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European Ministers

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Ministerial declaration

The Federal Republic of Germany and the European Commission have jointly organised the European Ministerial Conference entitled “Global Information Networks: Realising the Potential”, held in Bonn from 6-8 July 1997.

Ministers from the Member States of the European Union, members of the European Free Trade Association and countries of the Central and Eastern Europe and Cyprus, members of the European Commission, distinguished guests from the United States of America, Canada, Japan and Russia and representatives from industry, users and European and international organisations have attended the Conference.

The objective of this conference has been to broaden the common understanding of the use of Global Information Networks, to identify barriers to their use, to discuss possible solutions and to undertake an open dialogue on further possibilities for European and international co-operation.

The participating Ministers from the Member States of the European Union, Ministers of countries of the European Free Trade Association and Ministers of countries of the Central and Eastern Europe and Cyprus hereby DECLARE:

An Opportunity for All

  1. Ministers consider the emergence of Global Information Networks a highly positive development. This is an issue of crucial importance for Europe's future and an opportunity for all, businesses small and large, citizens and public administrations.
  2. Ministers recognise that advances in Global Information Networks have the potential to affect every aspect of our society from commerce to health care, from education to leisure, from the practice of government to the exercise of democracy. They consider that opportunities offered by Global Information Networks must be seized most energetically and speedily in order to reap the benefits in terms of competitiveness, growth and employment. In this respect, they note that the Internet is already starting to create new businesses, new high-value services and, most importantly, new jobs.
  3. They stress the special characteristics and fundamentally transnational nature of the Internet, the most striking example of such networks, which set it apart in almost every way from traditional means of communication. They note the pioneering role played by the European scientific community in the development of the World Wide Web, and by European companies and users in its global growth.
  4. Global Networks represent a powerful influence in the social, educational and cultural fields empowering educators, lowering the barriers of entry for the creation and dissemination of content in different languages, offsetting the effect of distance for more remote users and offering users access to ever richer sources of information.
  5. Equally importantly, they note, Global Information Networks give practical reality to freedom of expression and access to information. Global Information Networks contribute to democracy by improving communication between citizens and their administrations and facilitating active participation in the democratic process.
  6. Ministers recognise that these new opportunities come with new challenges. In particular the sheer pace of development may create technological and legal uncertainties. Such concerns, if not answered, will delay investments by businesses and slow down take-up by users.
  7. They call therefore upon all European actors businesses, consumers and governments to work constructively together to answer these challenges and fully realise the economic and social potential of Global Information Networks. In particular, they commit themselvesto maximise opportunities for the creation of new jobs, the exploitation of new forms of employment (such as teleworking), the maintenance of social standards, greater economic integration and social cohesion. They consider it essential to avoid a division between information “haves” and “have nots” in Europe and globally.

Fostering economic growth: developing content and commerce

  1. Ministers recognise the considerable potential of Global Information Networks to foster economic growth, in particular through more efficient communications, the development of new forms of content and the take-off of electronic commerce. They consider that seizing the opportunities is vital for Europe's future competitiveness and stress Europe's commitment to play its part in the dynamic expansion of global electronic commerce.
  2. Ministers recognise that content is an important sector in its own right as well as a key driver of electronic commerce. They consider, therefore, that the provision of high-quality European content and services constitutes a high economic and industrial priority. They stress that rich and diverse content and services will not only answer the needs of European consumers, but, in a digital environment which favours diversity, prove equally appealing to users in other parts of the world.
  3. Ministers note with satisfaction the commitment of European companies large operators as well as innovative SMEs who have harnessed considerable expertise and investment to position themselves successfully on global multimedia and information markets. These initiatives should be vigorously encouraged. Rapid take-up of use of Global Information Networks, especially by SMEs, is of crucial importance to their competitiveness.
  4. Ministers underline the opportunities which electronic commerce offers for both European enterprises and consumers. For enterprises, it brings greater efficiency, increased responsiveness and cost reductions. It allows small companies and newcomers on the market to extend their reach far beyond what was previously possible. Ministers recognise that European consumers also stand to gain from wider choice, increased availability of specialised products, more comprehensive product information, lower costs and more responsive service.
  5. Ministers stress the importance of Internet domain names for the development of electronic commerce. They support the principle of an internationally recognised and transparent system of management of the Domain Name System. They consider it imperative to ensure adequate European representation in this system.

