Researchers and companies now have the opportunity to make a significant contribution to the development of a safer Internet, thanks to the European Commission's "Action Plan on Promoting safer use of the Internet" and the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5). The main objective of this Action Plan is "to stimulate practical measures to help deal with illegal and harmful content on the Internet". It aims to achieve this within four years, with a budget of 25 million euro and is made up of four action lines: - Creating a European network of hotlines, and supporting self-regulation; - Developing filtering and rating systems; - Encouraging awareness actions; - Support actions. The Commission (DG XIII/E.5) issued its first calls for proposals under the Action Plan in April 1999. By funding this work, the Commission expects to stimulate a flexible rating system for European content, as well as third-party systems covering a variety of European cultural and linguistic needs in the field. Meanwhile, the Commission is working hard to raise awareness of the Action Plan among interested parties around Europe. A first information day was held in Luxembourg on 19 April 1999, when the first calls for proposals were outlined. "In the area of filtering tools, it is a question of applying existing technology and improving the existing applications. Since many existing applications were developed in the United States and are based on use of the English language, particular attention must be paid to the needs of European users, both cultural and linguistic", explained Richard Swetenham from DG XIII/E.5. "The purpose of filtering and rating is to put the user in control, in particular where the user is responsible for children", according to Mr Swetenham. A first expert conference on a European system of content rating is being held in Brussels on 18 and 19 May. By stressing the need for international cooperation, the Commission aims to emphasise that the issue at stake is a global problem. Therefore, cooperation with international organisations and countries outside the European Union will be encouraged. "The Austrian and US Governments and the Commission are organising a conference on the Internet and illegal content in Vienna later this year. Differences in national laws are sometimes a handicap in dealing with Internet crime. Work is proceeding on an international convention on cybercrime under the auspices of the Council of Europe, and the Commission is actively involved in that", explained Mr Swetenham. In the field of user empowerment, FP5 will play a role. The Information Society Technologies programme will fund research into intelligent filtering under the "Multimedia Content and Tools" Key Action, and this will be included in the second IST programme call scheduled for September 1999. "This IST call will cover areas such as the next generation of information management tools and technologies", said Franco Mastroddi from DG XIII/E.5. Examples of these tools and technologies are: - Automatic design, management and access to richer forms of data and large, complex, multimedia objects, based on metadata and mark-up standards; - Automated agents, multimedia brokers and brokerage architectures and models between the human and content sources.