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Brussels, 26 November 1997

Action Plan on promoting safe use of the Internet

The European Commission adopted today a proposal for an action plan on promoting the safe use of the Internet. It identifies the following main areas where concrete measures are needed and could be supported by the European Union: The creation of a European network of centres (known as hot lines) will be stimulated and will allow users to report content which they come across in the course of their use of the Internet and which they consider to be illegal. Self regulation and content-monitoring schemes should be developed by access providers, content providers and network operators. Internationally compatible and interoperable rating and filtering schemes should be used to protect users, especially children against undesirable content. Finally measures to increase awareness of the possibilities available among parents, teachers, children and other consumers could help these groups to use the networks whilst choosing the appropriate content and exercising a reasonable amount of parental control. The action plan shall cover the years 1998 to 2001.

The Action Plan is closely linked with the Commission Communication and proposal for a Recommendation of 19 November 1997, which outlines political measures on protection of minors and human dignity in the audio-visual services. The two documents are proposed at the initiative of Martin Bangemann, Commissioner in charge of Industry, Information Technologies and Telecommunications, and Marcelino Oreja, Commissioner in charge of Cultural and Audio-visual Affairs. The documents are complementary as regards timing and scope. The Recommendation of 19 November outlines measures to be considered by Member States to establish Codes of Conduct in the audio-visual services as well as on the Internet. The Action Plan contains concrete actions that aims at ensuring user confidence, fostering an environment favourable to the growing European Internet industry and combating illegal and harmful content. The Action Plan is specifically aimed at actions where financial support from the Community is necessary.

The internet has become a powerful influence in the social, educational and cultural fields - empowering citizens and educators, lowering the barriers 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 use. However, like any other communication technologies, the Internet can carry potentially harmful or illegal contents or be misused as a vehicle for criminal activities.

In a Communication on harmful and illegal content on the Internet IP/97/930 - 16 October 1996 the Commission concluded in October 1996 that the best answer to this challenge would be a combination of self-control of the service providers, new technical solutions such as rating systems and filtering software and the information of users, especially parents and teachers.

The Action Plan proposed today is the result of intensive consultations based on the Commission's Communication with the European Parliament, Member States and all concerned. The Action Plan identifies the following areas within which actions should be carried out:

  • A safe environment through hot-lines and industry self-regulation

In some Member States and third countries associations of Internet access providers started already to develop in a process of self-regulation rules (codes of conduct) on the access to illegal material. Hot-lines have proved to be an efficient tool to gather information on illegal content. Information gathered through the hot-lines will be of vital importance to prevent that content considered illegal under current law, shall be allowed to flourish on international networks. The Global nature of the Internet however, requires these initiatives to be pan-European and indeed international. The Action Plan envisages to establish a European network of hot-lines, and links between this network and hotlines in third countries, develop common approaches and stimulate transfer of know-how and best practice. Furthermore it is foreseen to develop guidelines at European level for codes of conduct, to build consensus for their application, and support their implementation.

  • Developing filtering and rating systems

Rating systems describe the content in accordance with a generally recognised scheme (for instance where items such as sex or violence are rated on a scale). A number of filtering and rating schemes exist already. However, their level of sophistication is still low and none have yet reached the "critical mass". Uptake of rating systems by European content providers and users remains low. Filtering and rating schemes must be internationally compatible and interoperable and developed with full co-operation of representatives of industry, consumers and users. Action will therefore be taken to stimulate use of rating by content providers. Projects will be selected to validate rating systems in relation to European content, to encourage integration of rating into the content creation process and to demonstrate benefits of these technical solutions. The action plan will support demonstration projects, assess their impact and ensure European-wide dissemination of their results.

  • Awareness actions

The action plan will initiate awareness actions that will build on the dissemination of information from access providers to customers and develop material for use in educational institutions. Electronic distribution of material should be supplemented by more widespread traditional packages for use in schools and libraries. Multiplier organisations in the Member States - such as consumer bodies and other relevant associations - will be assisted to implement actions nationally. The target audience are parents, teachers and the action will involve industry (Internet service providers, content providers) and multipliers e.g. consumer associations, education organisations.

As the Internet covers the whole world, an International Conference will allow the experience gained through the Action Lines to be shared with actors concerned both in Europe and more widely. This would bring together industry, user, consumer and citizens rights groups and government bodies involved regulation and law-enforcement. Such a Conference can also be instrumental in disseminating the results of the Action Plan.

The Action Plan is based on article 130 paragraph 3 of the Treaty. This implies unanimous adoption by the Council after consulting the European Parliament.

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