Report about Safe Internet conference in Warsaw

By EDRi · April 7, 2004

On 26 and 27 March 2004 a conference was held on safe internet in Warsaw, Poland. The conference was organised by the Council of Europe in collaboration with Safeborders, a consortium funded by the European Commission. Focussed on children, the event was meant to ‘step up efforts to create a pan-European safer Internet network.’ Some 150 participants met in workshops, with many delegates from East Europe and republics of the former Soviet Union.

In his keynote speech, Hanno Hartig from the Council of Europe stressed the need to make a difference between illegal and harmful content and respect the cultural and legal differences between countries. He underlined the difficulty of anonymity online, both as a danger and an essential tool to protect the privacy of children. He also warned that encouraging self-regulation should not force ISPs to curb the freedom of expression. Unfortunately, these nuances were sometimes lost during the workshops and plenary sessions, with speakers denying any difference between for example child pornography and websites about drug use.

Tor Eigil Hodne from the European Commission’s DG Information Society explained the newly adopted extension of the Internet Action Plan for another 4 years. The first action plan ran between 1999 and 2002 and was funded with 25 million euro. The plan was extended in 2003 and 2004 with another 13.3 million euro. The new Safer Internet Plus plan will run from 2005 to 2008, with a budget of 50 million euro. The plans wants to promote safe use of internet and online technologies, particularly for children, and encourage the fight against ‘all illegal, harmful and unwanted content, including spam.’

The main actions covered by the program (hotlines, filtering/blocking, self-regulation and awareness raising) have not changed, but the priorities have shifted. Previously the Commission focussed on filtering solutions, but now awareness is seen as the most important goal. Hodne summarised the evaluation of the first 4 years as ‘too many actions with too much duplication and too many tips to parents’, while at the same time suffering from reduced (public) visibility.

The invisibility of the hotlines was also demonstrated in a presentation by Rachel O’Connel of a recent Eurobarometer survey about illegal and harmful content on the Internet. Only 5 percent of the surveyed 16.014 parents mentioned a hotline, when asked where they would report seemingly illegal or harmful content.

The survey shows that Europe can be divided in 3 groups; high-band (countries where children access internet quite frequently such as Denmark, the Netherlands, the UK, Sweden and Finland), middle-band and low band (Greece and Portugal, where only 15 and 31 percent of children have access to the Internet). In 9 countries a majority of parents feel they need more information about how to protect their children from illegal or harmful content and contact on the Internet. The highest scores are found in low and middle-band countries, while parents in the high-band countries, with more experience, are much more confident. A large majority of people in Denmark, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden indicates they do not want such information. In total, 47% of Europeans said ‘no thank you’ to more awareness campaigns. Coupled with the conclusion that investing in a website to inform parents about safe use of internet is the least preferred way of receiving information, the Action Plan might want to reschedule some more priorities in the nearby future.

Safe internet conference website

EU Internet Action Plan, with links to Eurobarometer survey and evaluations