Internet censorship is a subject of growing concern around the world.  While the goals of many censorship advocates are often worthy, the "cure" is sometimes worse than the disease.  A particularly troubling trend has been the emergence of government efforts to block IP addresses.  The World Future Fund strongly agrees that we, as a planet, should combat racial and religious intolerance and other evils.  However, adopting totalitarian political tactics is a very dangerous solution.  We feel the key is education, not censorship.  We have developed a project that specifically encourages tolerance by means of education and links to groups working for religious tolerance.  Click here to see our Global Education Project about World Religion, Philosophy, and History

The World Future Fund has created this brief report on the issue of Internet censorship in order to provide basic information about web censorship practices in China, Germany, France, and the United States.  Users please note that this report is only an introduction.  It is not a comprehensive overview of the subject all around the world.  However, we feel it is a very important document.  When democratically-elected politicians in the United States and Germany start to emulate the actions of a totalitarian government in China, we believe there is reason for concern.





The number of cases in which local, state, and national governments have attempted to block access to web sites containing "offensive" material has risen in recent years.  The practice of blocking access to web sites has taken place in Europe, Asia, and in North America, regardless of whether or not the government of that country is authoritarian or democratic in nature.  Central to the issue is the fact that efforts have been made to block sites that are based beyond the borders of the countries in question.


The People's Republic of China probably has the most massive and comprehensive campaign of internet censorship in the world, particularly when it comes to block Internet IP addresses.  According to one recent report from the organization Reporters Without Frontiers (see "Living Dangerously on the Net"), the Chinese government employs as many as 30,000 people to police Internet providers in China.  Other reports below make it clear that on a regular basis the Chinese government restricts access to tens of thousands of web sites.  This number is constantly on the rise.


"An Empirical Analysis of Internet Filtering in China"

According to this report "tests from May 2002 through November 2002 indicate at least four distinct and independently operable methods of Internet filtering, with a documentable leap in filtering sophistication beginning in September 2002. The authors document thousands of sites rendered inaccessible using the most common and longstanding filtering practice. These sites were found through connections to the Internet by telephone dial-up link and through proxy servers in China. Once so connected, the authors attempted to access approximately two hundred thousand web sites. The authors tracked 19,032 web sites that were inaccessible from China on multiple occasions while remaining accessible from the United States. Such sites contained information about news, politics, health, commerce, and entertainment.  The authors conclude (1) that the Chinese government maintains an active interest in preventing users from viewing certain web content, both sexually explicit and non-sexually explicit; (2) that it has managed to configure overlapping nationwide systems to effectively -- if at times irregularly -- block such content from users who do not regularly seek to circumvent such blocking; and (3) that such blocking systems are becoming more refined even as they are likely more labor and technology intensive to maintain than cruder predecessors."

"List of Blocked Sites by Google Search Term"

"The Replacement of Google with Alternative Search Systems in China"


"Google, Alta Vista: Resist Chinese Censorship"

"Yahoo! Risks Abusing Rights in China"

"China Tightens Internet Controls"

"China: Controls on the Internet"

"China's Willing Censors"

"China: Intervention Urged in Internet Case"

"China: Foreign Companies should Protest Internet Detention"


Reporters Without Frontiers Report "Living Dangerously on the Net"

A detailed report on Internet censorship in China.  Includes a large number of links to additional reports and other sources of information and statistics.

Reporters Without Frontiers Report "China and the Internet"

A detailed report on the government crackdown on Internet access and use.  The article lists statistics on the numbers and types of web sites blocked by the Chinese government, including the blocking of "more than 50,000 out of 204,000 websites normally accessible through the Google and Yahoo search-engines" and "the websites of 923 media, including the BBC, CNN and Time magazine ... along with the sites of governments, such as Taiwan."

