German parliament debates filtering or blocking

By EDRi · November 17, 2004

On 12 November, the German Lower House (Bundestag) debated in plenary on
the merits of individual filtering or state-ordered blocking of illegal
and harmful content. Germany is the only country in Western Europe
(besides Switzerland) were governmental blocking-orders were issued to
providers to prevent internet users from accessing information deemed
illegal or indecent. Over 80 internet providers in Nordrein-Westfalen were
ordered early in 2002 by the district government of Dusseldorf to block
access to 4 foreign websites with neo-nazi content. Meanwhile, 2 of the 4
websites have been dropped from the blocking-order, including the
distasteful, but certainly not illegal website More recently,
the anti-censorship activist Alvar Freude was brought to court by the same
regional government of Dusseldorf for posting hyper-links to censored
websites with radical right-wing content on his website.

Though all parties seemed to agree that blocking orders are a very bad
solution, the Red-Green government coalition rejected a motion from the
Liberal FDP that would stop any blocking-orders and in stead promote
end-user filtering, international agreements and self-regulatory measures
by the industry. According to a report in the German e-zine Heise, it was
a purely party-political decision to vote against the motion. The
CDU-representative also agreed in the debate that any call for
governmental blocking-orders would be completely out of proportion. “A
free society with such wide-reaching technical possibilities also demands
responsibility of individuals and of the industry,” said Heinrich-Wilhelm
Ronsöhr, according to Heise.

On 11 April 2002 the European Parliament unanimously adopted a declaration
against the use of ‘blocking’ as a way of regulating content on the
Internet. 460 MEP’s were in favour, 0 against and 3 abstentions. In its
adoption of the report on the protection of minors and human dignity,
parliament expressed concern “that recent decisions or strategies to block
access to certain websites may result in the fragmentation of Internet
access or the denial of access to legitimate content and therefore is not
an effective European solution for combating illegal and harmful Internet

The report on the new Safer Internet Plus Programme, adopted unanimously
by the Europarl Committee on Liberty, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) on
16 November 2004, takes this view one step further. Blocking is not even
considered an option, but filtering is not the holy grail either. From a
strong focus on end-user empowerment the report stresses the need to take
privacy principles into account when using filter programs. Also, in stead
of financing the development of filter tools, LIBE wishes to dedicate
funding to the performance and transparency of filter technologies. Adding
to the transparency of the hotline system, the report demands that “the
number and kind of webpages withdrawn by internet service providers as a
result of information provided by the hotlines should be made public if
possible.” Also, internet providers are encouraged to handle Notice and
Take Down requests in a transparent and conscientious matter.

Finally, the report adds an important dimension to the debate about
harmful content. “It would be desirable to try to take account of the
possible effect of new technologies, on their safe use by children when
they are being developed, instead of trying to deal with any consequences
of the new technologies after they have been devised. (…) However, it
should be taken into account that not every product developed for the
online world is intended for use by children.”

Heise, ‘Bundestag streitet über Web-Sperrungen und Filter’ (12.11.2004)

LIBE report on Safer Internet Plus Programme 2005-2008, 2004/0023(COD)