A key role for the private sector

  1. Ministers recognise the key role which the private sector is playing in the emergence of Global Information Networks, in particular through investments in infrastructures and services.
  2. Ministers consider that the expansion of Global Information Networks must essentially be market-led and left to private initiative. They consider, in particular, that private enterprise should drive the expansion of electronic commerce in Europe.
  3. Ministers note with satisfaction the pioneering role taken by the European industries, notably through the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue, in the process leading to WTO agreements on the opening of global communication markets and to the removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers on Information Technology products. They call upon all actors to build on this momentum and to take a similar leading role in the development of new information content and electronic commerce, thus ensuring that Europe fully benefits from the shift from infrastructure to content.
  4. Ministers note with satisfaction the key role taken by the industry itself in the process of standards setting. They consider that technological and commercial interoperability in a competitive environment is a vital factor for the future development of Global Information Networks. They therefore encourage European companies not only to participate actively in international standardisation efforts, but also to leverage specific European strengths at a global level.
  5. Ministers underline the crucial role of entrepreneurship in the emergence of Global Information Networks. Ministers therefore challenge European industry to mobilise their considerable resources in this field and to maximise innovation and creativity with the aim of creating wealth and employment.
  6. Ministers recognise that access to capital, notably to “seed money” and venture capital, is crucial for new, high-growth, information business companies. They call upon the financial community to provide promising European start ups and SMEs, with flexible, efficient mechanisms to raise capital, in particular in the early and intermediate stages of their development. They will encourage innovative ways to channel investment into this key sector.
  7. Ministers stress the role which the private sector can play in protecting the interests of consumers and in promoting and respecting ethical standards, through properly-functioning systems of self-regulation in compliance with and supported by the legal system. Ministers encourage industry to implement open, platform-independent content rating systems, and to propose rating services which meet the needs of different users and take account of Europe's cultural and linguistic diversity. They note that the EU Council Resolution of 17 February 1997 on illegal and harmful content on the Internet strongly supports such an approach.

Two important roles for governments: providing the framework and stimulating new services

Providing the framework

  1. Ministers recognise that the public sector will need to play an active part in order to ensure that Global Information Networks fulfil their potential.
  2. Ministers agree that any regulatory framework for electronic commerce should be clear and predictable, pro-competitive, strike the right balance between the freedom of expression and the protection of private and public interests, in particular the protection of minors, and ensure consumer protection.
  3. Ministers stress that the general legal frameworks should be applied on-line as they are off-line. In view of the speed at which new technologies are developing, they will strive to frame regulations which are technology-neutral, whilst bearing in mind the need to avoid unnecessary regulation.
  4. Ministers agree to work towards the establishment of such frameworks, which will give consumers confidence and encourage business to invest.
  5. Ministers support the principle of non-discriminatory taxes on use of Global Information Networks. They agree that tax issues of electronic commerce call for international co-operation and where appropriate co-ordination in order to avoid distortion of competition.

Stimulating new services

  1. Ministers encourage the use of networks in public services such as education, health care and the environment. They will promote their use so as to foster “electronic democracy” by providing information to and facilitating responses by the citizen. They will use networks to bring citizens and businesses closer to the administration, for instance by allowing completion of administrative formalities electronically.
  2. Ministers recognise the key role that competition plays in stimulating new services and also the importance of encouraging provision of access to Global Information Networks and services at affordable prices. They will also work towards easy and wide access for all through public facilities such as libraries. They stress that public sector information represents considerable value for citizens and industry and will be a substantial driver of Global Information Networks. They will work to ensure its wider availability through the use of new technologies.
  3. Ministers will leverage the procurement activities of the public sector, itself a major purchaser and user of Global Information Networks, in order to improve the quality of services to the public, the effectiveness of public administrations, and the participation of citizens. They will encourage the creation of public/private partnerships in order to facilitate the development of new technology and services.
  4. Ministers will stimulate research and development so as to foster innovation and create a user-friendly information society. Ministers urge research centres to further co-operative research using Global Information Networks, by linking up throughout Europe and interconnecting to the “Global Research Village”.

The need to build confidence

  1. Ministers recognise that it is crucial to build trust and confidence in Global Information Networks by ensuring that basic human rights are respected and by safeguarding the interests of society in general, including producers and consumers, particularly through fair and transparent offers of service. They underline the need to ensure that rules on the applicable law and the competent court, particularly in cases involving consumers, are appropriate.

Protection of creativity and investment

  1. Intellectual property rights, in particular copyright and related rights, play a key role in encouraging creativity and the availability of a critical mass of content and in enabling electronic commerce on the Global Information Networks.
  2. Ministers will work towards a rapid completion of suitable adaptations to the legislative framework for copyright and related rights in order to recognise the new phenomena of the Information Society and bring about a coherent and favourable environment for creativity and investment in Europe.
  3. Ministers welcome the two WIPO Treaties adopted in December 1996 and will work towards their rapid ratification and entry into force. Ministers emphasise the need for full and timely implementation of the TRIPS agreement.
  4. Ministers will also work towards global consensus, through active involvement in current international negotiations, notably in the framework of WIPO, on the issues under negotiation (such as protection of audiovisual performances, sui generis protection of databases requiring substantial investment, and trademarks and domain names).
  5. Ministers reiterate their commitment to fighting piracy, including piracy in the area of conditional access services. They commit themselves to reinforcing international co-operation in that area, and to pursue this form of criminality as a matter of priority.

