Resolution on the Commission communication on illegal and harmful content on the Internet (COM(96)0487 C4-0592/96)

Official Journal C 150 , 19/05/1997 P. 0038


Resolution on the Commission communication on illegal and harmful content on the Internet (COM(96)0487 - C4-0592/96)

The European Parliament,

- having regard to the Commission communication (COM(96)0487 - C4-0592/96),

- having regard to the motions for resolutions tabled pursuant to Rule 45 of the Rules of Procedure by:

(a) Mr Van der Waal, on computer pornography (B4-0224/94),

(b) Mr Robles Piquer, on a solution to the legal vacuum concerning crime involving child pornography on the Internet (B4-1233/96),

- having regard to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child of 20 November 1989,

- having regard to the European Convention on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

- having regard to Council of Europe recommendation No R(89)9 on computer-related crime,

- having regard to Council of Europe recommendation No R(95)13 on problems of criminal procedure in relation to information technology,

- having regard to the joint action of 15 July 1996 adopted by the Council on the basis of Article K.3 of the Treaty on European Union, concerning action against racism and xenophobia ((OJ L 185, 24.7.1996, p. 5.)),

- having regard to the opinion of the Advisory Committee on Racism and Xenophobia of 26 January 1996 on the dissemination of racial hatred by computer or telematic means ((4637/96, RAXEN 4.)),

- having regard to the decisions of the Telecommunications Council of 25 April 1996 ((Minutes of the Telecommunications Council, 25.4.1996.)),

- having regard to the decisions of the Justice and Home Affairs Council of 27 September 1996 ((Minutes of the Justice and Home Affairs Council, 27.9.1996.)),

- having regard to the decisions of the Culture Council of 27 September 1996 ((Minutes of the Culture Council, 27.9.1996.)),

- having regard to the decisions of the Telecommunications Council of 27 September 1996 ((Minutes of the Telecommunications Council, 27.9.1996.)),

- having regard to the decisions of the Industry Council of 8 October 1996 ((Minutes of the Industry Council, 8.10.1996.)),

- having regard to the Commission Green Paper on the protection of minors and human dignity in audiovisual and information services ((COM(96)0483.)),

- having regard to its resolution of 8 July 1992 on a European Charter of Rights of the Child ((OJ C 241, 21.9.1992, p. 67.)),

- having regard to its resolution of 22 January 1993 on the setting up of Europol ((OJ C 42, 15.2.1993, p. 250.)),

- having regard to its resolution of 15 December 1993 on freedom of expression, freedom of the press and freedom of information ((OJ C 20, 24.1.1994, p. 112.)),

- having regard to its resolution of 17 December 1993 on pornography ((OJ C 20, 24.1.1994, p. 546.)),

- having regard to its resolution of 19 May 1995 on the Europol Convention ((OJ C 151, 19.6.1995, p. 376.)),

- having regard to its resolution of 18 January 1996 on trafficking in human beings ((OJ C 32, 5.2.1996, p. 88.)),

- having regard to its resolution of 14 March 1996 on Europol ((OJ C 96, 1.4.1996, p. 288.)),

- having regard to its resolution of 9 May 1996 on the Commission communication on racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism ((OJ C 152, 27.5.1996, p. 57.)),

- having regard to its opinion of 9 May 1996 on the proposal for a Council Decision designating 1997 as European Year Against Racism ((OJ C 152, 27.5.1996, p. 62.)),

- having regard to its resolution of 19 September 1996 on 'Europe and the global information society - recommendations to the European Council' and on the Commission communication 'Europe's way to the information society: an action plan' ((OJ C 320, 28.10.1996, p. 164.)),

- having regard to the report of the Committee on Civil Liberties and Internal Affairs and the opinions of the Committee on Culture, Youth, Education and the Media and the Committee on Women's Rights (A4-0098/97),

A. whereas no person should be made to suffer for his opinions; whereas the free communication of ideas and opinions is a fundamental right in all democratic societies,

B. whereas free expression is a fundamental right and the freedom of each individual begins where that of others also begins,

C. whereas respect for the integrity of the person, and, in particular, the protection of children are of crucial importance,

D. whereas child pornography is itself child abuse because it is a visual or written record of actual child abuse,

E. whereas every individual has the right to privacy of correspondence; whereas this right also applies to electronic mail,

F. having regard to the unprecedented development of new information technologies by means of computer networks and their applications in all areas of contemporary society,

G. whereas the growth of networked information systems will accelerate the transformation of the existing society, creating a new space for communication and relationships,

H. whereas an increasingly large part of economic, social, cultural, political and religious relationships will be conducted by means of the new information networks,

I. having regard to the fact that there has always been illegal and harmful content in the media, but that the specific characteristic of computer networks is that they are unmoderated media that know no frontiers and can thus make state and government attempts to control them difficult, if not impossible,

