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nettime-nl: FW: Two press releases on filtering efforts by Bertelsmann Foundation

-----Original Message-----
From: Cyber Rights [mailto:cyber-rights@cpsr.org]
Sent: Thursday, September 09, 1999 2:13 PM
To: cyber-rights@cpsr.org
Subject: Two press releases on filtering efforts by Bertelsmann

Thursday, September 9, 1999      Marc Rotenberg, EPIC Executive Director
1300 GMT                         Dori Kornfeld, EPIC Fellow
                                 (+1) 202-544-9240


MUNICH, GERMANY -- Internet policy and human rights groups from
around the world are warning that a proposed international
rating system for the Internet could jeopardize the free flow of
information on the global medium.  In a joint statement issued
today at the Internet Content Summit in Munich, Germany, 19
organizations from three continents expressed their concerns
that a "voluntary" rating system being considered at the
conference may actually facilitate governmental restrictions on
Internet expression.  The organizations are members of the
Global Internet Liberty Campaign (GILC), an international
coalition of organizations working to protect and enhance online
civil liberties and human rights.

The organizations, which include the leading advocates of
Internet free expression, question the suggestion that
industry-promoted rating and filtering systems will reduce the
possibility of legal restrictions on online content.  They say
in the statement that, "these systems should be viewed more
realistically as fundamental architectural changes that may, in
fact, facilitate the suppression of speech far more effectively
than national laws alone ever could."

According to David Sobel, General Counsel of the Electronic
Privacy Information Center (EPIC), one of the groups issuing the
statement, "The Internet community does not support the concept
of rating online content.  We all want to ensure that children
can make appropriate use of the Internet, but there has been too
much emphasis on blocking information and too little emphasis on
teaching kids to use the medium responsibly."  Sobel is
attending the Munich summit meeting, along with representatives
of several other GILC member groups that endorsed the joint

On the occasion of the Munich meeting, EPIC has released a new
collection of articles that examine the potential problems of
Internet rating and filtering systems.  Contributors include
many of the organizations signing today's joint statement.
"Filters & Freedom: Free Speech Perspectives on Internet Content
Controls" warns that content filters could severely limit free
expression on the Internet.  Copies of the collection are being
distributed to all participants at the Internet Content Summit.
Additional information on the publication is available at the
EPIC website:


The full text of the GILC member statement is attached below and
is also available at the GILC website:


       Global Internet Liberty Campaign Member Statement
          Submitted to the Internet Content Summit
                       Munich, Germany
                    September 9-11, 1999


The creation of an international rating and filtering system for
Internet content has been proposed as an alternative to national
legislation regulating online speech.  Contrary to their
original intent, such systems may actually facilitate
governmental restrictions on Internet expression.  Additionally,
rating and filtering schemes may prevent individuals from
discussing controversial or unpopular topics, impose burdensome
compliance costs on speakers, distort the fundamental cultural
diversity of the Internet, enable invisible "upstream"
filtering, and eventually create a homogenized Internet
dominated by large commercial interests.  In order to avoid the
undesirable effects of legal and technical solutions that seek
to block the free flow of information, alternative educational
approaches should be emphasized as less restrictive means of
ensuring beneficial uses of the Internet.

               *          *          *

A number of serious concerns have been raised since rating and
filtering systems were first proposed as voluntary alternatives
to government regulation of Internet content. The international
human rights and free expression communities have taken the lead
in fostering more deliberate consideration of so-called
"self-regulatory" approaches to Internet content control.
Members of the Global Internet Liberty Campaign have monitored
the development of filtering proposals around the world and have
previously issued two statements on the issue -- "Impact of
Self-Regulation and Filtering on Human Rights to Freedom of
Expression" in March 1998 and a "Submission to the World Wide
Web Consortium on PICSRules" in December 1997.  These joint
statements reflect the international scope of concern over the
potential impact that "voluntary" proposals to control on-line
content could have on the right to freedom of opinion and
expression guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights.  The undersigned organizations now reiterate
those concerns on the occasion of the Internet Content Summit.

Originally promoted as technological alternatives that would
prevent the enactment of national laws regulating Internet
speech, filtering and rating systems have been shown to pose
their own significant threats to free expression.  When closely
scrutinized, these systems should be viewed more realistically
as fundamental architectural changes that may, in fact,
facilitate the suppression of speech far more effectively than
national laws alone ever could.

