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Press release of 8 July 1997

Europe paves the way for rapid growth of Global Information Networks.

At a Conference taking place in Bonn, Ministers of 29 European countries agreed on a number of key principles that will pave the way for a rapid growth in Europe of the use of Global information networks. Representatives of leading European businesses and of European user groups attending the Conference supported in separate statements this drive to stimulate the use of the Information Networks in Europe and beyond. The Ministers undertook to further develop their national strategies and action plans and to strengthen their co-operation at the European and international level.

The objective of this conference was 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 Conference was attended by Ministers from the Member States of the European Union, Members of European Commission, Ministers of the European Free Trade Association and of countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Guests at ministerial level from the United States of America, Canada, Japan and Russia and representatives from industry, users and European and international organisations also participated.

The Conference has resulted in a broad consensus between Ministers, industries, and users on the key issues and solutions for the development of the Global Information Networks.

The Conference considered the data security and use of cryptography as key requirements for the development of the Information Society. The participants stressed the importance of the availability of strong encryption technology for electronic commerce. As a result, Ministers will work to achieve international availability and free choice, subject to applicable law, of cryptographic products.

The Ministerial Declaration

After two days of open and constructive discussions, the participating Ministers adopted the“Bonn Declaration” underlining that the emergence of Global Information Networks is a highly positive development having 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.

The ministers called therefore upon all European actors - businesses, consumers and governments - to work constructively together to fully realise the economic and social potential of Global Information Networks. They committed themselves to maximise opportunities for the creation of new jobs, greater economic integration, the maintenance of social standards and social cohesion. They consider it essential to avoid a division between information “have's” and “have nots”.

The declaration recognises the key role of the private sector in the expansion of Global Information Networks, which must be essentially market-led. Recognising Europe's strong base in technology and infrastructure and the crucial role played by the liberalisation of telecommunications in Europe in the emergence of Global Information Networks, the ministers considered that Europe's cultural and linguistic diversity also constitutes an advantage in the new environment of Global Information Networks. The ministers reaffirmed the need to stimulate a strong and diverse European content and services industry.

The ministers stressed the role which the private sector can play in protecting the interests of consumers and promoting and respecting ethical standards, through properly-functioning systems of self-regulation.

As access to capital, notably to “seed money” and venture capital, is crucial for new, high-growth, information business companies, the declaration calls upon the financial community to provide promising European start ups and SMEs with flexible, efficient mechanisms to raise capital.

The ministers stressed that the legal frameworks should be applied on line as they are off line. In view of the speed with which new technologies are developing they will strive to frame regulations which are technological neutral. They agreed that any regulatory framework should be clear and predictable, pro-competitive, strike the right balance between the freedom of expression and the protection of private and public interests and ensure consumer protection.They also underlined that unnecessary regulation should be avoided.

The ministers supported the principle of non-discriminatory taxes on use of Global Information Networks. They agreed that tax issues of electronic commerce call for international co-operation.

The Ministers encouraged 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.

The Ministers recognised the key role which teachers can play in preparing young people for the Information Society. They underlined 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.

The ministerial declaration stresses Europe's commitment to play its part in the dynamic expansion of global electronic commerce. This will result in greater efficiency, increased responsiveness and cost reductions for Europe's enterprises and allow small companies and newcomers on the market to extend their reach far beyond what was previously possible. European consumers will enjoy wider choice, more comprehensive product information, lower costs and more responsive service.

Ministers agreed to work together towards global principles on the free flow of information whilst protecting the fundamental rights to privacy and personal and business data, building on the work undertaken by the EU, the Council of Europe, the OECD and the UN. The urged industry to apply these principles by technical means for envisaging privacy and protecting personal data.

Ministers considered that Information security is one of the key issues for the emergence of the Global Information Society and recognised the importance of the availability of strong encryption technology for electronic commerce. Therefore they will work to achieve international availability and free choice of cryptography products and interoperable services, subject to applicable law. At the same time ministers encouraged industry to promote the development of secure technologies for information and communication systems.

They emphasised the need for a legal and technical framework at European and international level which ensures compatibility and creates confidence in digital signatures and announced their intention to initiate the necessary steps to remove barriers to their use.

Ministers stressed 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.

The ministers encouraged 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.

