Tagzensursula

Rette Deine Freiheit

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This video is a great (and appropriately biased) summary of the German government laws to censor the internet under the premise of fighting child abuse. Nicknamed Zensursula (pun on the German word for censorship “Zensur” and the name of the minister in charge, Ursula von der Leyen), the plan is opposed by a more and more organized opposition spanning several political parties (and fractions of parties), a lot of NGOs, activists, scientists, journalists, lawyers.

In short: The Zensursula plans won’t help a single abused child, but rather warn the abusers; and the whole project is based on perfectly wrong premises. Example: One of the most-often repeated arguments of the censorship side is that the internet may not be a lawless space – of course it isn’t in the least, all the national laws apply there as well, and are in most cases fairly easy to enforce. While not helping anyone in the least bit, this opens the doors for more classic censorship (think intellectual property rights etc.).

To cut a long story short, this video is spot on. (It’s German, though. If you happen to know a translated or subtitled version, please let me know.)

RetteDeineFreiheit.de from alexanderlehmann on Vimeo.

More on the website: http://rettedeinefreiheit.de.

Net Censorship in Germany: Confirmed

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Censorship sucks

It’s a sad day for Germany, and an infuriating one. The law hasn’t passed yet, but the major parties have agreed (Netzpolitik.org, in German) to introduce net censorship in Germany. It’s all under the pretense of protecting children against abuse, but the draft of the law clearly shows that it will neither protect children nor put a limit on the distribution on videos of child abuse. It also shows how badly an unhealthy mix of under-informed politicians and overly symbolic politics can go wrong.

The German government will censor the internet. What country am I living in?

I am seriously stunned as I’m writing this. How could this come about? Von der Leyen, the conservative Secretary of Family Affairs, pushed this piece of legislation hard and actually managed to get not just her party (CDU) but also a large chunk of the German Bundestag to agree to legislation that clearly they haven’t read don’t understand the scope of, mostly by using harsh rhetoric and fake statistics, pretending she knows how to fight child abuse. Never mind that even conservative newspaper Handelsblatt stated: It’s official, von der Leyen has lied. (Some conservative politicians as well as lobbyists have already stated that other content – copyright infringements, gambling, violent games – should also be considered for blocking.)

Personally, this troubles me on several levels. These laws clearly intrude my private life as someone whose private and business life revolves around the net to a large degree. Also, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) had the chance to stop this madness by withdrawing support and didn’t – despite a wing within the party strongly opposing the whole censorship project.

I’m an adviser to the online youth election campaign of SPD. Panorama3000 and I organize the online campaign for Jusos, the SPD’s youth organization. (The Jusos oppose censorship plans; former head of Jusos Björn Böhning lead the intra-party stance to stop the censorship plans.) Both on a personal level and as a campaigner I must say agreeing to this legislation hurts democracy in Germany, and the ongoing election campaign.

To clarify, and as full disclosure: I will continue to support Jusos in the election campaign; I still think SPD is one of the very few sound choices in the upcoming elections (the Greens being the other), but that’s a personal choice. The thing is: We all need to make it clear that we oppose censorship. This is not something that just affects the geeks and nerds. This affects all of us.

How could we get to this point? This is ridiculous.

Update: Thomas Knüwer of German newspaper Handelsblatt has some comments on this issue: Dammbruch im Internet (de)

Petition Against Internet Censorship in Germany (FTW!)

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In Germany, some odd stuff has been happening lately. It’s a fairly complex topic, and the whole discussion is happening in German, so I’ll keep it really short: Top-level politician Ursula von der Leyen (Federal Minister for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth) is trying to introduce large-scale censorship in Germany, thinly disguised as an anti child pornography (CP) measure. It’s symbolic (if not fake) politics at its best: No chance to solve the problems at hand, but guaranteed to do a lot of damage. A nasty mix.

So you can imagine how happy I was when a petition to the parliament to prevent this law was put up on the German Bundestag’s e-petition site and got more than 10.000 supporters – within hardly 12 hours. Now there’s about a month until we need to get 50.000 supporters, then the parliament would be forced to listen to the petitioners. Given the surge of support in the little time, I’m confident this will work out.

CP is a heinous crime, and should be fought effectively wherever possible. But what she plans is ridiculous, ineffective, and dangerous: A blacklist of domain names, secret and without any oversight whatsoever, to be filtered by ISPs on a “voluntary basis”. Whereas “voluntary” means choosing between agreeing or being outed as a supporter of crimes against children.

Needless to say, IP filtering is too easy to circumvent to prevent any crime, or even the access to this kind of content. It’s completely ineffective & inefficient. What’s worse, this seems to happen instead of cracking down on the criminals who run the CP rings. (Some recent studies have shown that most CP rings are based in Western countries like the U.S., Sweden and Germany with strong laws to fight CP, and that the police isn’t really maxing out these laws yet. In other words: A test by Childcare showed that it’s actually fairly easy to shut down CP providers without any kind of filtering. This needs to be the first step.)

The opposition to these plans have been acting under the common tag Zensursula, a pun on the word censorship (“Zensur”) and the ministers first name (“Ursula”). Experts of all fields agree that these plans are complete crap. Even the Minister of Justice criticizes von der Leyen’s plans as probably anti-constitutional.

Putting these domain filters into place – with no oversight by judges, parliament or any independent jury – is the most dangerous thing I’ve seen in the German political sphere in a long time. Ursula von der Leyen is now trying to put her project on a legal basis. (What’s even worse, she gives contradictory, if not misleading information about the extent of her plans.)

It’s important that the politicians learn about this issue. I sincerely believe that the support for this whole internet filtering idea act on the best intentions. But a lot of them simply & clearly don’t have the technical background to understand what’s going on. How we could end up in this weird situation I simply cannot grasp. (Hello, staff, how about a decent briefing for your boss?) But now it’s important to stop this craziness.

Also, it’s clear that once these censorship tools are put in place, it won’t stay about CP for long. Others, most notably the Intellectual Property interest groups, will try to get in on the game, too. Dieter Gorny, the spokesperson of the German music industry has already expressed their support of the plans as a good first step towards better protection of intellectual property, read: he looks forward to also filtering supposedly pirated music. This is blunt, insensitive, and of course he’s not in any position to demand internet censorship to protect his industry’s interest on the expense of basic democratic rights like free, unlimited and uncensored internet access.

If you speak German, Netzpolitik is the best source for info on the topic. If you’re eligible to vote in Germany, you can sign the petition against censorship.

So this turned out much longer than intended. But yes, it’s that important. And that insane.