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PROTECTION OF MINORS AND HUMAN DIGNITY - FIGHT AGAINST HARMFUL AND ILLEGALCONTENT ON THE INTERNET

Commission Européenne - IP/96/930   16/10/1996

Autres langues disponibles: FR DE DA ES NL IT EL

Today  the  European  Commission approved  a  Communication  on  harmful  and
illegal  content on  Internet and a  Green Paper on  the protection of minors
and  human dignity  in the  context  of new  electronic  services. While  the
Communication  gives policy  options for  immediate  action to  fight against
harmful  and illegal  content and  concentrates on  the  Internet, the  Green
Paper takes a horizontal approach  and will initiate a medium-  and long-term
reflection on the issue across all electronic  media. Both documents advocate
a closer  cooperation between  Member States and  on an international  level,
the  use of  filtering software and  rating systems, and  an encouragement to
self-regulation  of access-providers.  The  Commission documents  follow  the
resolution adopted on 27 September 1996 by  the Telecommunications Council of
Ministers,  on  preventing  the  dissemination  of  illegal  content  on  the
Internet,  in   particular  child  pornography.   The  Council   invited  the
Commission  to   present   practical   measures  in   time   for   the   next
Telecommunications Council on 28 November 1996.

The  two   documents  proposed  at  the   initiative  of   Martin  Bangemann,
Commissioner in  charge of  Information Technologies and  Telecommunications,
and  Marcelino  Oreja, Commissioner  in  charge of  Cultural and  Audiovisual
Affairs,  are fully  complementary  both as  regards  timing and  scope.  The
Communication  puts  forward   short-term  measures  required  to  deal  with
specific Internet  related issues that go  beyond the field  of protection of
minors  and human dignity.  The purpose  of the Green  Paper is  to stimulate
debate  on a  medium- to  long-term  basis. It  covers  the specific  subject
matter  of  protection  of  minors  and  human dignity  in  relation  to  new
audiovisual and information services in general.

The Communication: Harmful and illegal content on the Internet

The Internet  has become a powerful influence  in the social, educational and
cultural fields - empowering citizens and educators,  lowering the bariers to
the creation and  distribution of content, offering universal access  to ever
richer sources of digital information.

Reflecting these opportunities, the vast majority of  Internet content is for
purposes of information for totally legitimate (and  often highly productive)
business  or   private   usage.  However,   like   any  other   communication
technologies, the  Internet can carry potentially harmful or illegal contents
or be misused  as a vehicle for criminal activities.  Although, statistically
a limited phenomenon, these aspects are too important to be ignored.

As  regards the  distribution  of illegal  content  on  the Internet,  it  is
clearly the  responsibility of  Member States  to ensure  the application  of
existing laws,  for example criminal  law, intellectual  property legislation
and protection  of minors. However, the  proper functionning of the  Internal
Market  demands    that  there  should  be  no  distortions  of  competition,
obstacles to the  free circulation of these services, and  a re-fragmentation
of the  Internal Market. Co-ordinated action  against illegal content at  EU-
level is therefore required next to co-ordinated international action.

However, Internet's  technical features,  world-wide extension and  unlimited
accessibility  makes the  application and enforcement  of existing rules more
difficult or even impossible. Furthermore, nobody "owns" the Internet,  which
can  be used by everybody all over the world. Existing or new legislation may
therefore not  be the  best or the  most efficient tool  to fight  harmful or
illegal content.

In its  Communication addressed to the  European Parliament and Council,  the
Commission  concludes that the answer to the  challenge will be a combination
of self-control  of the  service-providers, new  technical solutions such  as
rating systems  and  filtering  software,  information  of  users,  awareness
actions for parents  and teachers, information on risks and  possibilities to
limit  these  risks  and   of  international  cooperation.  Accordingly   the
Commission proposes:

1.   Co-operation between Member States needs to be  strengthened in order to
     enforce existing  legislation. It  should  be examined  in a  systematic
     matter  whether  and   where  complementary  regulatory   solutions  are
     necessary.

2.   In some Member States associations of Internet access providers  started
     already to develop in a  process of self-regulation rules on the  access
     to  illegal material.  The Commission  will encourage  the  extension of
     these  activities  in  those  Member States  where  they  have  not  yet
     started. The  Commission will enhence the  discussion on how such  self-
     regulation can be organised in order to be as  efficient as possible and
     encourage research into the technical aspects of this question.

3.   Filtering software  and rating systems allowing  to block the access  to
     listed  messages  and   programmes  do  already  exist.  The  Commission
     advocates a  Council  recommendation encouraging  the  use of  filtering
     software and the introduction of one or more  European rating systems. A
     Commission  initiative  will  support  national  awareness  actions  for
     parents and teachers.

4.   As  the Internet covers  the whole world,  the actions  to fight illegal
     content need  to have a  world-wide dimension. Therefore the  Commission
     proposes  a working  meeting organised  by the  G/7-countries to examine
     the  feasability of  immediate measures  using existing  legal framework
     and  to  discuss  the  possibility  of  an  international  convention on
     harmful  and illegal  content.  These  contacts  could  be  extended  to
     multinational bodies,  such  as  the  OECD,  World  Trade  Organisation,
     United Nations and others.

