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INTERNET CENSORSHIP IN GERMANY AND THE EU
State and regional authorities in Germany regularly police Internet sites that carry political content the authorities consider offensive. The case in North Rhine-Westphalia (described below) marked the beginning of a concerted effort by authorities on a regional level to block the Internet IP addresses of web sites containing racist, xenophobic and Nazi-related materials. Efforts are currently being made to expand these blocking practices from a regional to a national level.
In January and February 2002, civil authorities in the District of Düsseldorf (Bezirksregierung Düsseldorf), under the direction of District President Jürgen Büssow (a representative of the ruling SPD), ordered 76 privately owned and school-based internet providers in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (Nordrhein-Westfalen) to block access to two web sites that contain Nazi propaganda, hate speech, and racist tracts. Two web sites located in the United States: www.nazi-lauck-nsdapao.com and www.stormfront.org, were specifically targeted by the ban. However, according to one German Internet-rights group, the Förderverein Informationstechnik und Gesellschaft (Fitug e.V.), the list of hate-speech sites that could potentially be blocked is close to 3,000 (See the English language page of Fitug e.V.). According to the German authorities involved, the content of the two web sites immediately in question violated sections of Germany's Constitution (Grundgesetz), the State Criminal Code (Strafgesetzbuch) and Paragraphs 8 and 18 of the Interstate Agreement on Media Service Providers (Staatsvertrag über Mediendienste), which prohibit the dissemination of Nazi, racist, and hate propaganda in Germany.
The action by the District of Düsseldorf was challenged in several district courts (Verwaltungsgerichten) in Nordrhein-Westfalen by a group of concerned media and Internet-rights groups in Germany (Click here for a list of these groups: www.David-Gegen-Goliath.org) on grounds that the order to block the sites violated Article 5 of the German Constitution guaranteeing the free exchange of information in German society. The district courts involved ( the Verwaltungsgerichten Cologne, Minden, Arnsburg, Düsseldorf, Aachen, and Gelsenkirchen) reached contradictory decisions, with some upholding the order and others striking it down. These decisions have been posted online and can be accessed here: Decisions of German Courts Concerning Right-Wing Extremism on the Internet.
The lack of a definitive legal decision led the Higher Administrative Court for North Rhine-Westphalia located in Münster (Oberverwaltungsgericht Münster) to take up the case (Case Number Az.: 8 B 2567/02). In March 2003, the Münster court upheld the actions of the district authorities in Düsseldorf (For the court's official press release on the decision see Press Release on Right-Wing Web Site Decision in German). The Münster court's decision was based on the fact that "Both of the Internet sites contain illegal content that is punishable in the sense outlined in the Interstate Agreement on Media Service Providers." (See Staatsvertrag über Mediendienste, for paragraphs 8 and 18 to which the court referred.) Six copies of the decision (dated from March 19, 2003 to March 25, 2003) are posted on Decisions of German Courts Concerning Right-Wing Extremism on the Internet because a separate decision had to be created to address the decisions of the six subordinate district courts listed above: Cologne, Minden, Arnsburg, Düsseldorf, Aachen, and Gelsenkirchen.
As a result of the Münster court's decision, 76 Internet providers in North Rhine-Westphalia were ordered to block the two sites in question. The documents pertaining to the Münster court's decision can also be found here: Decisions of German Courts Concerning Right-Wing Extremism on the Internet. All of the documents are in German. An English language summary of the events and documents pertaining to the events has been posted by the Förderverein Informationstechnik und Gesellschaft (Fitug e.V.)
The decision of the court in Münster is being appealed to the German Supreme Court by Internet-rights groups that originally opposed the ban. It could, however, take as long as a decade before the case can be heard by the German Supreme Court. In the meantime, Jürgen Büssow, the initiator of the ban in North Rhine-Westphalia, has once again taken the initiative and is heading an effort to expand the ban nationally.
Eco is a coalition of organizations and businesses concerned with issues that affect the free operation of the Internet, particularly as they pertain to economic activity.
The Network for New Media is a "digital civil rights organization the aim of which is to promote public discussion about the socio-political aspects of new media (like the Internet) and to strengthen and critically examine those media.
