forwarded message from Felipe Rodriquez
tabe at ozgurluk.xs4all.nl
tabe at ozgurluk.xs4all.nl
Fri Oct 18 04:09:00 MDT 1996
Illegal and harmful content on the Internet
COMMUNICATION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, THE COUNCIL,
THE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE AND
THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. THE OPPORTUNITIES OF THE INTERNET
2. HOW DOES THE INTERNET WORK?
3. ILLEGAL AND HARMFUL CONTENT ON INTERNET
4. IDENTIFYING AND COMBATING ILLEGAL CONTENT ON INTERNET
5. DEALING WITH HARMFUL CONTENT ON INTERNET
6. POLICY OPTIONS/CONCLUSIONS
The symbol of the convergence between telecommunications, computer and
content industries, and one of its main drivers, the Internet has
established itself as one of the main building blocks of the Global
Information Infrastructure and as an essential enabler of the
Information Society in Europe. Characterised by a growth rate
unprecedented in the historSEy of communication technologies, the
Internet now reaches some 60 million users in 160 countries, doubling
each year. Its most popular application, the World-Wide-Web, based on
protocols developed in Europe, is fast becoming a standard vehicle for
information publication and electronic commerce, with an estimated 10
million sites world-wide in 1995, up 1600% over the previous year.
Driven by its meteoric growth, and its rapid evolution from a
government/academic network to a broad-based communication and trading
platform, the Internet is currently revolutionising a number of
economic sectors, with the emergence of a vibrant and fast-growing
"Internet Economy". Simultaneously, the Internet has also 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 usage. However, like any other
communication technologies, particularly in the initial stages of
their development, the Internet carries an amount of potentially
harmful or illegal contents or can be misused as a vehicle for
criminal activities. Although statistically a limited phenomenon, a
wide range of distinct areas are concerned. These are covered by
different legal regimes and instruments at the national and
international level, e.g.:
* national security (instructions on bomb-making, illegal drug
production, terrorist activities);
* protection of minors (abusive forms of marketing, violence,
* protection of human dignity (incitement to racial hatred or racial
* economic security (fraud, instructions on pirating credit cards);
* information security (malicious hacking);
* protection of privacy (unauthorised communication of personal
data, electronic harassment);
* protection of reputation (libel, unlawful comparative
* intellectual property (unauthorised distribution of copyrighted
works, e.g. software or music)
While the benefits of the Internet far outweigh its negative aspects,
these aspects cannot be ignored. They are pressing issues of public,
political, commercial and legal interest. Reflecting these concerns,
recent political discussions in the European Union have stressed the
need for urgent action and concrete solutions.
Therefore, most recently, on 27 September 1996 the Telecommunications
Council adopted a resolution on preventing the dissemination of
illegal content on the Internet, in particular child pornography. The
Council took note that the Commission would publish a Communication on
this issue, and welcomed that initiative. Stressing the need for rapid
response, the Council urged the Commission to carry its ongoing work
and to present practical measures in time for the next
Telecommunications Council on 28 November 1996.
The Commission is fully aware of the importance of these issues, and
of the need to strike the right balance between ensuring the free flow
of information and guaranteeing protection of the public interest so
as to meet justified concerns.
Already, at the informal Council meeting held in Bologna on 24 April
1996, European Telecommunications and Culture ministers had identified
the issue of illegal and harmful content on the Internet as an urgent
priority. It was considered that, while existing national laws apply
to the Internet, agreement should be reached in a wider context to
address the specific challenges raised by this "network of networks".
The Commission was therefore requested to produce a summary of
problems posed by the rapid development of Internet, and to assess, in
particular, the desirability of European or international regulation.
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. What is illegal offline remains illegal online, and
it is up to Member States to enforce these laws. Nevertheless, given
the highly decentralised and transnational nature of the Internet,
concrete measures to reinforce co-operation between Member States
should be launched in the context of Justice and Home Affairs.
