Let’s just get this out of the way upfront: I’m against child pornography. I’ve got two kids of my own and … well I don’t think I have to spell it out for you. Kiddie porn is bad, okay?
But authorising a spooky government agency to create a secret framework for blocking internet sites that politicians deem distasteful is a recipe for a dark future and a distraction for those that were actually fighting the good fight against child abuse.
Nonetheless, the German parliament on Thursday is expected to approve legislation that will allow the Bundeskriminalamt, or the country’s federal criminal police, to index and block alleged child pornography sites. Fair enough, we can all agree, those places are vile, as are the people that operate and visit them.
This legislation is the brainchild of Ursula von der Leyen, Germany’s conservative family minister and previously my favourite member of Chancellor Angie’s otherwise bumbling cabinet. She’s been rebranded Censorsula – Zensursula in German – by the web community despite her protestation she merely wants to protect the children. But then you have to wonder why she’s pushing legislation that sends Germany’s G-Men after websites rather than criminals.
Which serves as a handy transition to the first problem with this loopy legislation – the index will serve as a handy warning to kiddie porn peddlers that the government is on to them. It’s like a postcard informing them that their time is up. Only, it’s not – just their website’s time is up.
And to anyone who’s delved beyond the e-mail and HTML levels of the web, it’s apparent that the block will do little. Ever heard of newsgroups? IRC filesharing? How about USB sticks? Friends tell me these are the places you can get your favourite English-language TV shows, Lily Allen albums and viruses that attack bytes, not pigs and people.
But these superficial loopholes just show how little thought went into the thing. The reason I and 134,000 German internet users signed a digital government petition are against this thing is the door it opens: Once the architecture is in place – and the country’s internet service providers are complying – it won’t take much to expand the block.
I can hear the rumblings over on the right already: the status-quo crowd doesn’t believe Berlin would expand the ban. Oh really?
Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has already tried this once. He asked the Justice Ministry to consider updating a law that allowed video cameras and automated toll stations on the autobahn designed for toll collecting to be used for crime-fighting – even though no one mentioned this during parliamentary debates over the toll system. The cameras are there, he said. It would be a shame to not allow them to reach their full potential.
And his Christian Democratic colleague Thomas Strobl already said he wanted to consider aiming the new law at violent video games too.
The concept of censoring the internet is nothing new – American corporations have floated the idea for years using the logic that if they provide it to you, they should have some say in what’s on it. And other countries are already doing it, all of them bastions of democracy such as China and North Korea.
So, you know, Germany will be in good company. Thanks a bunch, Censorsula.
Since a good German Stammtisch is a place where pub regulars come to talk over the issues of the day, Portnoy welcomes a lively conversation in the comments area below.