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Fwd: OECD considers international Net "code of conduct"

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>Date: 04 May 97 18:37:13 EDT
>From: "K. N. Cukier" <100736.3602@compuserve.com>
>To: Fight Censorship <FIGHT-CENSORSHIP@vorlon.mit.edu>
>Subject: OECD considers international Net "code of conduct"
>Message-Id: <970504223713_100736.3602_EHV82-2@CompuServe.COM>

[1997 has shaped up to be the year meatspace meets cyberspace. Alongside the
European Parliament's move regarding online content (posted earlier on
Fight-Censorship by Declan), the OECD is acting on an request last fall by
France and Belgium to study Internet content and conduct issues; a confidential
working paper was sent in April to OECD countries for input. Since reporting the
story, one OECD-member-country official tells me that his government is
dissatisfied with the negative nature of the paper, and wants it to be more of a
neutral survey of national issues. In terms of regulations, the official says
his government will promote self-regulations from the private sector. -- KNC]

Excerpt from an article on how ISPs deal with the uncertain regulatory
environment, in CommunicationsWeek International (full article on
www.emap.com/cwi/), edition dated 5 May 1997, by K. N. Cukier in Paris:

A confidential working document of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and
Development, obtained by CommunicationsWeek  International, posits the possible
development of an international "code for on-line conduct."

However, the document, which requests information from OECD member countries
regarding national Internet content-related laws, also states that the OECD
"will not make recommendations to governments about how to proceed," and that
"freedom of expression is a fundamental right."

Separately from the report, Sam Paltridge, an economist studying Internet issues
with the OECD in Paris, said: "So much of it [the regulatory environment for
ISPs] seems to be unclear. If I were an ISP, I would not just be concerned about
governments coming in heavy-handed, but what my rights and obligations are."

The working document recommends that the OECD take the unprecedented step of
soliciting input from the Internet community when drafting the report, due in

Additionally, the European Parliament has urged the development of common laws
for member countries of the European Union defining illegal content in an effort
to prosecute offenders across national borders. The body also called for a
similar global accord.

Yet an official at the European Commission Directorate General XIII, in charge
of telecoms issues, admitted that a harmonization of EC-country laws seems
unlikely despite the fact that "there isn't a well-defined [legal] environment."
He said the EC will probably promote an "industry-led initiative."

But for now, industry leaders, lawyers and policy makers agree that legal
uncertainties over on-line content creates costly obstacles for ISPs operating
internationally. "If all companies have to adapt to border laws they cannot very
easily protect themselves," said Barbara Dooley, the executive director of the
Commercial Internet Exchange in Herndon, Virginia.

Johan Helsingius at EUnet International BV in Amsterdam, a backbone provider
that operates in more than 40 European countries, including the former Soviet
Union, said different regulations across Europe shatter plans to achieve the
economies of scale that would be derived from deploying similar policies -- and
equipment -- in all countries.

As a result of the unclear liability rules, ISPs are also quickening efforts to
forge self-regulatory bodies, and demand legal clarity from governments as a
unified industry force. It is uncertain, however, whether such groups will offer
legal protection to ISPs or increase their liability if a single ISP member
contravenes a group decision.


Excerpts from the confidential OECD "Secretariat Consultation Paper on
International Cooperation Concerning Content and Conduct on the Internet":

* "In framing national strategies and designing regulatory structures for the
information infrastructure, governments are recognizing that the impact of such
activities will, in many instances, extend far beyond their frontiers."

* "It may be necessary to re-evaluate the means for cooperation between national
authorities at the international level."

* "The explosive growth in the number of network users in recent years has
exponentially increased the potential social impact that content and conduct may
have today, and this poses a number of new problems which may be addressed by a
collective approach to rules for online etiquette, such as a code of good
conduct for on-line behavior."

* "The free exchange of ideas could be promoted as a fundamental prerequisite
for the continued expression of global information infrastructure and an
important element of democratic society."

* "Given the particular importance and complexities of the issue to be
undertaken in this study -- and in an effort to proceed in this sensitive issue
with an element of public transparency -- it may be useful to engage a public
consultation on these issues. [...] It is recognized that such a public
consultation would deviate from normal OECD practice concerning public
contributions to its international consultations. [...] Nonetheless, the nature
of this issue may warrant the effort to gain some insight into public opinion on
this matter."


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