Will there be Internet Censorship in Germany?

While everyone in the world is (rightly so) concerned about the election and the questionable democracy in Iran, we have to acknowledge the fact that German politics is just about to make a small step towards censorship as well. It’s not as big a news as Iran, but it does concern quite a few people in Germany, so I wanted to let my English speaking readers know, what is actually happening in good ol‘ Germany at the moment.

Here is the thing: What sounds like a very good idea for the digitally ignorant politician can actually turn into a very dangerous thing: The „Zugangserschwerungsgesetz“ (law for restricting access) is aimed at reducing child pornography on the web by blocking access to sites with this kind of content. Taking action against this kind of content is a good idea, no one disputes that!

The reason for more then 130.000 people petitioning online against it (more than 50.000 in the first three days alone) is the fact that the law proposal was very badly designed. On the petitioning website it specifically says, that the objective of preventing this cruel thing is not questioned at all. Just the means of reaching that objective are raising eyebrows of many bloggers, twitterers, etc, but also some not so digitally savvy users. Why?

  1. The way the government wants to set up the technical blocking of sites is highly ineffective. Anyone with some technical knowledge can alledgedly circumvent this effortlessly.
  2. But the much more important point: Judging which sites should be blocked, as well as implementing that block, was put into the responsibility of one single government body (the federal office of criminal investigation – the BKA). There also wasn’t any plan for a body controlling the BKA. In the first draft the BKA was supposed to be pretty much free to judge and execute any way they felt fit. Impossible in a modern democracy, one would think.

Had it solely been for preventing child abuse, it would have been fine. But it doesn’t prevent child abuse at all. That content will still be produced and distributed. These people will always find other channels, even if the technical blocking will someday be effective.

The reason this scared everybody is the fact that the introduction of such a law opens the gates for a number of other interests, too. Alledgedly, other lobbies interested in shutting down first-person-shooter sites, poker sites, etc. are already waiting in line until it’s their turn to get their way. (As ignorant as German official bodies seem to be at the moment, and as efficient as Germans are, I have no doubt that 10 years down the line we’d have a perfectly censored and controlled German webspace.)

German site netzpolitik.org has some more info on this whole dilemma (in english). Other bloggers also write heavily about it, however in German.

By now, the law has been softened slightly. Which is an improvement – otherwise it would have been a complete desaster. Since the first draft, the following things have been adapted:

  1. Delete instead of block: the proposal now states, that it should be the aim to try to delete those sites showing questionable content via the providers, before blocking them.
  2. Monitoring the controls: the BKA will now have to report to a committee controlling their actions. (I just wonder who makes up that committee…currently the office of data privacy in Germany is being discussed for that post)
  3. Prevention instead of collecting data: originally the user data of people (accidentally or intentially) accessing those sites would have been logged. This is no longer supposed to be the case.

The final vote in the German Bundestag is on Thursday. But it seems like everything is set now. And while the government tries to push this through within this legislature, the petition – the largest one sofar ever in Germany – will most likely only be administered by the petition committee after the summer break.

By that time the law might well have passed the majority vote in the Bundestag.



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