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Back to Archives | Back to April 2008 Contents 

Cybercitizenship for the Very Young: An Evolution in Cybercrime Prevention Education in New Zealand

By Howard Broad ,Commissioner, New Zealand Police, Wellington, New Zealand


ybercrime is a threat to all societies and touches all aspects of the law enforcement profession. Strong detective and investigative policies need to be developed to protect our communities from this threat. But additionally, and crucially, education has a role to play in cybercrime prevention. Education can reduce opportunities for cybercrime by increasing awareness and stimulating implementation of practical online crime reduction strategies. Education can help “harden the targets,” from children and families to businesses and community organizations, empowering them to be more proactively involved in their own safety and security, as well as that of others.

Teaching children cybersafety
Many police chiefs have given such education high priority. New Zealand has adopted a national interagency approach to cybersafety education called NetSafe (www.netsafe.org.nz), in operation since early 2000. This initiative has evolved from a small collaborative effort of police; teachers; local, nongovernmental victim support groups; and some key players from the information technology world into a national collaboration with the impressive ambition to protect people from the risk of cybercrime.

In addition to their role in governance of this organization, a number of New Zealand Police officers have engaged with NetSafe over the years, including members of the fraud squad, the E-Crime Lab, sexual abuse teams, police youth education officers, strategy and policy staff, youth aid officers, legal experts, prosecutors, and trainers of front-desk personnel and national Police College recruits. The intelligence exchange has been a great asset to both organizations in this partnership.

Hector’s World: Teaching Young Children Cybersafety

In 2006, Hector’s World, Ltd. (HWL), was created as a separate, charitable subsidiary of NetSafe to focus on the needs of the very young online. Now this social venture is poised to exert global influence on the way very young children are introduced to information and communications technology, with great potential for long-term cybercrime prevention. This is a novel social entrepreneurship venture, where any profits will be used to create more education and further the work to keep children safe online.

Characters of Hector’s World
With support from former foundation sponsor Microsoft New Zealand, HWL has created a magical undersea world using high-quality animation. Research is beginning to indicate that the emotional bond children form with these characters may make the cybersafety messages more compelling than when delivered in a more traditional “safety rules” format. The activities of Hector Protector (a dolphin) and his friends in the fictional setting of Silicon Deep (see figure 1) also give children a realistic context for some of the common cybersafety and security guidelines. There are learning opportunities with this resource for both adults and children, as well as for those with special learning needs.

The Hector’s World episodes can be viewed freely at www.hectorsworld.com. These eight-minute animated episodes offer comprehensive online safety content; the first set of five is focused on privacy and personal information online. There are also free downloadable storybooks that reinforce the content and sample lesson plans for each episode for three different age groups (5–6 years old, 7–8 years old, and 9–11 years old). The function of the lesson plans is to encourage quick integration into any classroom and stimulate creative use of content, sometimes alongside existing cybersafety classroom materials. In New Zealand, the Ministry of Education, the Police Youth Education Service, the Office of the Commissioner for Children, and several community groups have had input into the content and are helping to integrate it into a wide range of programs.

Teaching children cybersafety
The Hector’s World Hector Safety Button is a free download from www.hectorsworld.com. This button is a child-activated safety device that installs a swimming Hector in the corner of the computer screen. If children are upset about anything on the screen, they can click on Hector, who then covers the screen, giving them a positive message for taking that action and encouraging them to seek adult help.

What is particularly attractive about the Hector’s World program are the theoretical underpinnings that have guided content development. Today, very young children are using the online environment, sometimes before they are able to read. It is a great advantage for children if their early online access can be linked with cybercrime prevention education, including more general guidance about ethical decision making and critical thinking, before children are actively engaged in some of the higher-risk activities online. Such opportunities for early intervention can greatly enhance the chances of effective crime prevention and have driven primary school and early-childhood education initiatives by police in many countries, including New Zealand, for years.

