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(Fwd) [NEWS] Newsbytes on Munich Conference

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Date sent:      	Fri, 3 Sep 1999 17:07:25 -0400
From:           	Marc Rotenberg <rotenberg@epic.org>
Subject:        	[NEWS] Newsbytes on Munich Conference
To:             	gilc-plan@gilc.org
Send reply to:  	gilc-plan@gilc.org

  WASHINGTON, DC, U.S.A., 1999 SEP 3 (Newsbytes) -- By Robert
Newsbytes. Online free-speech groups say they are worried about an
upcoming conference of Internet industry heavyweights that could
result in an international ratings standards code that could lead to
government censorship.
    As Newsbytes reported in May, the Internet Content Rating
(ICRA) was formed by a group of mostly big-time industry players bent
on developing its own regulations to avoid the potential government
regulation of Internet content.
    The association has planned a meeting in Munich, Germany, from
9 to Sept. 11, at which it will hear two conflicting proposals for a
worldwide ratings system, one of which features input from former
White House Special Policy Adviser Ira C. Magaziner and Internet
Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) Interim Chairwoman
Esther Dyson.
    ICRA Executive Director Stephen Balkam told Newsbytes that the
of establishing an international ratings system certainly will not
please everyone.
    The Bertelsmann Foundation-sponsored plan that will come up next
was developed by an "expert network," including Magaziner and Dyson,
and drafted mainly by Yale Law School professor Jack Balkin. It calls
for the ratings system, Website conduct codes and about 10 other
points. It will go up against a program sponsored by the Internet
Content Rating for Europe (INCORE) proposal, which contains some
difference that reflect the European Union's own involvement in the
online content debate.
    "I think that there have been some within certain organizations
have always viewed this as a potential threat for government
censorship, " Balkam said. "Yes...governments can do all kinds of
things to their people, but we should remain vigilant in everything
from ratings systems to the electric chair."
    ICRA, which has absorbed the US-based ratings group the
Software Advisory Council, supports the use of Internet filtering to
keep children away from harmful content online, but does not
necessarily support governmental imposition of these systems.
    "We do support filtering because we are a rating and filtering
service, but our second mission is to protect free speech because we
see our efforts as discouraging governments from creating
legislation," Balkam said. "Everything to do with policy on the
Internet is a tricky balance."
    According to David Sobel of the Electronic Privacy Information
(EPIC), however, a system of international content regulations leads
one step closer to governments requiring the use of such a system for
the Internet community.
    "It is being put forward as a means of self-regulation and a way
ward off government regulation, but I think there's a very strong and
obvious possibility that governments are going to consider mandating
the use of such a system," Sobel said.
    Sobel and Balkam both confirmed that they held a dinner meeting to
discuss EPIC's concerns, but Sobel did not characterize it as a great
step toward progress.
    Bruce Taylor, president and chief counsel for the conservative
National Law Center for Children and Families - which supports the
Child Online Protection Act (COPA) - said that the meeting likely
would produce few valuable results because of groups like EPIC and the
Electronic Frontier Foundation's objections to what they perceive as
free speech restrictions.
    "It's like (Center for Democracy and Technology President) Jerry
Berman blasting (AT&T Corp. Chairman) Mike Armstrong because he voiced
objection to the amount of violence, pornography and hate speech on
the Internet," Taylor said. "They'll throw an industry wet blanket on
anyone who wants to take responsible measures to use this technology."
    Whether industry will try to subvert the system is unclear, but
judging by the list of ICRA founding members - AOL Europe, Bertelsmann
Foundation, British Telecom, Demon Internet (UK), EuroISPA, IBM,
Internet Watch Foundation, Microsoft, Software & Information Industry
Association, and T-Online Germany - there may be more support for the
system than initially anticipated.
    Nevertheless, some media outlets and other companies have
that they would not support a uniform ratings system.
    Much of the furor and renewed interest in a ratings system came in
the wake of the murder rampage at Columbine High School in Littleton,
Colo., the latest and most bloody in a more than year- long string of
school shootings.
    Vice President Al Gore summoned a group of industry executives to
develop some ideas toward an Internet ratings system, and several
legislators on Capitol Hill - notably presidential candidate Sen. John
McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.Y., have proposed other
types of content alerts for a variety of media.
    President Clinton also has called for "Hollywood" to get together
try to settle on a code of conduct for its content, while Republican
Congress members have built similar legislation into juvenile crime
    With fears that the government would stray too far into censorship
territory, some industry leaders have started GetNetWise.org, which
offers a one-stop resource for parent- and guardian-controlled filter
    Sobel said that "to the extent that it focuses on education, it's
great, but...there's a little too much emphasis on filtering."
    "It's hard for people to say this, but this really comes down to a
matter of parents being involved," he said. "To popularize the idea
that all you need to do is spend $30 and buy the software program...
is irresponsible."
    Reported by Newsbytes.com, http://www.newsbytes.com .
Copyright 1999

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