The European Union Action Plan on Promoting Safer Use of the Internet
On December 21st,1998, the Council of the European Union approved in second reading an Action Plan on promoting safer use of the Internet by combating illegal and harmful content on global networks. This is the final adoption of a European Commission proposal for a number of initiatives from 1 January 1999 to 31 December 2002. The initiatives, created in close co-operation with industry, Member States and users, include a network of hot-lines, support for self-regulation, developing technical measures and awareness initiatives.
Since the Action Plan is extensive – a complete text can be found in Decision No 276/1999/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 January 1999 – we here reproduce a summary of the Action Plan from the press release:
The Internet is revolutionising a number of economic sectors and is becoming a powerful element in social, educational and cultural fields. Never before has such vast amounts of information and services been available to the citizens. New forms of communication are developing and participation in interest groups is made available to everyone.
The aim of the Action Plan is to ensure implementation of the various European Union initiatives on how to deal with undesirable content on the Internet. The proposal is a financial plan designed to support non-regulatory initiatives for promoting safer use of the Internet. It is important to emphasise that the vast majority of Internet content poses absolutely no problem. However, since the Internet can, nevertheless, be used for distribution of illegal and harmful content, these issues must be addressed if the consumers and industry of Europe are to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by the Information society. More in particular, parents and teachers are concerned by the availability of content, which could be harmful for children.
The Action Plan is specifically aimed at actions where financial support from the Community is necessary. It is written in co-operation with users, the Internet industry and Member States’ governments and builds on political consensus within the Union. The objectives of the plan are to:
incite the actors (industry, users) to develop and implement adequate systems of self-regulation;
strengthen developments by supporting demonstrations and stimulating application of technical solutions;
alert and inform parents and teachers, in particular through their relevant associations;
foster co-operation and exchange of experiences and best practices;
promote co-ordination across Europe and between actors concerned;
ensure compatibility between the approach taken in Europe and elsewhere.
The Action Plan sets forth a number of measures in four action lines:
1. Creating a safe environment (through industry self-regulation)
Acknowledging the important work that has been taken by the European Internet industry in this respect, the Commission will build on existing hot-line initiatives and encourage further initiatives on self-regulation and Codes of Conduct. 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. Action will be taken to establish networks of hot-lines and improve liaison with law enforcement. Implementation of Codes of Conduct will be supported along the lines of the 24 September 1998 Recommendation on the protection of minors and human dignity. In connection with the Codes of conduct a system of visible quality labels will be promoted.
2. Developing filtering and rating systems
Various means of filtering and rating will be thoroughly examined in a European context, aiming at providing users with a palette of different tools to protect themselves and their families against undesirable material. The action line will be putting its focus on validation of rating systems in relation to European content providers, integration of rating into the content creation process, benefits of these technical solutions and provision of third party rating systems. Again, for solutions to be effective, initiatives will be taken to facilitate international agreement on rating systems.
3. Encouraging awareness actions
Closely linked with the other action lines, this action line will prepare the ground for awareness actions to be carried out by the Member States. The actions will be identifying multiplier bodies and most appropriate channels, media and content to reach the target audience, preparing basic material, and adapt it for linguistic and cultural specificities. The encouragement of full-scale awareness actions will be made through a call for proposals for follow-up action by the Member States.
4. Support actions
As no single measure in it self will be sufficient to improve the users possibility to protect themselves and to achieve the objectives of the plan, additional action will be taken to evaluate the impact of Community measures, to asses legal implications and co-ordinate with similar international initiatives.
Co-ordination with other initiatives
Actions will be closely co-ordinated with the 24 September 1998 Council Recommendation and the promotion of common guidelines for the implementation, at national level, of a self-regulation framework for the protection of minors and human dignity in audio-visual and on-line information services.
The Action Plan will be implemented in consultation with the Internet industry, users and Member States. Contacts with multinational bodies, will be continued to make international efforts coherent. The use of existing networks established under other programs will be promoted to disseminate information about technical legal and other solutions.
21 December 1998