At another level, the presence of illegal and harmful content on the
Internet has direct repercussions on the workings of the Internal
Market. In particular, the adoption by Member States of regulations of
new Internet services intended to protect the public interest may also
create risks of distortions of competition (for example, through
widely divergent responses to the question of potential liability of
Internet service providers), hamper the free circulation of these
services, and lead to a re-fragmentation of the Internal Market. If
unsolved, such problems may justify Community intervention. Like in
any new and fast-growing industry, legal and regulatory certainty is
the conditio sine qua non to foster investments, guarantee the
development of a competitive Internet services sector, and ensure the
growth of a wider Internet-based economy in Europe.
It is widely recognised that the international nature of the Internet
and its unique characteristics (extremely decentralised structure,
resistance to tampering, high degree of automation, global reach, wide
usage) clearly pose novel, and specific, problems. These problems need
innovative, and specific, solutions which should be put in place
rapidly, anda co-ordinated response at EU and international level.
Complementary to the present initiative, issues of protection of
minors stricto sensu - themselves a subset of wider issues of illegal
and harmful content - will be addressed in the Green Paper on the
Protection of Minors and Human Dignity in Audiovisual and Information
Services. That Green Paper takes a horizontal approach, and will
initiate a long term reflection on this issue across all electronic
This Communication assesses the opportunities offered by the Internet,
identifies different variations of illegal and harmful content,
describes the technical environment of the Internet and gives policy
options for immediate action on a technology and/or legal base to
fight against such content on the Internet.
1. THE OPPORTUNITIES OF THE INTERNET
The potential of the Internet to inform, educate, entertain and
conduct business on a global scale is considerable. At a relatively
modest cost, vast quantities of information can be sent around the
world in new multi-media communications. A number of countries in the
world, and in particular in the European Union, have already seized on
these radical new opportunities.
In social terms, the Internet represents significant potential
benefits. It offers unprecedented opportunities for empowering
citizens, and for connecting them to ever richer sources of digital
information. The Internet has been used by great effect in a number of
Member States to connect administrations and citizens. Lowering the
barriers of entry to the dissemination of information on the local, as
well as on the global scale, the Internet allows individuals or
associations to publish information about their activities to a wide
audience at modest cost. In the field of culture, the Internet already
contributes significantly to the creation and dissemination of
European digital multimedia content, fostering linguistic diversity,
and the rayonnement of European cultures in the world. As exemplified
by a number of innovative projects linking libraries, schools and
universities in Europe, the Internet is similarly the key to a new
"electronic literacy", and, as such, the cornerstone of the new and
far-reaching European Union initiative, the Action Plan "Learning in
the Information Society".
Currently revolutionising electronic commerce, the "network of
networks" is likely to play a crucial role for the European economy.
This is directly linked to the liberalisation of Europes
telecommunications market, which should translate into lower operating
costs for Internet users and service providers (1) . As the US market
already demonstrates, the Internet is directly fostering a new and
fast-growing Internet economy (2) , creating new categories of
businesses and new jobs (Internet infrastructure and software,
Internet access providers, consumer and business content distribution,
online retail and financial services). Beyond this "core Internet
economy" of businesses which create revenues directly from the
Internet, the Internet is having an indirect impact on a much wider
"Internet sphere of influence". The Internet is thus radically
transforming a number of existing economic sectors (travel services,
insurance, direct retailing, electronic publishing), creating new
markets, reducing costs and improving customer service. It is, in
particular, generating new opportunities for European SMEs, a growing
number of which are now eagerly capitalising on unprecedented access
to global markets offered by the World Wide Web. Similarly, large
economic sectors, such as the direct marketing industry in Europe
(which represented a total income of ECU 37 billion in 1994 (3) ), and
in particular the traditional catalogue business, are actively
integrating the Internet in their marketing and fulfilment strategies,
and planning gradually to migrate a substantial part of their
activities to the Internet.
In the field of advertising and marketing, the Internet presents a
number of significant and well documented advantages. Because of its
interactive nature, and the immediacy and ease of communication,
advertising messages can be targeted at audiences much more precisely
than has been possible until now, and feedback obtained from current
or potential customers. Similarly, when used for executing
transactions or even delivering content on line, the Internet offers
considerable cost savings for both businesses and customers.
