Internet censorship again

Last year the German government and parliament agreed to a bill that enabled internet censorship in Germany, but the new government coalition agreed not to execute the law.
The new secretary of justice justified her reputation as a civil liberties bulwark.

Huge popular and expert resistance had pointed out the ineffectiveness and dangerousness of such an entry into web censorship.

The old government had used a the old trick of first stomping the least-liked people (this time pedophiles) with a new power of the state.

Zuerst holten sie die Kommunisten;
ich schwieg, denn ich war kein Kommunist.
Dann holten sie die Juden;
ich schwieg, denn ich war kein Jude.
Dann holten sie die Gewerkschaftsmitglieder unter den Arbeitern;
ich schwieg, denn ich war kein Gewerkschafter.
Danach holten sie die Katholiken;
ich schwieg, denn ich war Protestant.
Schließlich holten sie mich,
und da war keiner mehr, der für mich hätte sprechen können.

(Martin Niemöller)

(First they came for the communists;
I kept silent, for I was no communist.
The they came for the Jews;
I kept silent, for I was no Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists among the workers;
I kept silent, for I was no trade unionist.
Afterwards they came for the catholics;
I kept silent, for I was protestant.
Finally they came for me,
and nobody was left who could have raised his voice for me.)

(OK, this was a quite heavy calibre for the purpose, but they deserve it for it really seems to be the same old political salami technique!)

The assurance that there would be no extension of the tool was not beliebable - not the least because politicians from a government party had already called for extensions of the censorship to other topics before the bill became a law.

So basically we have this stupid law, but for some reason the government ignores it and it's not being used. Don't ask me how lawyers can call that rule of law for I was quite surprised by this turn of events.
The law is a Sword of Damocles, of course. Its use wouldn't require much more than a new coalition.

Anyway, the worst was fended off - the government doesn't create an internet censorship infrastructure - yet.

My car radio informed me today that this was only the first wave, though: The EU commissioner Malmström is proposing to go even farther than this censorship law - with the already well-known misleading arguments and ineffectiveness problems. It seems as if we need to fight the same fight again to fend off a dangerous entry into internet censorship made easy - although first reports indicate that the German government isn't inclined to agree with her.

The latter is not necessarily good news, for the German government's comments do not necessarily mean that it will stem itself against such a EU Directive. It appears as if the German government argues more along the line that our measures are more effective and new a EU Directive would thus not change much - except of course an entry into internet censorship.

I've also heard that this EU commissioner also wants to standardize up to 22 elements of an offence, some of them new and strongly smelling like impractical bullshit.
By the way - I cannot remember that any EU proponent known to me expressed his or her delight over the EU getting involved in national criminal law. I've yet to learn why this area requires EU-wide standardization.

I also think that something is wrong with the design of the very indirectly legitimated institution EU Commission. It's too often the source of bad news and too rarely the source of good news.
The EU parliament is different. Its reputation isn't the best (more along the lines of "overpaid/lazy"), but somehow it has an organisational culture that's said to turn even extremists into cooperative EU parliamentarians and it's quite reliably on the side of civil liberties. Maybe that's because it wsn't really powerful for most of its existence - maybe the members of this parliament weren't infected by "power" groupthink?

Sven Ortmann

P.S.: I have zero tolerance for civil rights infringements like this. It's right to oppose such projects with full (yet still legal) power from the beginning in my opinion. One could react to such infringements with small resistance and increase the resistance only when the infringements become more outrageous, but that's an inferior approach in my opinion. There's no reason why we should tolerate the watering-down of protection rights against the state. Our politicians seem to be convinced that they would never mis-use power and they seem to be convinced that no dangerous people will ever rise to power and mis-use such powers. Seriously, they forgot their own commemoration mantras!
I don't want them to have powers that they shouldn't use. Period.

edit 2010-04-02: Added translation for the quoted poem.


  1. Could not agree more! Here in Australia the same efforts are taking place...with the same target as a politically convenient tool, ie. child abuse, online stalkers, image distribution...the factual discussion for or against it concerns speed limitations of internet access...civil liberty infringements as the major counterpoint seem to be irrelevant.

    The entire representation of the issue on behalf of politicians supporting the scheme lacks any intellectual capacity, when it comes to technical as well as political aspects and seems to take place on a pre-school level of discussion. Its simply disgusting.

  2. Pretty simple how the German government will act. They will criticize it now but when the (EU) vote comes up, they will abstain. (Just like with SWIFT. Thankfully the EU parliament intervened here.)

    And then they will tell German voters that they can´t do anything about it because it´s a EU law.

    And I wouldn´t be surprised if the EU move was "initiated / encouraged" by some national government ministers. Maybe German, maybe others.
    There is a tendency by many national governments to try and circumvent their own parliaments on potentially controversial topics by introducing it as an EU initiative.


  3. Which action would you suggest?
    A "pirate party", lobbying or something else?

    A "pirate party" might be to extreme, but counter movements usually are.

  4. Canada, same story. Between the "threats" of cyberterrorism and cybersex, the authorities are casting about for every possible way to increase their surveillance over the internet.

    Unfortunately, the internet naturally lends itself to surveillance. This sort of communication technology makes tracking and archiving very easy, and unlike the secret police of the past, it is not very labour intensive.