Security and confidentiality

  1. Ministers consider that Information Security is one of the key issues for the emergence of the Global Information Society and recognise the importance of the availability of strong encryption technology for electronic commerce.
  2. They will work to achieve international availability and free choice of cryptography products and interoperable services, subject to applicable law, thus effectively contributing to data security and the confidentiality of personal and business information. If countries take measures in order to protect legitimate needs of lawful access, they should be proportionate and effective and respect applicable provisions relating to privacy. Ministers take note of the recently agreed OECD Guidelines on Cryptography Policy as a basis for national policies and international co-operation.
  3. Ministers strongly encourage industry to promote the development of secure technologies for information and communication systems.

Digital signatures

  1. Ministers emphasise the need for a legal and technical framework at European and international level which ensures compatibility and creates confidence in digital signatures, a reliable and transparent way of ensuring data, document and message integrity and authentication both for electronic commerce and for electronic transactions between public bodies and citizens.
  2. Ministers call upon industry and international standards organisations to develop technical and infrastructure standards for digital signatures to ensure secure and trustworthy use of networks and respect privacy and data protection requirements.
  3. Ministers will initiate the necessary steps to remove barriers to the use of digital signatures in law, business and public administration, and to provide legal and mutual recognition of certificates.

Responsibility of the actors

  1. Ministers underline the importance of clearly defining the relevant legal rules on responsibility for content of the various actors in the chain between creation and use. They recognise the need to make a clear distinction between the responsibility of those who produce and place content in circulation and that of intermediaries.
  2. Ministers stress that the rules on responsibility for content should be based on a set of common principles so as to ensure a level playing field. Therefore, intermediaries like network operators and access providers should, in general, not be responsible for content. This principle should be applied in such a way that intermediaries like network operators and access providers are not subject to unreasonable, disproportionate or discriminatory rules. In any case, third-party content hosting services should not be expected to exercise prior control on content which they have no reason to believe is illegal. Due account should be taken of whether such intermediaries had reasonable grounds to know and reasonable possibility to control content.
  3. Ministers consider that rules on responsibility should give effect to the principle of freedom of speech, respect public and private interests and not impose disproportionate burdens on actors.

Empowering the users

Enabling participation by all

  1. Ministers are in favour of actions to encourage awareness and electronic literacy among all age-groups and sections of society. Ministers uphold the right of users to decide how they wish to use Global Networks as part of their daily lives.
  2. Ministers stress the importance of wide accessibility of information technology to citizens of both sexes and of all ages and backgrounds, including those in remote regions and disadvantaged groups, e.g. the long-term unemployed, people with disabilities and elderly people. Ministers will encourage actions to make content available in users' own languages thus fostering linguistic diversity.

Electronic literacy and education

  1. Global Information Networks can achieve their maximum potential if all citizens and enterprises not only have the means of accessing the services provided, but are also able to use them with confidence. Ministers therefore call on industry to accelerate development of user-friendly interfaces in order to simplify usage, raise computer literacy and tackle the underlying reasons for limited and/or reluctant use of the networks. Users' needs vary from the simple to the sophisticated and they should be able to purchase equipment and software appropriate to those needs.
  2. Ministers will stimulate developments in the educational system and in professional training systems so that information made available on the networks is exploited as part of the learning process at all levels, from primary to postgraduate, as well as for lifelong learning.
  3. Ministers recognise the key role which teachers can play in preparing young people for the Information Society. They underline that special efforts should be made to enable them to integrate multimedia content into their teaching programmes from primary school onwards. Starting from an early age children should undergo “network literacy” training, to familiarise them with using new communication technologies and Global Information Networks.

Data protection

  1. Ministers affirm strongly that personal data of users of Global Information Networks should only be collected and processed where the user has given informed consent or where such collection or processing is permitted by law, and that appropriate legal safeguards and technical tools should be provided to protect the user's right to privacy.
  2. Ministers agree to work together towards global principles on the free flow of information whilst protecting the fundamental right to privacy and personal and business data, building on the work undertaken by the EU, the Council of Europe, the OECD and the UN.
  3. Ministers recognise the principle that where the user can choose to remain anonymous off-line, that choice should also be available on-line.
  4. Ministers urge industry to implement technical means for ensuring privacy and protecting personal data on the Global Information Networks, such as anonymous browsing, e-mail and payment facilities.

Facilitating users' choice

  1. Ministers urge the software industry to provide the necessary tools to enable users to select categories of content which they do or do not wish to receive so as to deal with information overload and undesired or harmful content.
  2. Ministers therefore welcome the development of powerful services and software tools which enable information search and retrieval, and delivery directly to the user of specifically requested information.
  3. Ministers stress the importance of the availability of filtering mechanisms and rating systems which allow users to decide on categories of content which they wish themselves, or minors for whom they are responsible, to access.

