The economic and social development of nations depends, increasingly, on the use of information and knowledge, with the aid of the enormous progress made in information and communications technologies (ICTs). Harnessing the opportunities opened up by the digitalisation of information in all its forms, these technologies are transforming dramatically many aspects of economic and social life, such as working methods and relations, the organisation of businesses, the focus of education and training, and the way people communicate with each other. The information society is the dawning of a multimedia world (sound - text - image) representing a radical change comparable with the first industrial revolution. It goes hand in hand with the "non-physical" economy, based on the creation, circulation and exploitation of knowledge. The conditions of access to information, to the networks carrying it (broad band networks called "information highways") and to the services facilitating the use of the data (including high value-added services, databases, etc.) are vital components of the Union's future competitiveness. ICTs are also the vehicle for a growing number of societal services such as health, education, transport, entertainment and culture. Since they are amongst the highest growth activities, and they are also highly skilled activities, these technologies have a high potential for employment creation.
The problem is that, although there is a strong demand for information in Europe, the suppliers could be anywhere in the world since the delivery is instantaneous. Indeed, the United States and Japan have a head-start as suppliers of information, because they each have a single system of standards and a single national language. Europe, thus, has to overcome large handicaps in this field. It should be noted that under the Information Technology Agreement, concluded in March 1997 under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation, tariffs on information technology products of countries accounting for 92% of world trade were eliminated as of January 2000, a fact which intensifies further investment competition [Decision 97/359, see section 23.4].
By guaranteeing recognition of electronic signatures throughout the European Union, a Directive on a common framework for electronic signatures was the first step towards establishing a European framework for development of electronic commerce [Directive 1999/93, see also section 6.6.1]. This framework is provided by the so-called electronic commerce directive [Directive 2000/31]. This Directive harmonises certain legal aspects, such as determining the place of establishment of service providers, the transparency obligations for providers and for commercial communications, the validity of electronic contracts and the transparency of the contractual process, the responsibility of Internet intermediaries, on-line dispute settlements and the role of national governments. It clarifies the application of key internal market principles (freedom of establishment of service providers and free movement of services) to information society services, affirming the country-of-origin principle by which service providers must comply with the legislation of the Member State of origin.
A regulation lays down the conditions for designating the registry responsible for the organisation, administration and management of the Internet ".eu" country code top-level domain (ccTLD) and establishes the general policy framework within which the Registry functions [Regulation 733/2002]. Domain names and the related addresses are essential elements of the global interoperability of the World Wide Web (www), since they allow users to locate computers and websites on the Web. TLDs are also an integral part of every Internet e-mail address. The ".eu" TLD should promote the use of, and access to, the Internet networks and the virtual market (electronic commerce) place based on the Internet, by providing a complementary registration domain to existing country code TLDs and should in consequence increase choice and competition. The establishment of the ".eu" TLD registry, which is the entity charged with the organisation, administration and management of the ".eu" TLD, should contribute to the promotion of the European Union image on the global information networks and bring an added value to the Internet naming system in addition to the national ccTLDs. A Commission Regulation laid down public policy rules concerning the implementation and functions of the .eu top level domain and the principles governing registration [Regulation 874/2004].
There is a close correlation between the development prospects of individual technologies and products (telephones, interactive disk readers and combinations thereof), of the programs (computer software, databases, audiovisual programmes, etc.) and of the associated services and networks. The European Union is in a strong competitive position in several of these fields and has every means of retaining or winning a substantial share of the market. It should, however, remove various administrative obstacles to an optimal exploitation of ICTs, create an appropriate regulatory and political environment and encourage the implementation of trans-European telecommunication services [see sections 6.8 and 17.3.6]. The Directive laying down a procedure for the information in the field of technical standards and regulations covers national regulations on information-society services, in order to ensure a clear and predictable legal framework for their development within the internal market [Directive 98/34]. A Council Decision provides a common approval procedure for connection to the analogue public switched telephone networks (PSTNs) of terminal equipment such as modems and telephone answering machines [Decision 98/482].
Data interchange, particularly important for industrial competitiveness, focuses on telecommunications, legal aspects, security, provision of information for the public, as well as existing or new multisectoral projects. A European Network and Information Security Agency has the task of assisting the Commission and the Member States to help them meet the requirement of network and information security, and to prevent, address and respond to related problems [Regulation 460/2004, last amended by Regulation 580/2011].
As part of the moves to set up a European information area, where processing of personal data is expected to develop significantly, a Directive aims at the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data [Directive 95/46, see section 9.2] and another Directive sets specific rules for the processing of personal data and the protection of privacy in the electronic communications sector [Directive 2002/58, see section 17.3.6].