EC calls for online code of conduct

Two EC documents released yesterday urge member states to ensure that what is illegal off-line remains illegal online.

The European Commission is opting for a voluntary, industry-led solution to the problem of transmission of illegal and offensive material over the Internet.

The EC yesterday called for rapid adoption by industry of both a code of conduct to regulate use of the Internet and the introduction of electronic filtering systems to enable users to block objectionable material.

Two documents issued yesterday urge member states and the international community to reinforce judicial and police co-operation to ensure that "what is illegal off-line remains illegal online," industry commissioner Martin Bangemann says. The EC has released both a communication on "Illegal and Harmful Content on Internet" and a green paper on "Protection of Minors and Human Dignity in the new Audio-Visual and Information Services".

The Internet communication is a direct response to a request by national ministers of the European Union for a European solution to growing public concerns about the abuse of the Internet for the transmission of illegal information by drug and paedophile networks.

"We must react to this situation and this is what we are doing," commissioner Bangemann says, explaining that the suggestions in the communication must be made into concrete proposals in time for a November 28 meeting of EU telecom ministers.

Although attempts to circumvent existing national rules banning such networks and activities are nothing new, the Internet poses a specific technical problem because it can be difficult to identify the origin of criminal content. While most service provides do not hesitate to identify themselves, this is not always the case, Bangemann says.

"Some service providers offer platforms for anonymous suppliers, and this must not happen because it prevents us from prosecuting," he says. Encryption also poses a problem, he says.

"While justified in some circumstances to ensure the security of a transmission, police must be able to decode it," he says.

The Green Paper, on the other hand, "identifies possible approaches to ensuring a balance between the need to ensure the free circulation of these services and the need to protect minors and human dignity", commissioner Oreja says. The Green Paper also argues for the need for codes of conduct and greater co-operation between judicial and police authorities among the member states, says cultural and audio-visual commissioner Marcelino Oreja.

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