Given the fundamentally transnational nature of Global Information Networks, the ministers advised that full use should be made of multilateral fora to strengthen international co-operation. They declared their intention to co-operate fully 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 new services on Global Information networks, 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.

Industry statement

Representatives of leading European businesses declared that the emergence of Global Information Networks will have a profoundly positive impact on industry and citizens. Cross-border trade and services will be promoted as never before.

The significant but high risk investments in technology, services and infrastructure will be taken care of by industry and will be market-led. Therefore, it should be made absolutely clear that creating consumer confidence is, first and foremost, the task of Industry.

Entrepeneurship is the crucial factor and will lead to new industrial structures either from scratch or through arrangements of current businesses. But they need an appropriate and stimulating business environment because of the risks involved.

Governments are responsible for creating this environment.

Global Information Networks furthermore need a global regulatory framework which provides maximum opportunites and freedom for industry. Standardisation is primarily the responsibility of the private sector.

Education and learning are cornerstones for the Information Society, Industry

believes. European governments should move ahead with ambitious and long-term programmes to bring the benefits of the Information Society

to the classrooms, through the teacher. Governments and industry should establish a super highschool for this purpose.

In order to promote full use of this new medium it's necessary to put public services on the net and industry asks governments to impose a deadline for the start of these services:

The users statement

In their statement the representatives of the European users groups said that

the readiness to accept the Information Society and to endorse and partake the incontestable advantages it offers people depends essentially on whether citizens feel that their particular needs and interests are being taken into account and met. Public policy should aim therefore to ensure pro-actively that all European citizens are able to enjoy the benefits of the Information Society protecting social and cultural values if needs to be.

The users stressed that the concept of Universal Service must take into account the rapid advances in technology as well as the developing and changing needs of users'.

Users information needs to be protected and they should have the right to choose the cryptographic method and level most appropriate for their specific purpose. Individuals should as in the off-line world have the right to preserve their anonymity. It is therefore essential to apply and specify the existing data protection principles. The industry should be encouraged to develop and use technologies and standards which minimise the need for processing personal data. In this context, secure systems of transmission of data over networks must be available to the consumer at affordable costs.

Users added that people need to be sure that they will be able to find ample and fulfilling job opportunities in a fundamentally changed environment. The primary guarantee for continued job opportunity is adequate qualification of individuals. Priority must therefore be given to the creation of more training and skill developing opportunities, permitting to use new and emerging networks and technology.

The users underlined that open and understandable redress and complaint systems are necessary to increase and maintain the confidence in the new environment. Effective mechanisms must be determined and placed in a coherent framework.

The results of the conference were presented in a press conference by Mr Günter Rexrodt, German Minister of Economics, and Mr Martin Bangemann, Member of the European Commission in charge of Information Society issues, Mr Wim Dik, Chairman of KPN Holding and Mr Spiros Simitis, European Information Society Forum.

Mr Bangemann welcomed the declaration saying: “This declaration outlines the political guidance Europe needs in order to define its strategy and common answers to the questions raised by the dynamic growth of Electronic Commerce and the development of Global Information Networks. I am particularly satisfied by the fact that the ministerial declaration is very much in line with the European Commission`s communication on Electronic Commerce from April 1997”.

Minister Rexrodt commented on the Bonn Declaration by saying: “I am very satisfied with the discussions and results of the conference. Since I made the proposal for the Bonn conference in October last year the sensitivity and importance of the themes which we have discussed the last two days has become much clearer. The timing for this event could not have been better. Europe has shown itself willing to face the challenge of Global Information Networks and deal with the crucial issues related to cross-border nature of the new services.”

Mr. Rexrodt announced the key principles agreed upon at the Bonn conference which will be incorporated into the action plan “Info 2000” of the German Government including its initiative on electronic commerce.

Mr Wim Dik, chairman of KPN, said: “It is promising that governments acknowledge in such strong terms that this new medium requires a market-driven approach in which industry is primarily responsible for building consumer confidence and governments to create an environment in which confidence will flourish”.

Mr Spiros Simitis, Vice President of the European Information Society Forum, reminded that the Global Information is in its infancy and if the potential of the Information Society is really to be profited from, “people's needs must be put at the centre”. He particularly welcomed the recognition by the Conference that a transparent, inclusive consultation process, securing users basic freedoms and rights, was seen as the only way forward in the Information Society.


 

 

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