U.S. Department of State Report on China

According to "Section 2: Respect for Civil Liberties" of this report, since 1997, the Chinese government has ordered corporate and individual Internet access providers to register their servers with a special technology monitoring section of the state secret police.  The police regularly monitor Internet access and usage by Chinese citizens via these networks.  Raids are frequently staged on unregistered servers, particularly those used by cyber cafés where many Chinese access the World Wide Web.  The range of web sites blocked by the state government runs from pornography sites, to pro-democracy political sites.  Email is also subject to government surveillance.

"Internet Control and the Chinese Government" (PDF File)

A Master's thesis authored by Mr. Lokman Tsui.  To see his website click here

Rights & Democracy "Corporations and the Development of Surveillance Technology in the People's Republic of China"

A report by Greg Walton, a freelance researcher focusing on the impact of technology and globalization on human rights and democracy.

Global Internet Liberty Campaign

The mission statement of the GILC, which is "a group of human rights and civil liberties organizations" that advocate democracy and the free exchange of information on the World Wide Web.


The Ministry of Science and Technology English and Chinese

Chinese Association for Science and Technology English and Chinese


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: and, 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: 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.


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.

Netzwerk Neue Medien

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.

Eco: Verband der Deutschen Internetwirtschaft German and English

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.

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.

Deutsches und Europäisches Telekommunikations Recht

The DETR is non-profit organization that examines laws and issues pertaining to telecommunications in Germany and Europe as a whole. German and English

Stop 1984 is a non-profit organization that "supports informational self determination, data protection, and freedom of speech, while opposing surveillance and censorship."

Big Brother Awards

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." Multiple Languages

The private web site of a German scholar concerned with the issue of Right-Wing extremism on the Internet.

Bundesverband Grüne Jugend

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."


Selected Sections of German Legal Texts Pertaining to Censorship German and English

Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Germany's Constitution) German and French

Deutsches Strafgesetzbuch StGB (The German Federal Legal Code)

Staatsvertrag über Mediendienste (Interstate Agreement on Media Service Providers)


Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution) German and English

Bundesamt für Sicherheit in der Informationstechnik (Federal Office for Security in Information Technology) German and English

Bundesministerium der Justiz (Federal Ministry of Justice) German

Bezirksregierung Düsseldorf (Documents pertaining to banning Right-Wing Extremist Web Sites) German

Oberverwaltungsgericht für Nordrhein-Westfalen German


In early 2002, the Attorney General of Pennsylvania began issuing orders to ISP's to block the IP addresses of hundreds of web sites.  The blocking efforts were based on a new Pennsylvania law which stated that Internet Service Providers could be held liable for child pornography that is available on the Internet, even if the provider is not the publisher of the offending content.  In effect, "the law stated that any ISP doing business in Pennsylvania was potentially liable for content posted anywhere on the Internet".

The internet blocking legislation was challenged in court by the Center for Democracy and Technology and the ACLU of Pennsylvania on the grounds that it "violated the constitutional principles of free speech and due process."  As a result of the case brought by the CDT and ACLU, the Pennsylvania Attorney General has agreed temporarily to halt the censorship until the legality of the law is revolved in a case that should be finished this year. 

Center for Democracy and Technology Report on Web Blocking in Pennsylvania

This page includes documents, court briefs, news stories, and reports on the Pennsylvania censorship case.

Text of the Pennsylvania ISP Liability Law (PDF File)


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 and vs. searches conducted on  The results were telling, with some 113 sites excluded from and that were not excluded from similar searches on  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.

Source: Harvard Study on Filtering Practices by Google in France and Germany


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 ( 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.


The Center for Democracy and Technology on the French Yahoo Case

Juriscom Report on the French Yahoo Case

Contains extensive links, documents, and information on the decision and legal battle.  Some of the information is dated.

BBC Report: "France Bans Internet Nazi Auctions"

Freedom Forum Report "Yahoo! Bans Nazi Artifact Auctions"


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.

Additional Protocol to the EU Convention on Cybercrime (Criminalisation of Acts of Racism and Xenophobia via Computer Use English

European Union Convention on Cybercrime English