cash through a ‘phishing’ expedition or some related from of Internet ruse.

The now ubiquitous use of credit and debit cards, and the increasing emphasis on electronic banking, have created new opportunities for insidious forms of theft which can be no less traumatic for the victim than physical robbery, and often more profoundly injurious to their financial well-being.

As individuals we sometimes perceive ourselves at a helpless distance from this threat, reliant on the financial institutions we do business with and the statutory powers of law enforcement to keep us protected from the criminals who operate in this shadowy virtual realm.

But an important sense of empowerment can come from taking responsible and sensible precautions to ensure that we are circumspect about the personal information we make available online, and by protecting that information with the same sort of attentive diligence we devote to ensuring that our homes and possessions are kept secure.

And the principles that underpin the care and protection we devote to children in our care in everyday life can be easily transplanted to ensuring their security when it comes to their interactions via computer and other forms of electronic media.

Some of the attraction of these forms of communication to younger people undoubtedly lies in the fact that they offer access to a realm of interaction that often lies outside direct supervision by parents or other authority adults.

Every emerging generation strives towards inhabiting a recreation space where they can enjoy such freedoms – and in that enjoyment they can grow blithely unaware of the accompanying dangers.

Young people who find themselves subjected to cyber-bullying or inappropriate sexual behaviour on the Internet discover too late the dark side of this realm – and are often by then coerced or cajoled into an isolated and despairing mental state that makes escape seem impossible and the help of parents or friends put beyond reach.

A simple preventative safeguard is for parents, as Ms McEnroe suggested on Monday, to secure for themselves a participative role in their children’s online activities.

Rule-setting, such as insistence on becoming familiar with their offspring’s online acquaintances and having computers in a common household space rather than confined to bedrooms, seems an appropriate response by parents when it comes to the discharge of their duty of care in this regard.

Ultimately it is in the exercise of personal responsibility that we can best protect ourselves and our children from the dangers of the technological world we now inhabit – and maximise the great benefits this dimension of modern life also has to offer.

Some strong views on the fairness of the Irish judicial system were articulated at Monday’s JPC meeting by Sinn Féin Co Councillor Brian McKenna (see story, page one).

It is a fundamental function of public representatives to express the views of the people that elect them, and while not everyone will accord with Colr McKenna’s contention that there is sometimes one law for the rich and another for the poor in this country, this is a view that is certainly given public vent when controversial court decisions are made.

The judiciary may not always appreciate it, but it is important that public discomfort with their decisions is aired when it arises.

A related issue to Monday’s debate that reflects concern over another dimension of the functioning of our legal system is the access to free legal aid enjoyed by accused persons with a substantial record of previous convictions.

Co Councillor P J O’Hanlon is one of a number of local public representatives to object in recent times to the granting of legal assistance, paid for by the State, to such offenders.

Colr O’Hanlon counterpoints this frequent occurrence with the rights of victims in criminal cases, which he deems deficient.

While the courts are now more conscious and accommodating of the impact of crime on the victim and the importance of closure and redress, whether moral or pecuniary in nature, of the harm and trauma they have suffered, the extent to which victims’ interests are met is still largely reliant on the consideration afforded them by the presiding judge in the proceedings.

Better statutory provision for victims of crime when legal proceedings are being dealt with is something which our justice system still needs to address.

However, this is a separate issue to the question of free legal aid, which is in itself an area of some complexity.

It is important that accused persons who cannot afford appropriate legal representation be assisted in obtaining it – natural justice and human rights demand this, and it is underpinned by binding legal provisions.

In the eyes of the law, previous culpability cannot lead to a presumption of guilt when it comes to a fresh accusation against an accused person, and it is difficult to see how any exclusion from free legal aid entitlement on the grounds of a bad record or prior offending could be legally sustained.

In the eyes of the public, however, it is a source of anger to see some criminals come repeatedly before the courts for particular offences and to enjoy the benefits of free legal aid each time even when they have shown little or no indication of reform or willingness to discharge recompense for the offences they have committed.

In such circumstances, perhaps public disquiet could be allayed and the precepts that underpin free legal aid preserved by the adoption of more consistent sentencing policies by the judiciary that uphold the principles of restorative justice.

Rather than being merely committed to prison, such repeat offenders should receive sentences that compel them to repay to the State and their victims appropriate levels of compensation – and they should remain under the view of the court for as long as it takes them to comply with this direction.

More imaginative sentencing policies in this regard might improve the public perception of the equity with which our courts function.

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