Förderverein Informationstechnik und Gesellschaft (Fitug e.V.) German and English
Fitug is an association of individuals and organizations founded in 1996 whose goal is to "promote the integration of new media forms into German society, as well as to provide information on the risks and dangers associated with these media." The association is concerned with a diverse number of issues, including the protection of human rights on the Internet and web-based criminal activity.
Online Demonstrations Plattform für Menschen (ODEM) German and English
ODEM is a non-profit organization concerned with the protection of basic human rights on a free and unregulated Internet. The organization coordinates projects and groups seeking to protect the unregulated Internet and to protect the Internet's growing role as a place for political expression.
Chaos Computer Club German and some English
The CCC is an association seeking to promote the free exchange of information. It is concerned with the effects of technology on society. The CCC supports the protection of human rights world wide and unregulated communication between all the peoples of the world.
The DETR is non-profit organization that examines laws and issues pertaining to telecommunications in Germany and Europe as a whole.
The BBA is a watchdog group related to the Association for the Promotion of Public and Unregulated Data Exchange (FoeBuD e.V.). Since 1998 the BBA has promoted open discussion about and the protection of personal information on the Internet.
Virtueller Ortsverein der SPD German and English
The Virtual Local Association of the Social Democratic Party is a group concerned with the "social and economic effects of information and communication technologies and the consequences of these for members of the Social Democratic Party."
Burks.de Multiple Languages
The private web site of a German scholar concerned with the issue of Right-Wing extremism on the Internet.
The Federal Youth Association of the Green Party. The Green Youth are concerned with the free operation of democracy in society, including on the World Wide Web.
Quintessenz German and some English
Quintessenz is an E-magazine published by an
association of individuals from technical, scientific, journalistic and artistic
fields. Since 1994 Quintessenz has been active in examining "governmental
and private sector surveillance overkill and new data retention law proposals by
the EU, the Council of Europe or the so called G7 states that undermine
fundamental rights: freedom of information, the right to personal privacy and
data integrity, the right to communicate freely."
LAWS UPON WHICH INTERNET CENSORSHIP IN GERMANY IS BASED WFF REPORT
Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Germany's Constitution) German and French
GERMAN GOVERNMENT OFFICES ON CENSORSHIP WFF REPORT
According to a study conducted by The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, the search engine Google practices self-censorship in countries where its search engine may display hits for sites whose content is banned by national laws. The study compared the results of searches on Google.fr and Google.de vs. searches conducted on Google.com. The results were telling, with some 113 sites excluded from Google.fr and Google.de that were not excluded from similar searches on Google.com. After the Second World War, both France and Germany adopted laws and placed provisions into their constitutions that prohibit the dissemination of hate speech, Nazi propaganda, and racist and xenophobic materials. Some types of pornography (e.g., child pornography) are also banned under these laws. Google does not make it clear if its censorship of the 113 sites in question was requested by the governments of France or Germany. The authors of the Harvard study conclude therefore that Google likely censored its search engines in these countries on its own initiative.
In spring 2000, two groups in France sued Yahoo! to stop Nazi memorabilia from being sold on its auction sites. The groups claimed that allowing people in France to purchase Nazi memorabilia on Yahoo! auction sites violated the country's anti-hate speech laws. A French judge ruled in favor of the groups and ordered that Yahoo!, an Internet service provider located in the United States, must block users of Yahoo! France (Yahoo.fr) from being able to see or purchase Nazi memorabilia that is available via online auctions. Yahoo! argued that French courts have no jurisdiction over its operations, which are located in the United States. However, Yahoo! voluntarily complied with the court order.
The Yahoo case is generally considered to have been the first significant attempt by the judiciary in one country to regulate the content of an Internet site located in another country. Yahoo! continued to fight the French court's decision in U.S. courts. As of February 2003 U.S. courts and a court in Paris had overturned the earlier court ordered ban.
NEWS ARTICLES AND REPORTS
Contains extensive links, documents, and information on the decision and legal battle. Some of the information is dated.
FRENCH COURT DOCUMENTS
French Court Documents on the Yahoo Case French and English
These documents are central to legal efforts in France and Europe in general to censor Internet content that is considered offensive or inappropriate.