EU plan to block web child porn sparks German opposition

The debate over whether child pornography websites should be blocked or shut down reignited in Germany on Tuesday, as the EU Commission moved to censor offending content.

EU plan to block web child porn sparks German opposition
Photo: DPA

European Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström has advocated site blocking, but German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said she hopes to convince the EU to erase such sites instead.

Blocking sites is ineffective against child pornography, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger told daily Hamburger Abendblatt, explaining that instead it leads to a “huge breach of trust” with internet users.

Both the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) and the environmentalist Greens have said they support the pro-business Free Democratic minister’s course. Meanwhile her party’s coalition partner, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) have said they support Malmström’s position.

“Internet blocking is technically ineffective and doesn’t work,” SPD deputy party leader Olaf Scholz told daily Frankfurter Rundschau, adding that this had already been proven in Germany.

Green party internet expert Konstantin von Notz told the paper: “Perpetrators can get around blocks within seconds.”

But CDU parliamentary group leader Wolfgang Bosbach disagreed, telling the paper that Malmström’s plan would create a unified standard to fight the problem and would present no danger to users.

“What is forbidden offline must also be banned online,” he told the paper.

In November President Horst Köhler refused to sign a controversial law to block child pornography on the internet following criticism that it would block access to other innocent sites, and therefore amounted to censorship that could breach Germany’s constitution.

The law was written under the previous “grand coalition” government between Angela Merkel’s CDU and the SPD and was pushed by then CDU Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen.

Merkel’s party and their new partners in government, the FDP – who opposed the measure – agreed during coalition negotiations not to put the law into practice.

But because it had already been passed by both houses of the German parliament, it could not simply be dropped. Köhler’s refusal to sign it means it is now effectively stalled until the new government finds a constitutional way to kill it.

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‘A great day for consumers in Europe’: EU votes for single smartphone charger

The EU parliament on Tuesday passed a new law requiring USB-C to be the single charger standard for all new smartphones, tablets and cameras from late 2024 in a move that was heralded a "great day for consumers".

'A great day for consumers in Europe': EU votes for single smartphone charger

The measure, which EU lawmakers adopted with a vote 602 in favour, 13 against, will – in Europe at least – push Apple to drop its outdated Lightning port on its iPhones for the USB-C one already used by many of its competitors.

Makers of laptops will have extra time, from early 2026, to also follow suit.

EU policymakers say the single charger rule will simplify the life of Europeans, reduce the mountain of obsolete chargers and reduce costs for consumers.

It is expected to save at least 200 million euros ($195 million) per year and cut more than a thousand tonnes of EU electronic waste every year, the bloc’s competition chief Margrethe Vestager said.

The EU move is expected to ripple around the world.

The European Union’s 27 countries are home to 450 million people who count among the world’s wealthiest consumers. Regulatory changes in the bloc often set global industry norms in what is known as the Brussels Effect.

“Today is a great day for consumers, a great day  for our environment,” Maltese MEP Alex Agius Saliba, the European Parliament’s pointman on the issue, said.

“After more than a decade; the single charger for multiple electronic devices will finally become a reality for Europe and hopefully we can also inspire the rest of the world,” he said.

Faster data speed

Apple, the world’s second-biggest seller of smartphones after Samsung, already uses USB-C charging ports on its iPads and laptops.

But it resisted EU legislation to force a change away from its Lightning ports on its iPhones, saying that was disproportionate and would stifle innovation.

However some users of its latest flagship iPhone models — which can capture extremely high-resolution photos and videos in massive data files — complain that the Lightning cable transfers data at only a bare fraction of the speed USB-C does.

The EU law will in two years’ time apply to all handheld mobile phones, tablets, digital cameras, headphones, headsets, portable speakers, handheld videogame consoles, e-readers, earbuds, keyboards, mice and portable navigation systems.

People buying a device will have the choice of getting one with or without a USB-C charger, to take advantage of the fact they might already have at least one cable at home.

Makers of electronic consumer items in Europe agreed a single charging norm from dozens on the market a decade ago under a voluntary agreement with the European Commission.

But Apple refused to abide by it, and other manufacturers kept their alternative cables going, meaning there are still some six types knocking  around.

They include old-style USB-A, mini-USB and USB-micro, creating a jumble of cables for consumers.

USB-C ports can charge at up to 100 Watts, transfer data up to 40 gigabits per second, and can serve to hook up to external displays.

Apple also offers wireless charging for its latest iPhones — and there is speculation it might do away with charging ports for cables entirely in future models.

But currently the wireless charging option offers lower power and data transfer speeds than USB-C.