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Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety
12/09/2012
Cybersafety for senior Australians

DREW, Mr Chris, Acting Assistant Secretary, National Security and International Branch, Digital Strategy Division, Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy

RIZVI, Mr Abul, Deputy Secretary, Digital Economy and Services Group, Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy

Committee met at 16:33

CHAIR ( Senator Bilyk ): I now declare open the public hearing of the Joint Select Committee on Cybersafety's inquiry into cybersafety for senior Australians. The hearing today will be audio broadcast. Is it the wish of the committee to authorise audio broadcasting of the evidence about to be given at the public hearing this day? There being no objection, it is so ordered.

I welcome today Mr Rizvi and Mr Drew, representing the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. I would like to express the committee's appreciation that you have come here for the second time, the first time being on 27 June when, due to extraordinary circumstances in the chamber, the public hearing was cancelled. We do thank you for your understanding and for returning to address the committee. Thank you for your submission, which has been received as No. 25 to the committee's inquiry. The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy told the committee in its submission to this inquiry that it works to raise awareness of cybersecurity and cybersafety risks among Australian home users and small- to medium-size businesses, and to inform them of the simple steps they can take to protect themselves in the online environment.

Before proceeding, I remind you that this is a public hearing and is being recorded by Hansard and audio broadcast. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and warrants the same respect as proceedings of the House and the Senate. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. I invite Mr Rizvi to make an opening statement before we proceed to questions.

Mr Rizvi : Thank you. With your indulgence, I would like to briefly update the committee on some of the measures we have been taking to promote awareness of cybersafety and security amongst senior Australians. One of our key awareness raising initiatives is National Cyber Security Awareness Week which this year was held from 12 to 15 June. The awareness week is held each year in partnership with industry, consumer and community groups and all levels of government. The Australian Seniors Computer Clubs Association is an important partner of awareness week. The chair of the association is a member of the awareness week steering group, and in that way we ensure the awareness week has a focus on senior Australians. We also use Seniors Week to promote messages to seniors on our Stay Smart Online website, as well as through a range of articles, promotional material and other activities.

The rollout of our Digital Hubs program, whereby we aim to establish a digital hub in the first 40 communities to benefit from the NBN, is also helping senior Australians. The program provides local residents with training in digital literacy skills, including cybersafety and security. The hubs have a general focus on people who have yet to engage online, and as such seniors represent one of the target demographics for the program. To assist the hubs in delivering training to people with limited digital literacy skills we have developed a new website called Internet Basics. The hubs are using this website to provide introductory information and training for Australians who have little to no experience with the internet to enable them to engage online safely and securely. The website has been developed with the assistance of a number of senior Australians. With the chair's agreement I will distribute some screen shots of the site relevant to cybersafety and security.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Mr Rizvi : For seniors who have never used a computer, a staff member of one of our digital hubs will sit with a senior Australian and use the website to help them get started in a very hands-on way. One of the features of this website is that it is very step-by-step in nature. One of the things we heard from seniors when we discussed the internet with them was that they found the almost organic nature of the internet, where everyone seems to go everywhere, rather confusing and difficult to follow. Hence we have developed the website in a very orderly fashion to enable them to follow what is happening. Once seniors are familiar with the basics of getting online they can then participate in seminars on specific online topics at these hubs. Each of these seminars generally has a component on cybersafety and security. For example, if they are attending a seminar on online shopping they will have as a dimension of that seminar how to remain safe whilst they shop online. Once they are familiar with the website they can then use it independently. Feedback from seniors who have used the website and participated in this approach to developing digital literacy skills has been very positive.

Once we have tested this website further we propose to promote it more widely, including through aged-care homes and various seniors groups. As part of the training provided the hubs also promote the cybersafety help button which provides internet users with easy online access to a range of cybersafety and security information and assistance. The button is also being deployed on the Broadband for Seniors kiosks that have been established around Australia. Through the button people can also access the Easy Guide to Socialising Online which provides cybersafety information for 27 social networking sites, search engines and online games. The guide also gives step-by-step instructions on how to report cyberbullying, abuse and inappropriate content on these sites. The guide provides clear information on how to adjust privacy settings as well as tips on how to stay safe when using a social media site.

We know that many seniors like to be trained by their peers; they have a preference for it. In recognition of this, the department has provided funding to the Council on the Ageing in New South Wales—the peak body representing interests and views of older Australians in New South Wales—to develop a peer education program called Internet Safety: Be Confident Online. The program aims to train seniors to deliver cybersafety and security education sessions to other seniors in a relaxed and informal setting. The training is not so much about how to use the internet but rather aims to alleviate those fears that make seniors avoid using the internet. The program can be delivered with or without a computer wherever seniors meet—such as the local library, community hall or at regular group meetings. This gives the program a broad reach into the community, allowing it to engage seniors who might not have a digital hub nearby.