First, the existence of a standardized rating system for
Internet content -- with the accompanying technical changes to
facilitate blocking -- would allow governments to mandate the
use of such a regime.  By requiring compliance with an existing
ratings system, a state could avoid the burdensome task of
creating a new content classification system while defending the
ratings protocol as voluntarily created and approved by private

This concern is not hypothetical. Australia has already enacted
legislation which mandates blocking of Internet content based on
existing national film and video classification guidelines. The
Broadcasting Services Amendment (Online Services) Bill places
sweeping restrictions on adults providing or gaining access to
material deemed unsuitable for minors as determined by
Australian film and video classification standards. The
Australian experience shows that even developed democracies can
engage in Internet censorship, given the necessary technical
tools.  An international content ratings system would be such a
tool, creating a ratings regime and blocking mechanisms which
states could impose on their citizens.

Australia is not alone in its support of mandatory Internet
content ratings systems.  The United States government, in its
unsuccessful defense of the Communications Decency Act, argued
that the use of an Internet "tagging" scheme would serve as a
defense to liability under the Act.  The scenario advanced by
the U.S. government would have required online speakers to "tag"
material as "indecent" in a manner that would facilitate
blocking of such content.  That argument failed in the face of
evidence that Web browsers were not yet configured to recognize
and block material bearing such "tags."  If the sort of
"voluntary" rating systems being advocated today had been widely
used in 1996, the government's argument may have prevailed.

In sum, the establishment and widespread acceptance of an
international rating and blocking system could promote a new
model of speech suppression, shifting the focus of governmental
censorship initiatives from direct prohibition of speech to
mandating the use of existing ratings and blocking technologies.

Second, the imposition of civil or criminal penalties for
"mis-rating" Internet content is likely to follow any widespread
deployment of a rating and blocking regime.  A state-imposed
penalty system that effectively deters misrepresentations would
likely be proposed to facilitate effective "self-regulation."
Proposed legislation creating criminal and civil liability for
mis-rating Internet content has already been discussed in the
United States.

In addition to their potential to actually encourage government
regulation, rating and filtering systems possess other
undesirable characteristics.  Such systems are likely to:

* prevent individuals from using the Internet to exchange
information on topics that may be controversial or unpopular;

* impose burdensome compliance costs on non-commercial or
relatively small commercial speakers;

* distort the fundamental cultural diversity of the Internet by
forcing Internet speech to be labeled or rated according to a
single classification system;

* enable invisible "upstream" filtering by Internet Service
Providers or other entities; and

* eventually create a homogenized Internet dominated by large
commercial speakers.

In light of the many potential negative effects of rating and
filtering systems, the movement toward their development and
acceptance must be slowed. If free speech principles are to be
preserved on the Internet, thoughtful consideration of these
initiatives and their potential dangers is clearly warranted.
Although generally well-intentioned, proposals for
"self-regulation" of Internet content carry with them a
substantial risk of damaging the online medium in unintended

The rejection of rating and filtering systems would not leave
the online community without alternatives to state regulation.
In fact, alternative solutions exist that would likely be more
effective than the legal and technical approaches that have
created a binary view of the issue of children's access to
Internet content.  Approaches that emphasize education and
parental supervision should receive far more attention than they
have to date, as they alone possess the potential to effectively
direct young people toward beneficial and appropriate uses of
the Internet.  Ultimately, the issue is one of values, which can
only be addressed properly within a particular family or
cultural environment.  Neither punitive laws nor blocking
technologies can ensure that a child will only access online
content deemed appropriate by that child's family or community.
While the Internet is a global medium, questions concerning its
appropriate use can only be addressed at the most local level.

For these reasons, we urge a re-orientation of the ongoing
debate over Internet content.  We submit that a false dichotomy
has been created, one that poses state regulation or industry
"self-regulation" as the only available options.  We urge a more
open-minded debate that seriously explores the potential of
educational approaches that are likely to be more effective and
less destructive of free expression.