Building on Europe's strengths

  1. Ministers consider that Europe's many strengths will provide a crucial contribution to the development of Global Information Networks. Building on these strengths should be a leading consideration.
  2. Ministers recognise that Europe's strong base in technology and infrastructure will constitute a strategic advantage. They note, in particular, Europe's successes in developing key standards for Global Information Networks, its leadership in the early deployment of advanced digital telecommunication networks and in the development of essential electronic commerce technologies such as smart cards. They recognise the crucial role played by the liberalisation of telecommunications in Europe in the emergence of Global Information Networks, and in the development of electronic commerce in Europe. They commit themselves to a full and timely opening of telecommunication markets, in conformity with previous commitments and international agreements.
  3. Similarly, Ministers recognise that content development is another of Europe's strengths. They consider that the cultural and linguistic diversity, which is at the heart of Europe's common heritage, also constitutes a definite commercial advantage in the new environment of Global Information Networks. In this perspective, Ministers will encourage actions aiming at disseminating cultural content, the development and use of IT tools and methods to facilitate the transfer of information between languages, as well as current international standardisation efforts to allow languages with different character sets to be used over networks.
  4. Ministers reaffirm the need to stimulate a strong and diverse European content and services industry. They note with satisfaction that European multimedia companies are already harnessing considerable resources and expertise to launch high-value information-based services and products on Global Information Networks. They also note that highly innovative European SMEs, specialised in such diverse fields as multimedia production, advanced language processing and information search, are positioning themselves successfully on global markets. Ministers will actively promote innovation in content and services through active cross-fertilisation between audiovisual, telecommunications and publishing companies in Europe. Ministers challenge the European industry to build further on such opportunities, and governments to encourage such initiatives concretely.
  5. Ministers stress the contribution which Global Information Networks can make to the process of European integration. The free flow of information and the removal of time and distance as handicaps allow businesses, consumers and governments of all European countries, in particular those aspiring to membership of the European Union, to have access to the same information on the same terms, and to be providers of information and services as well as users. Increased competition in the market will reduce the cost of the necessary investment in infrastructure and the cost of using the network.

Strengthening the international dimension

  1. Ministers re-affirm the fundamentally transnational nature of Global Information Networks. They note, in particular, that electronic commerce is, by its very nature, global. Ministers reaffirm that international co-operation is essential to tackle the barriers limiting complete realisation of the potential of Global Information Networks and to ensure that the full benefits are available not only within individual countries, but also throughout Europe and throughout the world.
  2. They support interconnection of European networks and those of industrialised and developing countries, co-operation actions in particular with Central and Eastern European Countries and Mediterranean countries and collaboration in the context of the G7 pilot projects, in particular the Global Marketplace for SMEs.
  3. Ministers recognise that recent landmark agreements such as the WTO Agreement on Basic Telecommunications, the Information Technology Agreement and the bilateral Mutual Recognition Agreements on certification procedures will have a direct positive impact on Global Information Networks, by stimulating competition, lowering costs and creating new opportunities, particularly in the field of electronic commerce, for the benefit of all users.
  4. Ministers advise that full use be made of multilateral fora to strengthen international co-operation, while ensuring that their activities are properly co-ordinated. In this spirit, Ministers will fully co-operate together and within the Council of Europe, the OECD, the WTO and other appropriate international fora, in order to identify and dismantle existing obstacles to the use of electronic commerce, to prevent the establishment of new barriers, and to establish a clear and predictable legal framework at national and, where appropriate, European and global levels.
  5. Ministers recognise the specific challenges posed by the misuse of Global Information Networks. They consider, therefore, that international co-operation is essential in this area. Ministers will actively encourage the reinforcement of police and judicial co-operation, particularly in the area of technology training and mutual assistance, to prevent and combat illegal content and high technology crime. They support the establishment of international networks of hot-lines.
  6. Ministers welcome the recent initiative of the OECD aiming at a comparative study of national legislations and an exchange of experiences on the issue of illegal content on the Internet. Supporting a multilateral as well as a European approach, they consider that the international dimension is crucial in the building of trust and confidence in the Global Information Networks.

Follow-up

  1. Ministers request the Information Society Forum and the EU/CEEC Forum to consider actions to increase public awareness across Europe such as establishing an “Information Society Day” at the European level.
  2. Ministers welcome the suggestions made by several countries to organise specialised events during 1998 in order to take specific issues addressed during this Conference further.
  3. Ministers undertake to further develop their national strategies and action plans and strengthen their co-operation at the European and international level to promote the provision and use of Global Information Networks based on the principles of this Declaration.

 

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