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Global Information Networks Ministerial Conference

The Global Information Networks Ministerial Conference, held in Bonn, from 6 to 8 July 1997, held wide-ranging discussions on the development of information networks in Europe, and agreed on a number of key principles to ensure rapid growth.

Ministers from 29 European countri...
The Global Information Networks Ministerial Conference, held in Bonn, from 6 to 8 July 1997, held wide-ranging discussions on the development of information networks in Europe, and agreed on a number of key principles to ensure rapid growth.

Ministers from 29 European countries, as well as two European Commissioners, attended the conference. Representatives of both users and industry also participated in the conference, and Ministers from the USA, Canada, Japan and Russia were invited as guests. The participants reached a broad consensus on the key issues and solutions for the development of global information networks. In particular they agreed that data security and cryptography are key requirements in the development of the Information Society.

The Ministerial Declaration calls for all parties to work constructively together to realise fully the economic and social potential of global information networks. Ministers committed themselves to maximizing opportunities for the creation of new jobs, greater economic integration, maintaining social standards and social cohesion. In particular, they consider it essential to avoid a division between information "haves" and "have nots".

The Declaration recognizes the key role to be played by the private sector, stating that the expansion of global information networks must be essentially market-led. The private sector must also play a role in protecting consumer interests through self-regulation. Ministers called on the financial community to provide promising European start-ups and SMEs with flexible, efficient mechanisms to raise capital.

With regard to regulation, the Declaration stresses that legal frameworks should be applied on-line as they are off-line. Given the pace of technological change, Ministers will try to ensure that regulations are technology neutral. They also supported the principle of non-discriminatory taxes, and agreed that tax issues for electronic commerce call for international cooperation.

Ministers encouraged the use of networks in public services, such as education, health care and the environment, and to promote "electronic democracy". They stressed the role that teachers can play in preparing young people for the Information Society, and called for special efforts to be made to enable them to integrate multimedia content into teaching programmes.

Global cooperation will be essential for the development of information networks, and particularly in fields such as electronic commerce, according to the Declaration. Ministers agreed to work together, and with international organizations, to achieve global principles on the free flow of information, whilst protecting rights to privacy. In the field of information security and encryption technology, in particular to enable electronic commerce, Ministers agreed to work together to achieve a legal and technical framework to ensure compatibility and create confidence among users. They will also take steps to remove existing barriers to the use of digital signatures.

The statement made by the industrial representatives present calls for governments to help create the business environment necessary to encourage firms to take the risks necessary to realise the full potential of Information Society systems and services. As well as covering areas such as finance and regulation, this would also include education.

The user representatives' statement emphasized the importance of ensuring universal service and user relevance in the development of the Information Society, and also stressed the importance of information security in creating user confidence.

Commenting on the results of the Conference, Commissioner Martin Bangemann welcomed the Declaration, suggesting that it "outlines the political guidance Europe needs in order to define its strategy and common answers to the questions raised by the dynamic growth of electronic commerce and the development of global information networks."

Mr. Gunther Rexrodt, the German Minister for Economics, who hosted the Conference, stated that the Conference showed that Europe was "willing to face the challenge of global information networks and deal with the crucial issues related to the cross-border nature of the new services".
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