Fri, Jun. 19, 2009

Election Politics: Placebo for Pornography

CK - Washington.   In time for the fall election, the majority coalition in the German federal diet passed a coalition-cabinet-proposed bill to draw virtual curtains before websites offering child-pornograhic material.

The June 18, 2009 vote drew a record 130,000 popular petitions in opposition to a rule widely regarded as the first step toward censorship on the Internet, although Germany has long imposed drastically-enforced sanctions against anonymous speech on the Internet and maintains rules crimping freedom of expression through Internet forums and WiFi communications systems.

These sets of rules suppress freedom of speech but are widely not regarded as means of censorship and are usually enforced civilly or administratively, not criminally.

The new law contains provisions with international effect, such as requiring certain ISPs to place barriers on foreign websites with pornographic material and requiring a federal enforcement agency to notify their foreign counterparts. Even before approving a final bill, the government jawboned major ISPs into contracts that coerce them into enforcing similar restrictions.

The law does not require any removal of child-pornographic material from the Internet, and such material will remain accessible by passing through the curtain. Which version of the bill passed the diet is unclear.

Various sources point to a text containing amendments, Entwurf eines Gesetzes zur Bekämpfung der Kinderpornographie in Kommunikationsnetzen, while the diet, Bundestag, lists links leading to blank pages as well as a May 2009 draft.

The final draft is said to contain a sunset provision. The censorship law could become effective shortly before the elections and expire after three years, which would trigger new discussions before the next federal election cycle.

Fortunately, some of the supreme courts, including the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe, are fairly Internet-savvy. They may rescue the country from steps that expand the growing suppression of free speech in Germany by her legislators, as they have done before, and by overly zealous courts that rely on uninformed perceptions of the Internet and its mechanics.

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