Enlarging the scope of electronic commerce to the general public on
global markets, the Internet is, at the same time, bringing radical
changes in business-to-business transactions, as companies migrate
from proprietary networks and closed protocols (such as traditional
EDI) to the Internet and to corporate "Intranets". This
business-to-business sector is currently the fastest growth area in
the global Internet economy. It is a sector of crucial strategic
importance for European companies competing on world-wide markets.
As any other sector of activities, the Internet may be used for
legitimate purposes or misused by some elements of the society. The
framework for the Internet should, therefore, foster economic
development, while taking account of justified social and societal
concerns. Consumers and businesses must be reassured that the Internet
is a safe and secure place to work, learn and play.
This Communication, therefore, aims
firstly to describe briefly the different types of illegal and
secondly to examine the technical context in which action can be
taken to deal with illegal and harmful content, and
finally to suggest a number of practical measures designed to be
In the following sections, section 2 describes the different Internet
applications, section 3 defines what is meant by "illegal and harmful
content", section 4 deals with ways in which to combat illegal
content, section 5 explains issues related to harmful content and
section 6 presents a number of proposals.
2. HOW DOES THE INTERNET WORK?
The Internet is the most visible example of an international computer
network. Although it is neither the first nor the only such network,
it is distinguished by the fact that nobody "owns" it and by the fact
that over the past few years "ordinary" users, private individuals and
businesses, and not just the scientific or academic community, have
started to use it widely, causing a dramatic increase in the number of
computers linked to the Internet (4) . Unlike other traditional
networks such as broadcasting, the Internet is essentially
user-driven, with users themselves, rather than established
publishers, generating a substantial part of the "content".
A unique characteristic of the Internet is that it functions
simultaneously as a medium for publishing and for communication.
Unlike in the case of traditional media, the Internet supports a
variety of communication modes: one-to-one, one-to-many, many-to-many.
An Internet user may "speak" or "listen" interchangeably. At any given
time, a receiver can and does become content provider, of his own
accord, or through "re-posting" of content by a third party. The
Internet therefore is radically different from traditional
broadcasting. It also differs radically from a traditional
telecommunication service. This constant shift from "publishing mode"
to "private communication mode" - two modes governed traditionally by
very different legal regimes - constitutes one of the main challenges
of Internet regulation.
The many different ways of distributing Internet content reflect the
structural and historical idiosyncrasies of this network. The extent
to which technical measures can be used to detect, track down or
intercept illegal and harmful content also significantly differs from
application to application.
Most individual users will not have permanent direct access to the
Internet. They will go through an access provider. This includes:
* Internet access providers, specialised in offering access to the
* Internet service providers, who offer additional services such as
hosting content produced by themselves, or by users or by third
parties (those who produce content are referred to here as content
* On-line service providers, who provide proprietary content (5) for
subscribers on their closed systems, and now also offer them
The term "Internet service provider" is often used generically,
without a clear distinction being made between the service of
providing access to the Internet and the service of hosting content.
The terms "access provider" and "host service provider" will be used
here to differentiate. The same organisation can of course fall within
Both "access provider" and "host service provider" will connect to the
Internet via a leased line, a telecommunications connection made
available by the "network operator", such as British Telecom.
The World Wide Web (WWW or Web) is the area where pages with text,
graphics and even sound and video clips may be viewed. Pages are
linked to each other by a series of "hyper-links" offering a congenial
and highly interactive way of navigating through Web content. These
pages may be published by anyone who has access to storage space on a
"host" computer connected to the Internet running the appropriate
software (a "Web server" or "site"). This possibility to become a
"content publisher" is often given at low cost as an additional
service by Internet access providers, and individuals in this way have
the same potential to distribute information as large corporations.