This submission is made by the following organizations:

ALCEI - Associazione per la Liberta nella
Comunicazione Elettronica Interattiva

American Civil Liberties Union

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression

Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK)

Electronic Frontiers Australia

Electronic Frontier Foundation

Electronic Privacy Information Center

Foerderverein Informationstechnik und Gesellschaft (FITUG)

Fronteras Electronicas Espana (FrEE)

Human Rights Watch

Index on Censorship

Internet Freedom

Internet Society

Imaginons un Reseau Internet Solidaire (IRIS)

Liberty (National Council for Civil Liberties)


Privacy International






Internet Freedom unreservedly condemns attempts by the Internet industry,
policy makers and law enforcement agencies to enforce industry regulation
of the Internet, calling it a "short cut to censorship".

This Friday 10 September The Bertelsmann Foundation ,which is a member of
the pro-rating group Internet Content Rating Association (ICRA), will
present a "Memorandum on Self-Regulation" at the Internet Content Summit in
Munich, Germany. The memorandum outlines international proposals to
regulate content on the Net.

According to CNET News.com, who have obtained access to the memo, it
proposes that web sites develop codes of conduct, Internet Service
Providers remove illegal sites, governments and industry groups set up hot
lines for people to report questionable online content, an improved
'architecture' for the rating and filtering of Internet content, the
labelling of material by content providers, and the provision of filters
for Internet users.

A similar plan sponsored by the Internet Content Rating for Europe (INCORE)
is also likely to be proposed at the summit.

Contrary to its much-hyped packaging, so-called rating schemes do not
operate like film classification. Material is not merely labelled according
to some third-party judgement as to its content, but is physically blocked
to prevent access. Any adult can see an '18' certificate film if the
choose, but they will not be able to visit sites blocked by their service
providers, by libraries, by their employers or by regulatory bodies.
Experience in the UK has already shown the eagerness of sections of the
industry to block legal material deemed offensive to adults. Moreover, the
absence of accountability inherent in industry regulation means that
Internet users may not even know of the existence of material that is
screened out. In common with film classification, rating will mean that a
vast body of unrated material will be effectively censored. Some of the
leading search engines have already indicated that they will cease to list
unrated material.

Rating and filtering disempowers parents by taking the judgement of
material out of their hands and placing it firmly in the grip of service
providers, industry regulators and content providers. More importantly, it
will make children the focus of concern for all originators of content,
regardless of the intended audience, making the needs of children the
orientation of the entire Internet. This can only have devastating
consequences for freedom of expression.

The UK has been treated as a guinea pig for the war on free speech. For
more than three years the Internet Watch Foundation has operated a hotline
for reporting controversial material, ISPs have routinely removed
'potentially' illegal web sites, and the government has regularly
emphasised its commitment to filtering and rating. In 1996 Science and
Technology Minister Ian Taylor warned that in the absence of
self-regulation, the police would take action against service providers as
well as the originators of illegal material. The Internet industry may have
felt it had no choice, but self regulation has meant that UK Net users are
among the most heavily policed in the world.

Chris Ellison, chief spokesman for the Campaign, commented:

"For some years would-be censors have bemoaned the technical difficulty of
censoring Net material. The widespread adoption of content rating will for
the first time make censorship a technical possibility. The proposals will
empower no one but the industry bodies themselves. The Munich Summit marks
the beginning of an international war on free speech on the Net."

For further comment call Chris Ellison on 00 44 (0) 956 129 518


1. Internet Freedom is one of the UK's leading cyber liberties campaigns.
Their web site is at http://www.netfreedom.org. They can be contacted on 00
44 (0) 171 681 1559 or emailed on campaign@netfreedom.org.

2. The Internet Content Summit will be held in Munich on September 9-11,
1999, where the Bertelsmann Foundation will present its "Memorandum on
Self-Regulation." Information about the summit can be found at

3. The Internet Content Rating Association (ICRA) was formed in April 1999
to develop, implement and manage an internationally acceptable voluntary
self-rating system. ICRA members include America Online Europe, Bertelsmann
Foundation, Microsoft, IBM, British Telecom, British Telecom, Demon
Internet (UK), EuroISPA, Internet Watch Foundation, Microsoft, Software &
Information Industry Association, and T-Online Germany. ICRA's website is
at http://www.icra.org/

4. Internet Content Rating for Europe (INCORE) was set up by a group of
European organisations with a common interest in industry self-regulation
and rating of Internet content. It is now focused on a project which aims
to create a generic rating and filtering system suitable for European
users. This is being funded by the European Commission in 1999. INCORE's
web site is at http://www.incore.org/

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