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Internet issues

`Putting people's needs at the centre'
Users Declaration

General Considerations

The Global Information Society is in its infancy. Top priority must therefore be given to measures encouraging its rapid development, which in turn will contribute to economic growth, increased employment and improved access to information for all.

The Information Society is not only characterised by a radical change in technology, the most visible manifestation of which are Global Information Networks, but also by its high potential to strengthen social and democratic values. However, if this potential is really to be profited from, “sovereignty in the Information Society must”, as stated by the Information Society Forum, “belong to the people, their preferences should determine its uses and how the new technologies will be applied”. The readiness to accept the Information Society and to endorse and partake the incontestable advantages it offers people depends therefore essentially on whether citizens feel that their particular needs and interests are being taken into account and met. In this context, new job opportunities are considered essential.

Users are not homogenous. They range from individual private consumers to large enterprises, and encompass a wide range of cultural diversity. Consequently, users' needs vary and should not be treated as it they were identical. One example may be individual users who are in a much weaker position than large commercial consumers. If the Information Society is to be truly inclusive these differences and especially the particular position of individual users with respect to large commercial consumers must be taken into account. Users should be the driving force in the development of Global Information Networks.

The following statements will take into account user viewpoints by treating specific issues rather than individual user groups.

Putting People at the centre of the Information Society

  1. Public policy should aim to eliminate the potential for social exclusion and to ensure that all European citizens are able to enjoy the benefits of the Information Society without threatening traditional social and cultural values. As stated by the Information Society Forum: “Sovereignty in the Information Society must belong to the people – their preferences should determine its uses and how the new technologies will be applied.” The positive potential of technology to overcome existing societal divisions' needs to be seen as a priority for all parties involved. If this goal is not pro-actively pursued the results could be highly detrimental in further polarising the divisions within society. 

  2. Global Information Networks and their technological realisation have the potential to create a more inclusive society based upon access to information. Global Information Networks can enable marginalised groups - such as people in remote areas, people with disabilities, people from ethnic minorities - to participate more fully in everyday life through increased social contact, training, and job opportunities available due to technological change. However, this process needs to be fostered through positive action which ensures access and training.

Dialogue , Stimulation and Promotion

  1. Users are well aware that public policy makers and industry have already gone to great lengths in stimulating and developing the Information Society and Global Information Networks. Currently, the technological side is leading the process and stronger user participation is considered essential to bridge the current gap and ensure successful deployment. 

  2. Users call for effective and accessible procedures to allow open, constructive consultation between users, providers, the industry (including SME's) and policy makers. It should be understood that users are in favour of further development and are very interested in what is happening in the IS, but need to be kept in touch with the process. 

  3. Promotional activities and projects geared towards specific user groups need to be encouraged to overcome fears of users which mainly stem from lack of information. 

  4. Innovation should equally be stimulated by financial encouragement, will full exploration of all possible options.

Affordability and Access

  1. There is a need to ensure that Information Society services are not only available to a small privileged group, who will be able to afford them. In the short term, the process should be encouraged by the development of public access points in local communities, for example in public libraries. 

  2. The present drives to develop a concerted concept for Universal Service need to take account of the rapid changes in technology and users' needs. Clearly a more dynamic approach is required in light of the convergence of technologies. 

  3. There is a need for a much higher degree of standardisation and user friendliness in the design of new services.

Public Authorities

  1. Official information from public authorities should be instantly available electronically. The public right of access to official information should besides be guaranteed by a legislation securing Freedom of Information. In case government services are delivered electronically, non electronic-forms of delivery of these services should be maintained. The model of a democratic Information Society must also include a non-commercial area of information aimed at improving the participation of the citizen. 

  2. It is vital that public authorities provide a favourable environment, which by necessity should include a reliable legal and fiscal framework. This will mean a European framework within which each National Government will be able to adapt its regulation according to national priorities for building up the confidence of the users and promoting the acceptance of the Information Society. Governments and international organisations should agree on a series of binding global principles.

Local and Regional Authorities

  1. Local and regional authorities are the prime government interface with citizens and are key players in the fight against social exclusion, by also being the experimentation and demonstration platform for public use of new technology. Consequently, Information and Communication Technology cannot simply be regarded as tools for improving “value for money” or the efficiency of public administrations, but should rather be seen as opportunity for improving the quality of living and working.

Security, Confidentiality & Data Protection

  1. User information needs to be protected. This is a necessary prerequisite if users are to feel confident and embrace the Information Society and must include data protection at the workplace. 

