EU pledges limited Net laws

A promise of "no new taxes" for e-commerce and minimal regulation from European governments brought a sigh of relief from Internet companies and users yesterday.

Speaking at the Global Information Networks conference in Bonn, Germany, Guenther Rexrodt, the German economics affairs minister, said that European legislators "agree that there should be no new taxes or laws for the Internet that would antagonise its users."

Ministers from the 29 member nations also agreed to adopt laws that would boost e-commerce, by legally recognising digital signatures and supporting the German idea that ISPs are fully liable for their own content placed on the Internet.

"We accept the need for regulation but we need to give the Internet room to grow," said Richard Woods, senior PR officer at UUNet UK. "We agree that governments should deal with Internet regulation with a light touch, so that any legislation does not inhibit users. We are anxious to meet the expectations of corporate users and therefore need to work with the regulators. This isn't easy, especially with international borders."

The conference also made declarations encouraging further development of Internet rating systems to protect children. "This was encouraging," said Nigel Williams, director of UK-based pressure group ChildNet International. "The conference on the whole, recognised the need for a combined approach, where parents, users and the commercial companies try and forge joint solutions to the problem."