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Content Blocking Working Group Mission

The Development Committee, recognizing the importance of promoting electronic commerce, commissioned the Working Group on Content Blocking as one of two demonstration projects.

Utilizing the terms of the proposed model for operations, here is information regarding the Working Group.

INTRODUCTION:

These terms of reference are intended to guide the Working Group in its review and analysis of Content Blocking of the Internet.

PROBLEM STATEMENT:

Various Internet stakeholders, from governments to computer users to certain interest groups, have grown concerned about the unrestricted availability of certain types of "content" on the Internet. The term "content" sweeps broadly and no doubt means different things to different stakeholders.

For purposes of this Working Group, at a minimum, the term content includes:

  1. material that would likely be considered offensive under most industry or governmental rating systems such as child pornography, excessively violent material, material that promotes, incites or instructs in matters of crime or violence;
  2. material that would be considered harmful to children;
  3. material that vilifies people on the basis of race, gender, sexual preference or disability or incites or promotes hatred on those bases;
  4. improper use or disclosure of private information;
  5. defamatory material;
  6. material that infringes on intellectual property rights;
  7. false, fraudulent or misleading consumer information; and
  8. material reflecting national or cultural attributes mandated in a broadcast medium or banned as contrary to the culture's interests.

Regulatory responses to concerns about Internet content have included criminal sanctions for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) whose networks and services make such information available and outright censorship of certain topics on the Internet. Many jurisdictions are formulating policies now.

Inconsistent regulatory responses at the domestic level and the potential for extraterritorial application of such laws raises significant concerns for those that develop, implement and apply new technologies through the Internet as well as for those that use this medium. Even where legal sanctions have not been applied, the chilling effect from any regulation sends consequential waves throughout the Internet community. This is not to minimize legitimate governmental, local, community and cultural concerns that need to be considered. However, when regulation sweeps too broadly, Internet communications are suppressed and the medium itself is threatened.

There may be better methods to address content concerns. Industry codes of practice, for example, could be developed to define what constitutes inappropriate customer behavior on the network. Regulatory responses can be media-neutral so that the Internet suffers no greater burden than any other avenue of communication. And, technological alternatives may be available today to empower individuals or communities to address their concerns.

While there is much discussion of these issues, to date, there has been a paucity of systematic review or survey of laws affecting content on the Internet. There is no compilation of alternatives to regulation such as codes of practice or technological solutions. The result is that governments regulate in a vacuum or that industry operates without knowledge of best practices available.

SCOPE OF WORK

Goals and Objectives:

The Working Group will have the following goals and objectives:

  1. Conduct a global survey of content blocking of the Internet;
  2. Conduct a global survey of technical blocking capabilities;
  3. Conduct an industry survey of best practices and responses to content blocking and develop an interim model code of practice; and
  4. Compile the survey results for publication at a seminar.

Working Group Composition

The Working Group shall led by a legal expert and a technical expert selected by the ILPF. The legal expert shall be responsible for supervising the survey of content blocking and industry practices, drafting the interim code of practice and compiling the materials for publication. The technical expert shall be responsible for supervising the survey of technical capabilities and compiling the results for publication in coordination with the legal expert. Legal interns may support the legal expert. Coordination with the ILPF is imperative and it is expected that the survey will be thorough although not necessarily complete. Best efforts will be required to obtain information from developing nations and it is recognized that there are nations without Internet access that do not warrant inclusion in the survey.

Technical expertise may be obtained on loan from corporate members of other scientific institutions.

Administration

The Working Group will be supervised by a member of the ILPF and administrative services, including data base management and publication services, shall be provided by the ILPF administrator. All materials obtained will be provided to the ILPF clearinghouse.

CONCLUSION

The short-term goals and objectives are intended to set in motion a continuous review of content blocking of the Internet and industry practices. The interim code is proposed, pending broader review of regulatory efforts, industry best practices, and consideration of the interests of Internet stakeholders, including governmental authorities. The January 1997 conference will present the "state of Internet content regulation" while launching the longer- term effort to take public comment on the project.


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