BERLIN — When does child protection on the Web become censorship? And does blocking select sites open the door to further bans in other areas of Internet content? Those are some of the questions being hotly debated in Germany as its parliament prepares to vote on a bill targeted at child porn that will establish a block list.
Politicos from the nation's two major parties agreed on a final version of the bill Monday night, reports Gigaom.
Free-speech advocates, Internet activists and Internet service providers have opposed the bill and suggest denial-of-service blocking does not work, with concerns this will take the government into areas of greater Internet censorship.
Under the measure, German federal police would compile a block list containing the domain names and IP addresses of websites hosting and linking to child porn. ISPs would be required to block the sites and redirect all traffic to a site or sites hosting a warning message in the form of a red Stop sign. The bill could be approved as soon as Thursday.
An official online petition against the bill has received more than 130,000 signatures and counting, plus the number of citizens trying to sign the petition has reportedly brought down the parliament’s Web infrastructure several times.
ISPs had voiced opposition to provisions in the measure that would mandate that they log each attempt to access a blocked site and share the information with law enforcement organizations. This would include anyone who might accidently click on the wrong link, even if it was placed by a hacker. In turn, an innocent person could be labeled a pedophile, and with that possibility in mind, lawmakers removed that portion of the bill requiring ISP logs.
Meanwhile, civil rights groups argue if the bill goes into effect, what's to stop music firms and book publishers from pushing hard to have access to file-sharing sites blocked? Some politicians have called for blocking video game sites with extreme violence, online gambling sites and Islam propaganda sites, which they argue are all entitled to remain open for any adult.
Germany is the not the first to seek blocking legislation, as six other European countries maintain block lists to battle child porn. Generally, the lists are kept secret, but when some sites listed were leaked on the Web, German Internet activist Alvar Freude created an automated script to send them take-down messages and 250 out of 348 sites responded, 61 taken down in the first 12 hours.
“Taking down these sites doesn’t take longer than sending block lists to ISPs,” said Freude, while Oliver Süme of German ISP association eco recently stated service providers are “increasingly doubting that this measure will be limited to child pornography."
Raising the red flag of censorship alert is Netspolitik.org, which finds an adversary in German Minister for Family Affairs Ursula von der Leyen, who spearheaded the movement to block sites. Even bloggers and Twitter users have joined in the outcry over the legislation, using a HashTag of #zensursula, said to be a mix of the minister’s name and the word censorship.
Protests have also taken place offline at events such as publicly open government meetings; 500 people turned out for a government press conference on the bill and its details, while demonstrators have also come out in force to voice their discontent during Minister von der Leyen’s public appearances.
In a tangent, regarding the aforementioned blocking of violent video game sites, Yahoo! reported Germany is also considering a ban on all violent video games. The country's 16 states have already agreed to implement such as ban and are waiting on national legislation, slated for submission in the German Parliament this summer. Such a law would not just ban the sale of violent video games but also outlaw their development in the country, possibly putting some Germany video game companies out of business.