Beginnings of EU Policy

In 1996, the EU also began taking on an international policy regarding Internet censorship. On April 24 1996, the European Council issued a request to the European Commission(EC) to look into any issues stemming from the unregulated use of the Internet and whether or not international regulation was needed. On October 23rd of that year, the EC released its report and on February 17th, 1997, the European Council decided to create some type of international regulation on Internet access among its member nations. Finally, on November 26, 1997, the EC, in joint effort with the European Parliament, released the report "Action Plan on Promoting Safer Use of the Internet."

This Action Plan in fact built on the policies of the UK's Internet Watch Foundation. Similar to the IWF, the plan supported cooperation between ISPs and the legal institutions of respective nation states to regulate illegal and indecent content. Illegal content will vary from nation to nation, but the response by ISPs shall be the same. The action plan calls for self-regulation through the use of hotlines that any user can contact to report illegal or indecent material. Once illegal content is reported, the ISPs within that nation must block access to websites with that content. ISPs are also expected to develop rating and filtering systems to restrict access from certain users.

One controversial result of the Action Plan is that it places a serious limit on content not considered illegal. A huge difference between the Action Plan and the IWF is that it described illegal content to include content that may attack another entity's reputation. Therefore, any website that exists to bring light to social issues may be considered illegal and blocked by ISPs. If such were the case, then the ability of the Internet to enlighten and empower citizens on serious issues becomes severely limited. This part of the plan seems to encourage the increase of useful services on the Internet and a decrease in transmission of information, because that information could somehow jeopardize another's reputation.

Before the Action Plan was passed, the European Parliament proposed many amendments that tried to move the emphasis away from self-regulation and more towards legal regulation. Some of the more extreme proposals were rejected. However, many were passed that allowed for independent authorities, namely police, to intervene in the self-regulated nature of the system and arbitrarily deem content illegal or indecent. The Parliament's reasoning behind these amendments was it was necessary to protect the consumer from content that may not be "self-regulated" in time.