At the behest of, and in response to legal threats from, the German government, internet providers in Germany have blocked the Dutch Web site Access For All (www.xs4all.nl), removing German users' access to the entire xs4all system. The German government demanded this action because xs4all hosts a Web "home page" with so-called left-wing political content that, though fully legal in the Netherlands, is allegedly illegal in Germany (see: http://www.anwalt.de/ictf/p960901e.htm [link expired]). As a result of this action, *all* xs4all web sites, including several thousand that have nothing to do with the offending home page, are unavailable to readers in Germany [but see note at end].
German Government Attempts
Blockage of Netherlands Web Sites
From: Arie Dirkzwager, 1996-09-18
Please send a letter of protest to the German ambassador in your country, ask your foreign minister to protest officially to the German government, and distribute this alert as widely as possible online and to the press.
Referring to article 19(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights, which Germany ratified in 1973, we, the undersigned organizations, consider this censorship an illegal act. Additionally, the value of attempting to ban content the German government finds offensive is highly questionable. The proper response to offensive expression is more and better expression, and prosecution of offending criminals, not censorship.
As a result of the overly broad censorship measure which targets an entire Internet access provider instead of a specific user, all 3000 and more Web site hosted by xs4all are virtually inaccessible in Germany. The loss of clients who market in Germany has resulted in economic damage to xs4all. The immeasurable harm of censoring thousands of other users for the speech of one is even greater.
Access for All, though it has expressed willingness to assist the Dutch police in identifying online criminals abusing the xs4all system, has a policy against censoring its clients.
Mirroring this position, at least one German Net provider has responded to the government demands with skepticism, pointing out that their compliance with the censorship request may cause them to violate contracts with their own German users, and that the government's liability threats are tantamount to holding a phone company liable for what users say on the telephone.
Instead of the futile act of censorship that has simply drawn increased attention to the offending material and resulted in its widespread availability on other sites throughout the world, the German government should have acted through legal channels and asked the authorities in the Netherlands to cooperate in determining what legal action, if any, was appropriate.
We are concerned that German internet providers have cooperated so easily with government censorship efforts. Some level of cooperation was probably assured by underhanded and rather questionable police threats of system operator liability for user content, but we must urge more resistance on that part of Net access providers to such online censorship schemes. As with libraries, there are many who would censor, but there is a responsibility on the part of providers of access to information, to work to protect that access, else libraries, and Internet service providers, lose the reason for their existence.
We ask that the German government refrain from further restrictive measures and intimidation of internet providers and recognize the free, democratic, world wide communications represented by the Internet.
All governments should recognize that the Internet is not a local, or even national, medium, but a global medium in which regional laws have little useful effect. "Top-down" censorship efforts not only fail to prevent the distribution of material to users in the local jurisdiction (material attacked in this manner can simply be relocated to any other country), but constitutes a direct assault on the rights and other interests of Internet users and service providers in other jurisdictions, not subject to the censorship law in question.
For press contacts, and for more information about the Internet, see the homepages for the signatories to this message [some dead links have been removed]:
- DB-NL (Digital Citizens Foundation in the Netherlands) * http://www.xs4all.nl/~db.nl
- ALCEI - Electronic Frontiers Italy * http://www.nexus.it/alcei
- CITADEL-E F France
- CommUnity (UK) * http://www.community.org.uk
- EFF-Austin (USA) * http://www.eff-austin.org
- Electronic Frontier Canada * http://www.efc.ca/
- Electronic Frontier Foundation (USA) * http://www.eff.org
- Electronic Frontiers Australia * http://www.efa.org.au/
- NLIP, Dutch Foundation for Internet Providers * http://www.nlip.nl
- Internet Providers Rotterdam * http://www.ipr.nl
- Digitaal Werknet Nederland
- Foebud e.V, foundation to promote free datatraffic, * http://www.zerberus.de
- National Writers Union (UAW LOCAL 1981 AFL-CIO) * http://www.nwu.org/nwu/
- Nizkor Project * http://www.nizkor.org/
- Internet Access Foundation (NL) * http://www.iaf.nl/
- Digitale Stad Venlo
Sometime after this article was published the Dutch website www.xs4all.nl again became accessible by web surfers in Germany.
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