  2. It is therefore essential to apply and specify the existing data protection principles in particular in view of the threats arising out of the frightening potential for misuse of digital traces left by the use of on-line services and the collection of marketing data for instance by intelligent search agents bringing together from thousands of Websites and Newsgroups all the available information about an individual. 

  3. Individuals should exactly as in the off-line world have the right to preserve their anonymity. Information should always be collected for a specific and legitimate purpose, known and agreed upon by the persons concerned and subsequently used only for aims not incompatible with the initial collection purpose. Users should have the right to choose the cryptographic method and cryptographic level most appropriate for their specific purpose. 

  4. The Industry should be encouraged to develop and use technologies and standards which minimise the need for processing personal data by allowing to anonymise the electronic traces wherever appropriate. In particular, anonymous payment systems and identity protectors need to be offered. Secure systems of transmission of data over networks must be available to the consumer at affordable costs.

Intellectual Property and Media Pluralism

  1. Strict ownership rules must apply to all providers of services regardless of the transmission medium. Nevertheless, intellectual property rights should not be used as a shield to engage in anti-competitive practices by blocking access to public domain information. Within national boundaries no single operator should be able to control considerable portions of the market (30 %) in which they operate. In this context, the market should be defined on a functional basis (regional, national, etc.).

Reliability of Services and Information

  1. The content of Global Information Networks needs to be fostered. True value-added content, reflecting the rich diversity of Europe, will not be created unless the market demands and advocates it. The user and consumer must therefore be made aware of the benefits, which can be drawn from these networks. 

  2. The citizens' rights to freedom of expression should be maintained when treating content rules. Policy should ensure that existing general law is made applicable to new information services. New rules where they are needed need to be flexible and non-intrusive. The ethical responsibility for the content and quality of information rests with content providers themselves and therefore must be discussed with users in a detailed manner. The Industry should be encouraged to develop filtering and blocking technologies to empower parents, teachers, and others to block content that is inappropriate for children. 

  3. The current convergence of the market should be monitored carefully in order to anticipate anti-competitive behaviour on the supplier side through timely regulation. Action must be taken to avoid creating market conditions which will lead to the monopolisation of the Information Society by some players in the game.

Consumer protection and regulation based upon an effective consultation process

  1. There is clearly a need for a European framework within which each National Governments will be able to formulate regulation adapted to national priorities. Regulation is absolutely fundamental to creating lasting confidence among users. Self-regulation should, where appropriate, be encouraged. It is critical that this process is coupled with the need for protection of the individual. 

  2. Users and suppliers must become partners towards the same end. Simple co-existence is not enough – one can not exists without the other. Transparency of the process is therefore the key.

Education and Training

  1. The changing world demands to meet the needs not only of those who are young and still in school but increasingly lots of others who are older and need to acquire new skills, but have little opportunity to do so through conventional education and training systems. There is an urgent need to address the potential job displacements, which may result from technological developments. Moreover, people need to be sure that the labour market will offer ample and fulfilling job opportunities in a fundamentally changed environment. 

  2. 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. These efforts should be geared in such a way that groups which find technology less appealing or even frightening are also addressed. A proactive approach is needed towards equipping schools, and vocational training systems, so that they have the capacity to play an active part in building the Information Society. 

  3. There is a need to optimise the balance and complementarity between Commission initiatives (in particular Structural Funds) and those of National Governments. The challenge is to intervene in ways that can turn the present vicious circle into a virtuous one of self-sustaining development, helping the transition from the teacher-centred pedagogy of the past to genuinely learner-centred activity. 

  4. The energy that many National Governments are putting in to help get their schools 'on-line' is encouraging, but there's so very much to do! Perhaps it's a time for radical measures! Reform of the Structural Funds might bring appropriate levels of investment to the most important 'structure' of all, the infrastructure through which our people learn to cope with their changing world.

Redress and Complaints Mechanisms

  1. The lack of accountability by suppliers is still frightening many users and inhibiting the more rapid diffusion and take-up of the electronic commerce and the use of Global Information Networks in general. The virtual world often makes the consumers feel as if they have nowhere to turn in case of problems. Open and understandable redress and complaint systems are therefore necessary to increase and maintain the confidence in the new environment. Effective mechanisms must be determined and placed in a coherent framework.

Electronic Commerce

Global Information Networks will only be able to realise their positive potential when individuals realise the value-added these Networks can provide and have confidence in them. The readiness to embark on electronic commerce but also to employ any other technology application typical of the Information Society depends crucially on the confidence of the users. Users' needs need to be taken into account as a matter of urgency in this area and in particular with regard to: advertising and marketing; contract terms; pricing and billing; security of payments; security of information; complaints and redress mechanisms; regulation and enforcement.

Attendance List of the User Meeting



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