CHAIR: We will move straight into questions. Mr Rizvi, I am glad you mentioned digital hubs, because I had actually made a note to myself to ask you about them. It is good to hear what is happening with them. In your submission you mentioned that more research into user behaviour and online risks would be of value, to get the trends specific to seniors. Is the department currently undertaking any sort of research?

Mr Rizvi : We have commissioned some research in this space over the last few years. The research has not been specifically targeted at seniors, although seniors are a significant percentage of the groups of respondents. Some of the research that we have commissioned in recent years—that is, research commissioned by the department; I acknowledge that the ACMA also commissions research in this space—included a survey in 2010. It was undertaken by Woolcott Research, and we repeated it in 2011. Around 30 per cent of the respondents to that research were seniors and the overall population size of the survey was between 3,400 and 3,700. So it was a reasonably large piece of research. If you wish, I can provide some of the findings of that research.

CHAIR: That would be very handy for us.

Mr Rizvi : It was clear from the research that more seniors, around 22 per cent, were characterised as a result of that—they described themselves—as 'fearful avoiders'. That is, they avoided using the internet particularly because they were not confident about it or they were fearful of the internet. That is a much higher percentage than other age groups, which is around 13 per cent. Having said that, those seniors who do go online have a quite high level of awareness of cybersafety issues. They seem to be more conscious of it and they are more aware of the things they need to do to keep themselves safe online. So we have this dual situation where on the one hand a high percentage of seniors are fearful about going online but, on the other hand, those who do go online appear to be more careful about it.

CHAIR: Thank you. If you had other information on that that you could give the committee, it would be really useful for the committee members to be able to have a read of.

Mr Rizvi : We can provide that.

CHAIR: Thank you. Are you able to suggest any possible changes to law, policy or practice that you think would strengthen the issue around cybersafety for senior Australians—regarding best practice standards and safeguards?

Mr Rizvi : I am not sure that changing legislation is necessarily the key. We continue to be of the view that it is really about education and awareness. The better we can get to senior Australians—those who are fearful about internet and have not got on, as well as others—the more effective our promotional programs can be and the better the outcomes will be.

Mr PERRETT: Do you have data on how seniors are informed? Do their fellow seniors tell them, do their grandkids tell them, or is it the government telling them through services such as yours? I know that your prism will be interaction with your webpage.

Mr Rizvi : We do not have specific data that I am aware of on that topic, but in the context of developing this website we did ask a lot of those questions. There were probably two key findings. One was: seniors who are already online will often go to their children or their grandchildren to solve problems. Seniors who are not online appear not to favour learning from their grandkids or children about getting online. They would prefer to do it with a peer. They feel more comfortable about learning from a peer—

Mr PERRETT: Is that pride or trust?

Mr Drew : I think there are different styles. That is the way they are accustomed to getting information and they are comfortable with it. It is also how they socialise

Mr Rizvi : One of the things we found when we were developing this website was that they said the way their children present the information to them was not easy to follow.

Mr PERRETT: They did not break it down?

Mr Rizvi : That is right. Children tend to go onto the internet and they will just start pressing buttons and away they go. Seniors prefer to be more methodical.

Mr ZAPPIA: Thank you for your presentation. I was interested in the comment that there was some funding or support being provided by the Council on the Ageing to help seniors with internet use. I will make a comment and I would be interested in your response. My experience with many seniors is that the Council on the Ageing is a good organisation but not that many seniors want to engage with it. Maybe seniors do not want to consider themselves in that age category and therefore see it as an organisation that is for someone else and not for them. What efforts have you made to broaden your reach out into the older people given that—no doubt you would be aware—not all of them have direct contact with the council?

Mr Rizvi : You are absolutely right. There are a few things we are doing in this space. The first I would refer to is the Broadband for Seniors kiosks. Many of the Broadband for Seniors kiosks are located in aged care homes and those sorts of locations and that is helping to increase our reach. We also work through the Australian Seniors Computer Clubs. I know it has the word 'seniors' but the clubs are actually quite effective. They have small meetings in many parts of the country. It is quite an extensive organisation, and we work through them. Finally, once we can get this website to a level that seniors feel very comfortable with, we think promoting it through a range of organisations not just the Council on the Ageing will also be an effective way of promoting the program. Of course the digital hubs are currently being rolled out and eventually we will have them in 40 locations around Australia, which I think is a good start.

