This article was first published by Verlag, Dr. Otto Schmidt, Koln on 15 April 2004 in CRI - Computer Law Review International , Issue 2.

Over 1,7 million minors in Italy surf the internet for an average of 11,5 hours a month. Paedophilia and the spread of adult material over the web is one of the major concerns of the legislator. However, there has been some criticism raised over attempts to regulate web access to children based on the suggestion that such regulations could constitute a threat to freedom of information resulting in the unjustified censorship of web material.

Despite some criticism, the creation of legal means aimed at the prevention of so-called "social destruction" deriving from distorted and improper use of the new technologies, remains the general approach taken amongst international legislators. This trend is confirmed by the adoption in Italy on 19 November 2003 of a Self Regulating Code entitled ‘Internet and Minors’. The Code was also followed up by a Bill of Children Rights approved by the Italian Government on 3 February 2004.

1. Self Regulation Code "Internet and Minors"

The project to create a Self Regulation Code was financed by the EU Commission through the Plan of Action for a Safer Internet. It was further reviewed and revised by the Oxford University Program in Comparative Media Law and Policy. The Code was recently adopted by the Italian Ministry of Communication and the Italian Ministry of Innovation and New Technologies, and has subsequently been adopted by the majority of Italian providers as well as numerous other private entities operating on the Internet.

  1. Co-Regulation System
    Such initiative favours the introduction of a so-called co-regulation system, which allows individuals, associations and other entities (i.e. mainly investors in the Internet market) to participate with the Italian government in the drafting of the rules. Through this process the participating entities undertake to abide by the rules, ultimately governed by a public authority with powers to enforce sanctions for non-compliance. Unlike the traditional legislative procedures, this system is characterized by its high degree of flexibility and adaptability and is therefore more adequate in the internet environment often subject to rapid and continuous change.
  2. Approval by Internet Providers
    The Code has been approved by three major associations representing the majority of the Italian providers and is open to accession by any Internet operator. Those adhering to the Code can give notice of this by placing a formal ‘mark’ or ‘stamp’ of approval on their website. Furthermore, the providers adhering to the Code will have the right to state the same on their site i.e: "The owner of this site formally adheres to the Italian Self Regulation Code of 19 November 2003".
  3. Supervision by Surveillance Committee
    In case of breach of the provisions of the Code, the use of the mark or stamp of approval and statement of adherence of the website may be revoked by an appointed Surveillance Committee which is designated by the Code to oversee its correct implementation. The Committee is made up of 11 members, selected from associations for the protection of children rights, providers and public authorities. The members of the Committee are appointed for a three year term. The sanctions to be issued by the Committee, vary from the simple warning to censorship and the revocation of the mark of approval and statement of adherence. It is foreseen that such procedure will be concluded in 60 days.

2. Duties of Internet Providers

The Code is aimed at promoting parents and children awareness on the use of internet, and denying child access to adult material considered dangerous to their mental and spiritual growth. Providers shall have the duty to inform parents and minors on the correct use of the internet through their web pages. Also, providers shall provide minors free and safe access to web resources and offer differentiated surfing services. These activities should not infringe the minor data privacy laws.

Finally, the Code imposes upon the provider the duty to cooperate with the authorities in the event of unlawful and/or suspect materials. In this regard, the providers shall also have the duty of keeping users IP numbers and supplying any information on their identity upon request.

3. Information Systems and Filtering of Internet Navigation

One example of the technical systems for differentiated surfing is ‘Childkey’ developed by Safety Worldwide Foundation of Brescia. The system provides for an Internet connection through a username and password giving minors the possibility of enjoying surfing in safe web pages. Technological systems are designed to filter out unlawful or adult material. Parents have the opportunity to agree with each provider as to the requirements for their child’s internet surfing.

Another similar example has been developed by Internet Content Rating Association (ICRA), a non profit international organization. ICRA is part of the European Safer Internet Action Plan and has developed filters aimed at classifying and selecting safe material on the web.

Presently the most commonly used instrument for the limitation of internet access to children is contained in the browser (i.e. in Microsoft Internet Explorer 6).

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.