J. whereas, while the prevention of and possible punitive measures against the dissemination of messages with unacceptable content (racism, incitement to hatred or violence, terrorism, deviant pornography, holocaust denial, exploitation of children for sexual activity) remain matters for the Member States in the context of the exercise of their policing powers, the EU cannot stand aside from these problems, bound up as they are with civil liberties,

K. whereas it is essential to adopt common legislation explicitly prohibiting the use of the Internet for the dissemination of such messages,

L. whereas the EU is a frontier-free area in which persons, goods, services and capital enjoy freedom of movement, and this justifies Union powers in this field, especially in the legal framework of the internal market and the competition rules set out in Articles 59 and 60 of the EC Treaty,

M. whereas Title VI of the Treaty on European Union, which concerns cooperation in the fields of justice and home affairs and statistics, authorizes only intergovernmental cooperation and fails to provide for the democratic control and impetus which it is up to Parliament to provide in this area,

N. whereas Articles F and K.2 of the EU Treaty refer explicitly to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the third article of which stipulates that 'no-one shall be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment¨,

O. whereas telematic networks can easily bring into the home material denying human dignity and can encourage certain forms of criminal behaviour; whereas therefore it is above all essential for the individual and the family to take a responsible and critical approach when using telematic equipment,

P. whereas a purely punitive approach to computer networks, of which today's Internet represents merely the beginning, would substantially undermine their positive contribution to the development of our societies, but whereas at the same time there is a need for effective forms of self-regulation,

Q. whereas regulation requires that each level of responsibility be defined, with a clear distinction drawn between the access or service provider and the user,

R. whereas the Commission communication on illegal and harmful content on the Internet is merely provisional; whereas the problem must therefore be discussed further and in greater depth,

1. Declares solemnly that freedom of expression is and remains absolutely essential in our democratic societies;

2. Stresses that everyone has the right freely to communicate or receive information using any medium, subject to the limitations specified in Article 8 and Article 10(2) of the European Convention on Human Rights;

3. Emphasizes that worrying phenomena observed on the Internet, which have to be addressed, should not prevail over the far-reaching cultural revolution made possible by the Internet;

4. Gives every encouragement to the development of network telematic systems, and welcomes their impact, especially in the cultural, economic and social spheres, recognizing that they represent a means for substantial progress in the free movement of information;

5. Points out that Internet services with their possibilities for interactive communication, quick and cheap e-mail and multi-media, can benefit large sections of the population, including women, and notes that, in several authoritarian and repressive states, Internet services, because of the possibility of anonymity, interactivity and speed, have played an important role in communication between persecuted persons and other victims and the rest of the world;

6. Recognizes that the free movement of information on the Internet is a fundamental manifestation of freedom of expression;

7. Calls on the Commission to draw up a European quality rating system for providers of Internet services and to support international coordination of such ratings; this must provide a guarantee that service providers are not working together with persons who disseminate illegal and harmful information; the rating system, which may be compared to labeling systems for environmentally friendly products, would encourage Internet service providers to scrutinize and maintain the quality of the information content of their systems;

8. Underlines the fundamental distinction which has to be made between illegal content, which appertains to the field of law, and harmful content, which concerns minors and appertains essentially to the domain of morals, whether it is conveyed by the Internet or by other modes of communication;

9. Urges Member States to introduce suitable forms of instruction in their education systems to enable children to develop a capacity for critical analysis of visual messages on the electronic media in parallel with the written word; underlines parents' role in this respect;

10. Considers it to be of fundamental importance, in order to ensure that the use of the networks strengthens the democratic institutions, to develop channels for citizen participation in public life through the telematic networks: therefore confirms the request made in its resolution of 20 June 1996 on the annual activity report (1995) of the European Ombudsman ((OJ C 198, 8.7.1996, p. 215.)) to 'give citizens and residents of the Union the possibility of contacting the Ombudsman via electronic communication systems¨;

11. Condemns the use of the Internet to disseminate messages of a criminal character and in particular the use of the networks to disseminate child pornography and the sexual exploitation of children;

12. Notes that the problem of harmful content on the Internet resembles the problem that also arises with conventional means of communication, so that the introduction of filtering software (PICS) will not solve the problem until questions of classification and coding have been sufficiently clarified;

13. Considers that those countries which have not yet signed the international conventions concerning the protection of people, and especially children, should do so;

14. Is aware of the high degree of attention already given by many providers and numerous users of the Internet to certain aspects liable to misuse of a political and moral character, and welcomes the debates and initiatives organized by professionals in developing mechanisms of self-control and awareness of the need to protect freedom of speech;

15. Urges that the advertisement on the Internet of medical products for sale by correspondence be restricted to products not requiring a prescription and/or medical supervision;

16. Points out that trafficking in human beings for sexual exploitation via many media and means of communication as well as via the Internet is often disguised as information on adoption, job offers (e.g. domestic services) etc; this problem requires extra attention in preparing a general EU policy with respect to combating the traffic in women;