Mr ZAPPIA: I do not know if this is a matter you can respond to but one of the concerns I have is that some of the seniors I know who use the internet are starting to suffer from dementia. Therefore, my concern is that they may be using the internet and, because of their dementia, perhaps not realising what they are doing. Is that an issue that has arisen in the course of the work you have done? Equally, what can we do about that? I will give you an example. A person I know is very articulate, is totally connected with everything that is happening on a regular basis and is the sort of person who, under normal circumstances, I would value his opinion. I also know that he is starting to suffer from dementia. I can just imagine that he could well be having a conversation with someone he thinks he knows but the truth is it is someone who he does not know, but he does not know that he does not know that person because of his dementia.

Mr Rizvi : It is a good point, and I can imagine that being quite a risk for people who are perhaps falling in and out of that awareness state. And it is a substantial risk. I would have to admit that I have not encountered the issue previously, but it is something that we will certainly keep an eye out for. It is something that perhaps we might ask some of our other colleagues in other departments about as well. It is not one that I have encountered but I can imagine it would become, over time, a significant issue—especially once more people have grown up with the internet and then become elderly, that would become an issue.

Mr PERRETT: The DBCDE submission lists various ways that people can get information about cybersafety online. I have a particularly multicultural electorate, with about one in three born overseas. Do you offer advice in languages other than English?

Mr Rizvi : No, I have to admit that we do not. That is probably also something we should look into, but, no, we do not. All of our material is in English.

CHAIR: Mr Rizvi, I am just thinking about one of the other submissions we got. It was from the Centre for Internet Safety, and they recommended that government should not focus solely on user education to protect consumers but that ISPs should have some responsibilities and that there should be standards in a voluntary i-code and that they should be made mandatory. So I am wondering if you can comment on the effectiveness of the voluntary i-code standards and the responses of the ISPs to date, and also on what additional measures the department might consider to ensure that they are empowered effectively.

Mr Rizvi : I will make some initial comments and then I will ask Mr Drew to supplement those. The i-code is something that we developed in conjunction with the industry, and I have to say that I congratulate the industry for being prepared to participate in this process. We think the i-code is the only one of its kind in the world, and it has now been operating for approximately 12 to 18 months. We scheduled a review of the i-code when it was initiated, and that review is currently taking place. The review is being conducted by us as well as by industry, and one of the questions that the review will look at is whether it should be made mandatory or not. I would have to say that at this point we are still open to that question. I think we need to wait for the outcome of the review to see where we should head in that space. But I think pressing too quickly to move down the mandatory path in that regard may not be giving sufficient credit to the industry which is, indeed, the only industry in the world that has been prepared to go down this path. I think they deserve some recognition for that.

CHAIR: What proportion of the industry participates in the voluntary code?

Mr Drew : There are 34 ISPs currently signed up to the voluntary code. I cannot remember the exact figure: we think it covers approximately 90 per cent of current users.

CHAIR: That is pretty good, isn't it, really?

Mr Rizvi : It is.

CHAIR: Just to clarify: you said this was the only voluntary code in the world; is it?

Mr Drew : There are other schemes in the world, although we are a model scheme and there has been a lot of interest internationally in what we are doing. There have been some slightly different approaches, but this is certainly a model scheme and people are looking to implement it in other countries and there has been quite considerable interest.

CHAIR: This is really interesting to hear, actually. Are there any more questions? We are nearly out of time.

Mr ZAPPIA: This may have been answered in one of our other briefings. Older people generally are less likely to use computers than younger people. The amount of scams or bullying or whatever that is occurring through the internet appears to be rising. Can you comment on the ratio of scams or other inappropriate uses of the internet which older people are being subjected to, in proportion to the rest of the community—in other words, for example, are older people being scammed more than the rest of the community generally?

Mr Rizvi : That is a question on which I think we as an agency do not keep data. The data may be held by other agencies, particularly law enforcement agencies which are more involved in this space, particularly the ACCC, ASIC or perhaps even the Australian Crime Commission. The positive that I can point to in that regard is that our surveys are showing that when older people do go online they tend to operate online with greater care and they do tend to observe more of the tips for good behaviour online than other age groups. That gives us a little bit of confidence, but I would have to say we do not have the data on whether they are being scammed more often than others—other agencies may.

CHAIR: I welcome Senator Pratt. I understand you have had plenty of divisions to attend. Do you have any questions in the last few minutes?

Senator PRATT: No, I will not detain you. I am sorry we interrupted you with all those divisions.

CHAIR: I thank the department for attending and giving evidence today. Should the committee have any further questions, the secretary will seek further comment from you at a later date.

Resolved (on motion by Mr Zappia):

That this committee authorises publication of the transcript of the evidence given before it at public hearing this day.

CHAIR: I move a resolution to accept the extra information, the Internet Basics website screenshots tabled by the department. There being no objection, it is so ordered.

Committee adjourned at 16:57