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European Governments and Control of Online Content

Adam Clayton POWELL 3rd <>
Freedom Forum

David L. SOBEL <>
Electronic Privacy Information Center


A panel discussion of freedom expression issues arising on the Internet and the responses of European governments to the perceived problem of "harmful content." The panel will specifically address European Union initiatives by the EC and selected European nations and the development of the Platform for Internet Content Selection (PICS) by the World Wide Web Consortium and other techniques for rating and filtering information.


[Additional panelists will be selected from conferences in February and March; see background, below.]


One of the central factors governing the development of the Internet and Internet-based communication, collaborative research, and information and commercial services is the legal-regulatory context in which the Net is evolving.

Recognizing the centrality of the topic and the opportunity presented by INET'98's location at the center of the European continent, this proposal would focus on a session featuring a series of presentations and a panel discussion of control of online content by selected European governments.

Control of online content by European governments would be addressed globally and comparatively with a panel of experts presenting current research on the similarities and differences among major nations including France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, updated to be current information as of the INET'98 meeting in July 1998.

The presentation at INET'98 would follow one or more research conferences convened in the winter and spring at the Freedom Forum's European Center in London and at the Freedom Forum's principal center outside Washington, DC, to draw on Europe- and US-based scholars in the fields of engineering, law, and information.

Four to six principal presenters from these meetings would present their findings at INET'98 in Geneva in July. All of their reports presented at the meetings preceding INET'98 would be available online in June and as handouts in July as supplementary supporting documents for the panel presentations and discussion in Geneva. Full proceedings of these conferences would also be published online in full text and abstract form, and the conferences would be available online in cached RealAudio.

The model for this panel, albeit on a much smaller scale, was the discussion in Kuala Lumpur at INET'97 on control of online content by Asian governments. Four months prior to the Internet Society meeting, the Freedom Forum convened a group of experts in its Asian headquarters in Hong Kong to present current research, country by country, by residents of or scholars who had just returned from China, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, and, of course, Hong Kong.

Presenting scholars represented institutions including [in alphabetical order] Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Rutgers University, and the University of California at Berkeley. There was also a presentation of the experience of Dow-Jones by a senior journalist from the Asian Wall Street Journal. In addition, there was a presentation contrasting the laws and regulations of Asian governments with those of the United States.

The reports presented at this conference were published in full text and in abstract form, informing the presentation in Kuala Lumpur which summarized each of them and providing context and background for discussion at the INET'97 panel. In addition, two of the presenters from the Hong Kong conference attended the INET'97 panel discussion, and we also held a follow-up conference in the US in January.

A similar set of research projects and presentations is contemplated for INET'98 to research, analyze, and present the issues surrounding the laws and practices of governments of Europe.

And just as research from the Hong Kong conference informed and provided context for the presentations and panel discussion at INET'97 in Kuala Lumpur, the research that is presented in the London conference(s) would inform and provide context for the proposed session at INET'98 in Geneva.

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