Child porn law sparks web censorship debate

An attempt to tighten German laws against online child pornography has sparked resistance from some Social Democrats and its intended enforcers.

Child porn law sparks web censorship debate
Photo: DPA

The bill, due to be voted on later Thursday, will give the government the right to censor internet sites that distribute child pornography. Internet service providers will be required to restrict access to such sites and surfers trying to call up web pages on the government’s watch list will encounter an online stop sign warning them of the consequences of going further.

The proposed law championed by Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen, who belongs to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democrats, has proven controversial because it empowers the federal criminal police (BKA) to decide which sites are dangerous and which aren’t. The list of sites would also remain secret.

Critics of the plan say it gives the government too much power and won’t really address the problem of child pornography. Von der Leyen dismissed those accusations in a speech before parliament Thursday.

“It’s cynical to speak to censorship in relation to this case, then the rape of children will be accessible in the mass media,” she said in her speech. Restricting access to the sites is simply a measure that only has a “preventative character,” she said, that won’t affect ordinary internet users.

But some in the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the centre-left junior coalition partner of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), are uncomfortable with the proposed law. Hessian SPD head Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel said the bill will do nothing to stop the circulation of child porn and will “make the party unelectable for the digital generation,” in a letter he wrote to the SPD’s leadership.

Obtained by the website of Der Spiegel magazine, the letter lambasted the proposal.

“The citizens’ fears that this mechanism will be misused, is, in light of the many demands to expand the number of sites to close, highly justifiable. Independent of the intentions of the lawmakers is the danger that courts will apply an already-completed censorship structure to other crimes,” continued Schäfer-Gümbel.

Peter Schaar, the government’s privacy commissioner who would oversee the BKA’s efforts to close child porn sites, was also critical of the measure.

“It has nothing to do with my responsibilities to ensure the freedom of information and electronic privacy,” Schaar said in an interview with the daily Berliner Zeitung.

The opposition parties in parliament have all expressed their resistance to the plan, meaning that the CDU needs the support of the SPD and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union for the measure to pass.

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Germany in talks on further payout for 1972 Olympics victims

The German government says it is in talks over further compensation for victims of the attack on the Munich Olympics, as the 50th anniversary of the atrocity approaches.

Germany in talks on further payout for 1972 Olympics victims

Ahead of the commemoration in September, relatives of the Israelis killed have indicated they are unhappy with what Germany is offering.

“Conversations based on trust are taking place with representatives of the victims’ families,” a German interior ministry spokesman told AFP when asked about the negotiations.

He did not specify who would benefit or how much money had been earmarked, saying only that any package would “again” be financed by the federal government, the state of Bavaria and the city of Munich.

On September 5th, 1972, eight gunmen broke into the Israeli team’s flat at the Olympic village, shooting dead two and taking nine Israelis hostage, threatening to kill them unless 232 Palestinian prisoners were released.

West German police responded with a bungled rescue operation in which all nine hostages were killed, along with five of the eight hostage-takers and a police officer.

An armed police officer in a tracksuit secures the block where terrorists  held Israeli hostages at the Olympic Village in Munich on 5th September 1972.

An armed police officer in a tracksuit secures the block where terrorists held Israeli hostages at the Olympic Village in Munich on 5th September 1972. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Horst Ossingert

The spokeswoman for the victims’ families, Ankie Spitzer, told the German media group RND that the amount currently on the table was “insulting” and threatened a boycott of this year’s commemorations.

She said Berlin was offering a total of €10 million including around €4.5 million already provided in compensation between 1972 and 2002 — an amount she said did not correspond to international standards. 

“We are angry and disappointed,” said Spitzer, the widow of fencing coach Andre Spitzer who was killed in the attack. “We never wanted to talk publicly about money but now we are forced to.”

RND reported that the German and Israeli governments would like to see an accord by August 15th.

The interior ministry spokesman said that beyond compensation, Germany intended to use the anniversary for fresh “historical appraisal, remembrance and recognition”.

He said this would include the formation of a commission of German and Israeli historians to “comprehensively” establish what happened “from the perspective of the year 2022”.

This would lead to “an offer of further acts of acknowledgement of the relatives of the victims of the attack” and the “grave consequences” they suffered.