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No.14, July 20, 1998

From the German Embassy's Report justifying Bonn's Suppression of Free Speech [UNALTERED TEXT]:

"Censorship" on the Internet

WITH THE RAPID expansion of the Internet and its seemingly endless freedom to disseminate information of all kinds, new concerns have arisen about conflicts between the right to free speech and the legal mandate to protect young people.

Because the Internet and commercial online providers may be easily abused by criminals and because online users may access any available data, German legal authorities have examined data for possible violations of Section 131 of the Criminal Code (depiction of violence), Section 184 (distribution of pornography) or Section 130 (incitement to hatred). Prosecution of such violations on the Internet focuses on the providers, such as CompuServe, AOL or T-Online, as well as those who actually produce the offending material.


"... the Internet and its seemingly endless freedom to disseminate information..."

In December 1995, the online service CompuServe GmbH of Munich, the German subsidiary of the American firm CompuServe, restricted access to approximately 200 sites on its network worldwide. The "lists" affected offered primarily pornographic materials. CompuServe voluntarily took this action in response to an investigation by the Munich Public Prosecutor's office of possible violations of Germany's laws banning the distribution of child pornography. After a search of CompuServe sites, the Prosecutor's office presented the company with a list of sites believed to be disseminating child pornography or pornographic materials off limits to minors under German law and undertook investigation of the online provider for possible violation of Section 184 and Section 27 (aiding and abetting a crime). Without the Internet connection made possible by the provider, authorities charged, the producers of the pornographic material would not have been able to distribute it, or at least not to an audience of comparable size. Six weeks later, the provider reopened access to all but five of the sites and announced plans to offer software that would enable parents to block their children's access to certain web sites. The five sites that remained closed, according to the company, clearly carried child pornography.

Shortly after the Munich investigation of pornography on the Internet began, the network service T-Online, a subsidiary of Germany's main phone company, Telekom, reported that it was blocking access to a web site maintained by German-born Canadian Ernst Zündel. Zündel, a self-proclaimed "Holocaust revisionist," has distributed materials contending that the Nazis' genocidal assault upon the Jews of Europe did not take place. Based in Canada, Zündel is widely believed to be a major international purveyor of anti-Semitic hate literature and was the focus of an investigation by the Public Prosecutor's office in Mannheim (Baden-Württemberg) in early 1996 for possible violations of German laws. In contrast to the CompuServe investigation, the prosecution focused on the producer/distributor of the material, Zündel, rather than on the online provider. Zündel was charged with violation of Section 131 (depiction of violence). The Mannheim officials also announced, however, that they were looking into the possibility that network providers could be criminally liable under German law for allowing their subscribers access to web sites such as Zündel's.

Neo-Nazi groups and individuals both in Germany and elsewhere have recognized the opportunities offered through the Internet and increasingly avail themselves of them, the North Rhine-Westphalian office of Germany's domestic security service (Verfassungsschutz), reported in early September 1996. With increasing technical sophistication, for example, neo-Nazis have begun to hide their materials in mailboxes. A network of such mailboxes, called the Thule Network, has so far proven inaccessible to authorities. In the United States, too, the Internet has publicized freedom of speech issues by thrusting obscure rightists into the electronic spotlight. One such example is Arthur Butz, an engineering professor at Northwestern University who set off a controversy when he used Northwestern's site to publicize his anti-Semitic writings.

The Internet is of course equally vulnerable to far left groups. In mid-September 1996, the Federal Prosecutor's office in Karlsruhe (Baden-Württemberg) began investigating several online services that provide access to the publication Radikal. The first issue of Radikal to be made available on the Internet in its entirety included articles promoting terrorism, such as one on disabling rail transit, the prosecutor's office reported.

A draft multimedia law approved by the German cabinet in December 1996 promised to decrease the chances of future conflicts of the sort between CompuServe and German judicial authorities. If the draft becomes law, providers will be responsible for ensuring only that the content of the material they themselves post is in adherence with Germany's laws. They will no longer be held accountable for information made accessible by customers, unless, that is, it can be proven that the provider knew of the illegal contents, had the technical capability to block the information and could reasonably have been expected to do so.

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