5.   Finally,  the  Commission will  set  up  a site  on  the  World-Wide-Web
     including information about technical, legal and other solutions.

The Green  Paper:Protection of  minors and human  dignity in new  audiovisual
services and Information Security

The  Green Paper  sets out  to examine the  challenges that  society faces in
ensuring  that  that  these  issues  of  overriding   public  interest    are
adequately taken  into account in the  rapidly evolving world of  audiovisual
and  information services.   The  transition  from a  broadcast  world to  an
environment  where  conventional  television  will  exist  alongside  on-line
services and indeed  hybrid products  creates a host  of opportunities.   The
full  potential  of such  developments  will  depend on  society  as  a whole
striking the  right balance  between freedom  of speech  and public  interest
considerations, between  policies designed  to foster the  emergence of   new
services and the need  to ensure that the  opportunities they create are  not
abused  by the  few at the expense  of the many.   Certain facettes of  these
issues require  European, indeed global, solutions.   Others remain a  matter
for  individual  states  or  for  individuals  themselves.    The  Commission
believes that  it is legitimate  and necessary in  this framework  to analyze
the situation  as a  whole, in order  to examine  the added  value that  each
level of  government should  play, while paying  special attention to  policy
initiatives at European Union level.

The issues studied  - the  protection of minors  and of  human dignity -  are
currently high on  the political agenda.   They also  have consistently  been
dealt  with - by national  and Community  policies - as  issues of overriding
public interest.   Legal  and others  measures in  this field have  naturally
been designed as a function of the  characteristics of traditional electronic
media (broadcast  television and radio) which  are centralised in nature  and
instruments  of mass  communication.   The  new  emerging services  have  two
fundamentally  different characteristics  - they  are decentralised  and they
are  closer to individual than to mass communication.  Even though the actual
content of  such  services will  sometimes  be the  same  -  a film,  a  news
bulletin, a  documentary - these different  characteristics have to be  taken
into account  when designing  policy.  This  Green Paper therefore  describes
the  evolution  of audiovisual  and  information  services, analyzes  current
legislation and  policies at national, European  and international  level and
the implications  of the  development of new  services for these  policies as
far as  is relevant  for the two  issues under  study.   The kinds of  policy
options examined  are various and comprehensive,  ranging from regulation and
self-regulation   through  awareness   and   educational  measures   to   the
development of parental control systems.

Building on  the short term policy options  put forward in the Communication,
the Green  Paper identifies nine key questions (see annex) for further debate
with a view to designing  future policy actions.  These questions cover three
themes :

Strengthening    legal    protection    :    determination    of   liability,
proportionality, enforcement, regulation or self-regulation.

Encouraging parental control systems: characteristics of technical  "filters"
(V-chip, access  control  software etc.);  problems  of decentralised  rating
systems in transnational service environment; essential functions.

Improving   international   cooperation:   fixing   priorities;   setting   a
methodology and identifying the most appropriate international fora.

Contributions are requested from all interested parties  by 28 February 1997.
The  Commission will also  seek the  opinion of the  European Parliament, the
Council of  Ministers, the  Economic and  Social Committee  and Committee  of
Regions before coming forward with further proposals.

ANNEXE

Question 1:
Taking  account of what is technically  feasible and economically reasonable,
what  should  be  the  liability  of  different   operators  in  the  content
communication  chain, from the content creator to the final user ? What types
of  liability -  penal, civil,  editorial - should  come into  play and under
what conditions should liability be limited ?

Question 2:
How  should  the test  of  proportionality  of any  restrictive  measures  be
applied ?  Inter alia,  should any abritation  or conciliation mechanisms  at
European Union level be envisaged?  If so, what sort of mechanisms?

Question 3:
How  do  we  determine  the  right  balance  between  protection  of  privacy
(including allowing  users to  maintain anonymity  on the  networks) and  the
need to enforce liability for illegal behaviour?

Question 4:
Should  one give  priority  to a  regulatory  or a  self-regulatory  approach
(possibly backed  up by legislation in  the latter case)  as regards parental
control systems?   What measures would  be required, inter  alia at  European
Union level?

Question 5:
In  what  cases should  systematic  supply  of parental  control  systems  be
envisaged  (according  to  service  type or  other  criteria)?    Should  any
obligatory regime be envisaged?   If so, in what form and  to which operators
should it apply?   What are the essential functions  that such systems should
provide?

Question 6:
How can decentralisation of content rating   be implemented, catering for the
need  to  respect  individual,   local  and  national  sensitivities,   where
audiovisual and information services are transnational?

Question 7:
What elements of standardisation would allow content  ratings to be developed
in a coherent  way in Europe, in particular  in the case of  digital services
(standardisation of  types of  information to  be supplied,  of encoding  and
decoding of such information, etc.)?

Question 8:
In  what  ways  should  administrative  cooperation  be  implemented  in  the
European Union?    How  and in  what  institutional  framework should  it  be
formalised?

Question 9:
What should the priorities  be at European level and at  international level?
In particular, should  one give priority to developing solutions  at European
Union  level and then promoting them at international level or should this be
done in  parallel?   What are  the  most appropriate  international fora  for
international cooperation  (G7, OECD, ITU, WTO,  UN or  bilateral relations)?
How should this international cooperation be formalised?

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