The pages published in this way are available to any Internet user who
chooses to consult them, and are identifiable by an address which is
used in order to consult them directly, or to reach the page through
Electronic mail allows communication between individuals. It is also
easy to send out the same message to multiple addresses using mailing
lists. Although in general the author of the correspondence will be
identified by his e-mail address, "anonymous remailer" systems have
been set up where the sender's identity is not passed to the
recipient. Messages sent to an Internet address are stored in the
recipient's mailbox on the mail server maintained by the access
provider until the recipient reads them.
In some 15,000 newsgroups, the content is provided by individuals who
send messages (which may be simple text, but can include graphics
encoded so that they can be transferred). These messages are not
stored in a single place, but copied from one newsgroup server to
another. Because of the enormous storage requirements, host service
providers will often only keep such messages on their newsgroup
servers for a limited period and may well not carry all newsgroups.
There are also sites on the World Wide Web where archives of newsgroup
contents are stored and can be searched.
Additionally, Internet Relay Chat (IRC) allows direct communication in
real time between Internet subscribers, and may be used to organise
face to face meetings and the exchange of content. IRC can now support
low resolution video technologies such as CUSeeMe.
All of these means can be used to distribute illegal and harmful
content, and the extent to which they can be controlled will be
pointed out in the following sections.
3. ILLEGAL AND HARMFUL CONTENT ON INTERNET
The Internet is a new form of distribution and communication. Like any
other communication technologies, particularly in the initial stages
of their development, the Internet carries an amount of potentially
harmful or illegal contents or is misused as a vehicle for criminal
activities. Like any other communication technology, such as the
telephone or GSM, the Internet can be used by criminals to facilitate
All these activities fall under the existing legal framework.
Therefore, the Internet does not exist in a legal vacuum, since all
those involved (authors, content providers, host service providers who
actually store the documents and make them available, network
operators, access providers and end users) are subject to the
respective laws of the Member States.
In terms of illegal and harmful content, it is crucial to
differentiate between content which is illegal and other harmful
content. These different categories of content pose radically
different issues of principle, and call for very different legal and
technological responses. It would be dangerous to amalgamate separate
issues such as children accessing pornographic content for adults, and
adults accessing pornography about children. Priorities should clearly
be set and resources mobilised to tackle the most important issues,
that is the fight against criminal content - such as clamping down on
child pornography, or use of the Internet as an new technology for
a. Illegal Content
There exists a whole range of rules which limit for different reasons
the use and distribution of a certain content. The infringement of
these rules lead to the illegality of the content.
Certain issues do not involve protection of public order, but rather
the protection of the rights of individuals (protection of privacy and
reputation) and of an environment allowing creation of content to
flourish (intellectual property). Content such as breach of copyright,
libel, invasion of privacy or unlawful comparative advertising will
usually be dealt with at the initiative of the person whose rights are
infringed by a civil action for damages or an injunction, although
there may also be remedies under the criminal law or administrative
law (data protection). Host service providers may also be drawn into
disputes over such content, because they may be accused of having
facilitated its distribution.
Certain content is - in addition - considered as criminal by the laws
of Member States.
This is the case for example with child pornography, trafficking in
human beings, dissemination of racist material or incitement to racial
hatred, terrorism or all forms of fraud (e.g. credit-card fraud).
The exact definition of offences varies from country to country.
Within the EU, even child pornography, for example, where a high
degree of consensus exists, is covered by specific legislation in some
Member States and by more general rules relating to obscenity in
Where certain acts are punishable under the criminal law of one Member
State, but not in another (7) , practical difficulties of enforcing
the law may arise.
b. Harmful content
Various types of material may offend the values and feelings of other
persons: content expressing political opinions, religious beliefs or
views on racial matters etc.
What is considered to be harmful depends on cultural differences. Each
country may reach its own conclusion in defining the borderline
between what is permissible and not permissible. It is therefore
indispensable that international initiatives take into account
different ethical standards in different countries in order to explore
appropriate rules to protect people against offensive material whilst
ensuring freedom of expression.
In this context it is understood that the fundamental rights,
especially the right of freedom of expression have to be fully
respected (limitations in the Member States see Green Paper on the
Protection of Minors and Human Dignity in Audiovisual and Information
Services, Annexe III)
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