Police have enjoyed participating in the HWL content development process, offering reminders about the need for practical education that emphasizes skill building, not just a change in knowledge, if the result is to be cybercrime prevention. The New Zealand Police also concur with the excellent efforts of the Virtual Global Task Force to create a more “visual” presence for law enforcement agencies on the Internet, the online equivalent of the community policing “cop on the beat.” Likewise, one of the important aspects of HWL content is the inclusion of a police constable as a key character. Quite early in the development of Hector’s World, the New Zealand Police provided a list of qualities that should be embodied in Silicon Deep’s police officer, Constable Solosolave:

  • Ethical

  • Easy to contact and deal with (via an emergency phone number)

  • Concerned

  • Protective—especially of kids

  • Mindful of family, cultural differences, and of the “trusteeship” police officers hold to protect young ones when they are away from parental or other proper influence

  • Able to make and admit mistakes

  • Concerned for due process

  • Not the slow, ponderous, “flatfoot” type—police of the future have to be nimble and technologically savvy, have “cool” equipment, and get along well with others

  • Having good relationships with teachers, social workers, youth workers, and so on

  • Professional—knowing what to do and, if not, where to go for help

Since the animated format makes it very easy to change language soundtracks, Hector’s World has real potential as a consistent, global resource for the very young that crosses jurisdictional boundaries. This resource is designed to be used in concert with other existing cybersafety resources. An example is how the Police Youth Education Service will be integrating the use of HWL content into its existing programs such as Keeping Ourselves Safe. More episodes are being planned that can deliver content on a range of subjects, from basic computer security and cyberbullying to intellectual property and information validation (for the oldest age group).

International Relevance

The international impact of NetSafe, a relatively small organization, is impressive. Here are a few highlights:

  • In 2002, New Zealand Police and NetSafe were jointly awarded the International Law Enforcement Cybercrime Award by the Society for the Policing of Cyberspace, based in Canada.

  • The NetSafe Kit for Schools, which has assigned policy and resources to all New Zealand schools to assist student use of new technologies, serves as a blueprint for creating a culture of cybersafety in schools by recommending changes in both governance and management. This includes information on serious incident response and preservation of forensic evidence. Since its inception, this kit has been picked up internationally and now has been adapted for all British schools by Becta.

  • NetSafe and the New Zealand Police coproduce national pamphlets on electronic crime, one for schools and one for parents. NetSafe also trains all Police Youth Education Service officers about online issues. The New Zealand Police have over 170 youth education officers working in schools to deliver crime prevention curricula, including the jointly developed package on cybersafety.
  • NetSafe partnered with the New Zealand Police and the University of Auckland to hold a national symposium in 2002 and one of the first “cross-sector” international Internet safety conferences in 2003. In 2005, the Oxford Internet Institute, NetSafe, University of Auckland, and the European Information Society Group collaborated on a cybersafety conference at Oxford’s Saïd Business School.

Hector’s World especially is generating excitement far outside of New Zealand from educators, law enforcement personnel, researchers, and community organizations. It is a resource for the very young that can effectively impart to them the values and skills they will find useful throughout their lives as responsible members of the online community.

Noted U.S. cybersafety researchers Drs. Ilene R. Berson and Michael J. Berson, from the College of Education at the University of South Florida, have made the following evaluation:

In our analysis of cybersafety initiatives in schools Hector’s World was identified as the most appealing and exciting materials to successfully engage children in assessing risky situations, developing appropriate coping techniques, and practicing responsible decision making online. Hector’s World episodes not only foster protective factors through a variety of strategies, but they also address risk factors by promoting and modeling behavior changes with friendly and engaging characters. Students have repeated opportunity to rehearse clear and specific skills that promote decision making, perspective-taking, alternative solutions, and positive peer interaction via high quality instructional resources that can be used by parents, educators, community safety officers, and other child-serving professionals. 1

The New Zealand Police look forward to continued involvement with NetSafe and Hector’s World, following the global adventures of online Constable Solosolave and the band of young cybercitizens on which he keeps a watchful eye. ■


Howard Broad is the 30th national police commissioner of the New Zealand Police. New Zealand, a country of some 4.1 million people in the Southwest Pacific, has a single national police service of some 11,000 staff and is responsible for all policing from transnational crime and terrorism to local community police and traffic management.

Commissioner Broad has been involved with NetSafe since its inception in Auckland in 2000, when he was the police district commander of Auckland City, New Zealand’s largest city. He currently serves as a board member of both NetSafe and Hector’s World.


Note:

1Quoted in Liz Butterfield, “The Evolution to Cybercitizenship,” Children (Office of the Children’s Commissioner of New Zealand), September 2007.


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From The Police Chief, vol. LXXV, no. 4, April 2008. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.








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