Since there is a current and hot debate over a new law that’s about to be passed in Germany and a highly successful online petition against that law, I thought it might be a good idea to do a summary in english for non-german bloggers and journalists. I chose an easy way to this: By publishing the transcript of an email conversation. And yes, I do have permission to do so.
Hey, what’s going on with that child porn debate over there in Germany?
The German government wants to pass a new law that’s supposed to stop child porn (that’s what they call it, I prefer to call it sexual child abuse) on the web by blocking those sites for internet users in Germany. The sites, that are to be redirected to a stop sign put up by internet access providers, are gathered on a list that’s exclusively maintained by the BKA (German Federal Criminal Police Office).
But what’s wrong with stopping child abuse?
Absolutely nothing, of course. It’s just that the filters won’t stop or constrain crimes, they won’t even really stop the accessibility of the documentation of it. The government plans on using DNS blocks, which are easily bypassed. At the same time, implementing the blocks will give criminals an early warning: They will be the first to notice that their site is blocked and will have enough time to change servers.
What do you suggest instead?
I, amongst many, many others who are better experts than I am, suggest taking sites showing sexual abuse down and off the net and prosecuting the originators instead of just making them invisible to some. After all, sexual child abuse and the documentation of it fortunately already is prohibited, not only in Germany, but in most parts of the world.
The German government, most notably Ursula von der Leyen, who’s our Minister for Family Affairs and who leads the public communication of the bill, implies that you constantly stumble upon sexual child abuse while surfing the ’net and that you’re also in danger of getting „hooked“ to it if you do so. This is pretty outrageous, I think. Fortunately, I never came across sexual child abuse one single time in 20 years of using the internet. And if I did get across it, you can be sure I’d call the authorities. It would be great to have something like an official email address or web site for reporting possible crimes on the internet, but that’s not part of the current plan, as far as I know.
Oh, and did I mention that the IPs of users who visit a blocked site will be stored by the access provider who is obliged to transfer those IPs to the BKA if they require so?
Wait a second, that’s a little scary. What if I got fooled onto a site? After all, ads keep popping up in my browser and I certainly never entered their address.
Exactly. There’s also browsers who pre-fetch links. So anyone could get really nasty by putting hidden links to illegal sites up and suddenly we’re all criminals without knowing it. And without being it, in the first place.
But still … it might not be perfect, but at least they’re doing something, right?
I seriously doubt that the real reason for the law is the fight against child abuse.
If this was really about child abuse, they’d start where it happens in most cases: In families. They’d also give the police much better equipment and more people to work with. They’d give tools to the public to make it easier for us to report abuse or other crimes on the net. And:
There’s already a rising demand by lobbyist groups from the entertainment or gambling industry for putting sites up on the list that have nothing to do with child abuse whatsoever. The system is one for controlling content on the internet, it is a system making censorship possible. That’s very appealing to some groups who can put a lot of pressure on the government.
But if the government keeps its promise? And only uses the lists for sites showing child abuse?
There’s an oxymoron in your first sentence.
LOL, okay: What if they do not misuse the list?
As long as there’s no way of making sure, I doubt that they will not give in to other demands. Usually, democracy has, in general, pretty effective ways of dealing with crimes. There’s the police. There’s courts. There’s lawyers and district attorneys. In this case, those processes and correctives are bypassed. So we’ll never know what’s really happening on those lists. Until they leak, that is: Lists from other countries using systems like the one we’re talking about have already leaked. And it showed that only a small percentage of the sites on the lists were indeed illegal. Instead, gay sites, political sites, art sites and others were on those list and of course nobody knew how and why they got there. I imagine it being really difficult (and expensive) getting off the list if you accidentally got on it, and the law doesn’t state solutions to such problems.
Hm. It all sounds very complicated.
Yes, it is. That’s why I blame the government for taking the easy route by communicating the topic on a pretty cursory level and not answering to criticism. They also published figures that have long been exposed as being wrong or unproven and they never corrected or explained those numbers.
I mean, everybody who’s remotely human is concerned about rape, sexual child abuse or any abuse of people for that matter, and everybody must speak and act up against such crimes. I support the government in putting the topic, which is a social one, after all, on the agenda. I oppose sexual child abuse on the internet or anywhere, so I ask the government to fight the sources of those crimes and take down the sites. Because I neither want censorship tools to be implemented by law and I believe that they won’t help crime victims or crime prevention.
I understand. So what can you do?
There’s an online petition against the law that has already been signed by nearly 80.000 people. It’s the fastest growing online petition since they installed the petition system. That may be why there’s a growing media interest in more facts and the criticism against the law. If you understand some German, check these current links:
And one of the best articles about this whole topic, also in german, was published by c’t.