17. Underlines that the Internet can be used as a tool for the distribution of harmful sex-related material when and if the persons depicted are sexually exploited and their personal integrity and dignity degraded; finds the misuse of children for these purposes particularly harmful and despicable; is convinced that national legislation is insufficient to reduce the harmful effects of this truly global industry;

18. Considers that Union intervention in an area that simultaneously affects both the free movement of services (first pillar) and civil liberties and justice (third pillar) must in all cases take account of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality;

19. Urges the governments of the Member States to give greater resources and powers to national police authorities in order to enable the introduction of measures reporting on child pornography on the Internet, and consequently open the way for adequate measures through Europol and Interpol;

20. Stresses that, in a field affecting two of the pillars, a Community approach should be preferred to a purely intergovernmental approach, in view of the democratic guarantees required for monitoring and surveillance, and calls on the IGC to move towards the communitarization of the third pillar;

21. Urges competent national authorities to cooperate in order to reach an international agreement defining issues which are clearly illegal and, therefore, to be prosecuted wherever the provider is based; suggests that easily accessible 'national' catalogues on illegal content or transactions via the Internet be established;

22. Underlines that access and service providers' liability should be regulated at the international level;

23. Proposes that this 'horizontal' cooperation at the political level be matched by systematic 'vertical' cooperation between the political decision- makers, industry, access and service providers and users' associations so as to reduce the need for punitive regulation, by means of preventive cooperation; requests the Commission to act as coordinator of such cooperation;

Illegal content

24. Recalls that the main problem concerning illegal content concerns not so much Web pages themselves as newsgroups and electronic mail, insofar as criminal activities using these means are as difficult to control as any such activities using normal mail or telephony;

25. Calls on the Council to create a centralized register of missing children on the lines of the US 'Center for missing and exploited children' within the future European Information System (EIS);

26. Recommends that police officials should be trained to locate and deal with forms of crime connected with telematic media; suggests that an integral part of Europol work should be to exercise constant vigilance and act immediately on network users' complaints, especially where children are the victims of ill-treatment or perversion at the hands of criminals;

27. Calls on the Member States to define a minimum number of common rules in their criminal law, and to strengthen administrative cooperation on the basis of joint guidelines, so as to act more effectively against illegal content in old and new media;

28. Calls on the Commission to propose, after consulting the European Parliament, a common framework for self-regulation at EU level, to include:

- the objectives to be achieved in terms of the protection of minors, consumer interests and human dignity;

- principles governing the representation of the industries concerned at European level and the decision-making procedures;

- measures to encourage enterprises and industries involved in telematic networks to develop message protection and filtering software, which should be made available automatically to subscribers;

- appropriate arrangements for ensuring that all instances of child pornography uncovered on computer networks are reported to the police and shared with Europol and Interpol;

29. Urges the Member States and the Commission to promote cooperation among Internet access providers, in order to encourage self-regulation;

30. Calls on the Commission to submit proposals for a common regulation of liability for Internet content;

31. Stresses the need for international cooperation between the EU and its main external partners, on the basis of conventions or via the application of new international legal instruments; urges the Commission to discuss with other international agencies (like the UN, OECD, WTO, ITU) how to avoid duplication of effort in achieving this;

32. Points to the need to find solutions to the fact that it is technically simple to offer information in encoded form to a restricted group of users on the Internet;

Harmful content

33. Insists on the primacy of individual responsibility, especially within the family, but that public action can play a complementary role;

34. Calls on the Commission and Member States to encourage the development of a common international rating system compatible with the PICS protocol, and sufficiently flexible to accommodate cultural differences, which will benefit both users and content publishers;

35. Calls for a start to be made with measures at European level that will impose unique sender-recognition codes for all providers of data over the Internet and commit access and service providers to the following minimum standards:

- in respect of data made available by themselves, to accept full responsibility, including full criminal-law responsibility;

- in respect of any criminally unlawful content of third-party services provided by them, to accept responsibility if they are expressly aware of the specific contents and if it is technically possible and reasonable for them to prevent their use;

- in the case of non-criminal content, access and service providers must establish effective self-regulation mechanisms;

36. Calls on the Council to take action to encourage the use of parental control systems using the newly-developed filtering techniques, self-regulation initiatives and the setting-up of European rating systems which make downstream control by parents possible, as well as the establishment of reporting mechanisms ('hotlines');

37. Calls on the Council to review progress and to inform the European Parliament by October 1997, especially in relation to the effectiveness of filtering, rating and child protection systems, given the rapid rate of technology change; calls likewise on the Council to inform it of the progress of the agreement reached at the Dublin meeting by the Justice and Home Affairs Ministers to reinforce police cooperation within Europol with a view to combating paedophilia and the trade in children and women;

38. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission and the governments and parliaments of the Member States.