Germany Passes Legislation to Block Child Pornography

By: Jillian C. York on 22 June 2009

First it was the UK, then Australia: Over the past year, ONI has witnessed consideration of filtering schemes by several Western countries, as well as the leaking of "secret block lists" for a few others (such as Norway and Denmark). The latest country to consider a nationwide policy is Germany; in April of 2009, its coalition government drafted a bill aimed at cracking down on child pornography by method of a DNS block list.

The bill received significant opposition from the German public, with a record 130,000 citizens signing the largest official e-petition in German history. Online protesters, using the hashtag #zensursula (a portmanteau of of the German word "zensur" meaning censor and the name of the Minister for Family Affairs, Ursula von der Leyen), managed to penetrate social network Twitter, making such statements as "ein politikerkopf darf kein luftleerer raum sein" (a politician's head must not be a vaccuum) and offering support for Germany's Pirate Party.

Despite the protests, however, on June 18, Parliament passed the legislation, by a vote of 389 to 146, effectively introducing a nationwide filtering policy in Germany. Although the legislation allows for ISPs only to filter Web sites allegedly containing child abuse material, opposition parties and activists in Germany have warned that the architecture of the system could allow for filtering of other content in the future without due process.

In addition to the concern that filtering creates a slippery slope for online freedoms, another worry is that filtering child pornography does little to stop its proliferation. According to Yaman Akdeniz, the director of British Cyber-rights and Cyber-liberties organization and leading CyberLaw blogger, blocking is only a temporary solution. Speaking to Deutsche Welle, Akdeniz said: "In a sense, blocking access to these Web sites does not necessarily make the problem go away. We just push it off our computer screens - whether in Germany or the United Kingdom or any other country - but that doesn't necessarily mean the serious problem of sexual exploitation of children and child pornography disappear from the Internet."

Akdeniz is not the only one. Following the 2008 agreement of three New York state ISPs to block child pornography, Mike Masnick of the popular TechDirt blog said: "Taking a stand against child porn would be hunting down those responsible for the child porn and making sure that they're dealt with appropriately. Blocking access to some websites doesn't solve the problem. Those who still produce and make use of child porn will still get it from other sources -- but it will be more underground, making it more difficult for authorities to track down."

Although the legislation has passed, activists continue to protest it, with one lawmaker of the Social Democrats quitting over his party's support of the bill.

German "Net politics" activist Simon Columbus has the last word: "While the Social Democrats have succeeded in severely changing the bill, they forgot about one thing: The censorship infrastructure itself is the problem. Regardless of any barriers to ban misuse of the law, this infrastructure is a threat to civil liberty and its implementation is a breach of democratic values. We cannot allow ourselves to think in the categories of "more" and "less" damaging censorship. If so, we will continue to experience that civil liberties are eradicated step-by-step - the censorship law is only one of many."