A Europe-wide action plan to curb illegal content on the Net has been drawn up by the EU. It will be submitted to the European Parliament next May, to receive an estimated 20 million Ecu (#27.02m) in funding. Among the initiatives proposed is a network of hotlines to report content considered illegal. There are also rating schemes to protect children and a guideline for codes of conduct to be drawn up by service providers themselves in each of the 15 EU countries. The plan, expected to be ratified at the Telecommunications Council in May 1998, states that self-regulation and content-monitoring schemes should be co-developed by access providers, content providers and network operators. "Companies will be expected to put in a bid for EU funding," an EU official said. "Bids will then go to an evaluator who will determine their suitability." While pleased progress was being made, David Kennedy, president of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) which runs a UK hotline, expressed reservations about the action plan. Potential obstacles, he said, include the ability of police forces to follow up on computer and Internet crime. On the rating and filtering side, he predicted a struggle for international agreement on how content should be rated. James Eibisch, senior analyst at market research firm Input, added: "It's much more likely that access and content will be regulated through codes of conduct rather than the blind application of rating technology such as Net Nanny. What's probable is that the code will provide a compromise between technology and self-regulation on the part of content providers, ISPs and end-users." From December 1996 to September 1997, 3166 "actionable" items were referred to the IWF. Of these, said hotline manager Ruth Dixon, 1810 were passed to the police or the ISP on whose server the material was stored. She said the majority of referrals were child pornography items, of which two thirds originated in the US.
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