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Germany’s plan to implement internet filters by law

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.

Why’s that?

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:

ZEIT Online
WELT Online

And one of the best articles about this whole topic, also in german, was published by c’t.

33 Kommentare

  1. 01
    drexen

    great! the „www“ is really international – now :)

  2. 02

    Thank you for the better wording. We all took „child porn“ as matter of fact. But it should be „child abuse“.

    But what I really don’t like is this:

    „If this was really about child abuse, they“™d start where it happens in most cases: In families.“

    I think I am a really good father to my children. And I know a lot of other families that are good. And I know the german laws against families – and for easier child taking. And the prosecution of homeschoolers and unschoolers not to mention.
    No healthy family is abusing its‘ children. Let’s not propagate an even worse law against families. We already have some of the worst laws, that enable officials to take away children not for the sake of the child, but for the sake of the state.

  3. 03

    @1000Sunny: I am not proposing any law against families. I’m just saying that that’s where abuse very often happens, if it happens. Which is sad, but true, and those families need help and attention. Of ourse most families don’t abuse their children.

  4. 04

    johnny, ihr braucht dringend eine ‚digg‘ – button. würde sich hier echt anbieten.

  5. 05

    I know that you are not proposing such a law. But somehow the government seems to take the next best guilty and make up some laws these days. And if a lot of people repeat this family thing, then we’ll have the next law breaking up private doors to „protect children“. Perhaps there are ways to improve the ways for children to break out of such environments. I once wrote an article about financially emancipating children to achieve this better and earlier emancipation. I think everything else would result in a more and more big-brother like state.
    Another option would be to make more U-Untersuchungen for the very early years.

  6. 06

    @Johnny Haeusler: True, nevertheless you should be precise in this context and talk about „child sexual abuse“, as child abuse is a more general term, child abuse in general covers a much wider area with different aspects. Unfortunately children are abused in many different ways. But that’s a different topic to what you’re trying to highlight here.

  7. 07
    Nero

    This looks like good old Socrates hijacked Johnny Haeuslers email account to debunk the German Government’s Vogel-Strauss-Politik (head in the sand politics) towards child abuse.

    What is the social cost of establishing an internet censorship infrastructure? Wouldn’t it be cheaper and more effective to send a bucket of sand to everyone, so we can stick our heads in the sand to make all evil disappear?

    The golden bucket of sand would of course go to Mrs. von der Leyen, with a label on it: „Piling sand on child abuse and paving the road for uncontrolled censorship since 2009“

  8. 08

    @Armin: Thank you! I get your point and the BBC article clears things up. I am still hesitating, because I wonder if that means that showing other child abuse (like hitting a child) is not considered illegal?

    I changed the expression at its first mention, do you think that’s clear enough? I’m honestly asking, since I’m unsure.

    Update: Changed my mind. I added „sexual“ in most places in the text to make things clear.

  9. 09

    @Nero: The golden bucket of sand to van der Laien – that IS a good idea.

  10. 10

    @Johnny Haeusler: It’s a difficult balance, but I think you’re getting it right. The topic you are talking about is child sexual abuse, I don’t think it downgrades other types of abuse or makes people think they aren’t illegal.

    I don’t want to lead away from the topic at hand, but the other types of abuse (e.g. physical abuse) would require a separate debate which goes far beyond what we are talking about here.

    On a related note you are not alone, an organisation fighting child sexual abuse in the UK (which made it into the news recently for „blocking“ Wikipedia, but that’s a different topic…) explains and argues it this way:

    „Please note that „child pornography“, „child porn“ and „kiddie porn“ are not acceptable terms. The use of such language acts to legitimise images which are not pornography, rather, they are permanent records of children being sexually abused and as such should be referred to as child sexual abuse images.“

  11. 11

    „There“™s an online petition against the law (only for german citizens, of course)“

    Why would that be? IMO, anyone („jedermann“) may petition the Bundestag.

  12. 12

    @Jens: I disagree. Everybody might have an opinion on local laws worldwide, but it wouldn’t make much sense to let a Canadian citizen vote for a German government, would it? Voting against a bill is not much different, I think. It might be a great idea to set up a site where people outside of Germany could also express their views, though.

  13. 13

    You disagree with what? Article 17 of the Basic Law? It reads „Jedermann hat das Recht, sich einzeln oder in Gemeinschaft mit anderen schriftlich mit Bitten oder Beschwerden an die zuständigen Stellen und an die Volksvertretung zu wenden.“ („Everyone has the right, alone or in company with others, to petition the competent authorities or the parlament.“)

    This is not about voting, but about petitioning.

  14. 14

    @Jens: The Grundgesetz is the constitution for Germany and its citizens.

    But still: You are right and I was wrong because it seems that you *can* sign the petition from anywhere. It’s not limited to Germans, as far as I can see it. I’ll change that in the article.

  15. 15

    Thanks for that very good article! Now I can add a link on the English version of my blog to explain that unbelievable issue just happening here in Germany.

  16. 16

    Hallo,

    may I use part of the conversation as qoutes for my weblog? I am looking for an english text for weeks now, but wasn’t able to write my own one!

    best regards, Markus

  17. 17

    @Markus: Of course, feel free. Please state the original source, but other than that: Go ahead.

  18. 18

    Lange darüber Nachgedacht

    Letzlich sind die Sprachakrobaten zur Erkenntnis gelangt,
    dass es sich bei SPREEBLICK um eine Berliner wasweisich
    (ohne Zucker- mit Füllung) Deutschsprachige Seite handelt.

    Traue mich,
    technische Begriffe als Neudeutsch ‚Technical Arts‘ zu bezeichnen. ;-)

  19. 19
    SYZ

    ..’it._ )_:S’shoulD be called:

    remove[Document'(+)|s, documented} in any abusive way, like encourage |’Real’| abuse, or support thereof,]

    There’s actually, no need, [yet] – to bring the words sex ‚+‘ child together.

    |_
    I’m sure the actual roots ‚could be found in ‚c>X’hristianity and its effect’s ([SY+]),-. and the very core roots might be found in the misuse of lan’G‘>g,uage|’one‘>:-0} in general.

    ‚A virtual ‚Stop-‚|ing*|‘ sign isn’t a bad idea, to show ‚|mis|(+)’users, -the dis|-‚a(+A‘)-ppreciation of (|his,+or/,her|:“’Y) doing.

  20. 20
    SYz

    This blog cut out some of my text+punctuation before printing it so it’s about useless, nevermind the attempt._

  21. 21
    Syz

    This blog cut my text+punctuation down to nonsense, forget it.

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