EU Parliament to fund Net antiporn program

Members of the European Parliament are set to give a Euro 45 million (US$60 million) boost to efforts to fight child pornography on the Internet.

The members of Parliament (MEPs), who will meet in Brussels Thursday, are due to approve funding for five years for a program designed to promote safer Internet use. The Parliament is a legislative body within the European Union (E.U.).

The funding, which will extend an existing program that runs out at the end of this year, aims to tackle child pornography and other illegal material on the Internet through a range of measures including a series of national hotlines where users can report the distribution of banned material.

Other elements of the program, called the Safer Internet Action Plan, include efforts to raise awareness about the risks of unsuitable material on the Web, and initiatives to develop a voluntary code of conduct for ISPs (Internet service providers).

Edith Mastenbroek, the Dutch Socialist MEP who drafted a report on the plan that is due to be approved Thursday, said the program will help tackle the "biggest problem of safer Internet use for children: the lack of awareness of risks."

ISPs say they back the plan, for the most part.

By providing continuing funding until 2009, the plan will allow the network of hotlines supported by E.U. money to expand, according to Richard Nash, secretary-general of the European Association of Internet Service Providers, EuroISPA. He praised the plan for closely cooperating with industry, and pointed out that ISPs run many of the hotlines.

Nash said, however, that there is one aspect of the plan on which ISPs disagree with Mastenbroek.

Mastenbroek wants to slightly reduce the money available for developing end-user filters and redirect funding toward assessing the effectiveness of different technologies.

"The E.U. should focus the limited amount of money available to filling the gaps the market doesn't fill," she said. Empowering citizens means providing objective filter information, Mastenbroek added.

She argued that a lot of private investment has already gone into filter technology, so it was not a priority spending area for public funds. Mastenbroek added that filters were not effective in tackling key security issues like spyware and pop-ups that direct users to pornographic or gambling sites. She is calling for money to be taken from filter development and used to raise awareness of these issues.

Citing initiatives like the Internet Content Rating Association, which classifies content and allows users to adjust their browser settings to screen unwanted material, EuroISPA's Nash said his organization believed that filters are a "valuable part of a range of tools" for users to tailor their Internet usage.

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