THE GERMAN parliament passed a bill Thursday imposing censorship of pornographic websites justified by the need to protect children.
The legislation was proposed by a coalition of German social democratic and conservative parties. It requires the country's federal criminal investigators to maintain a list of websites accused of containing child pornography and to distribute it to German ISPs, which will then be required to block queries to those websites with a stop sign.
In its present form, the bill requires only that ISPs display the warning sign. Users will still be able to access the flagged websites, but they will be advised that viewing child pornography is illegal. German legislators also bowed to criticism by adding a sunset clause that will see the law expire in three years.
The bill drew strong protests from German Internet users including hackers, digital freedom activists, bloggers and social notworkers. It triggered an online petition signed by more than 130,000 individuals, 80,000 more than the number required for the petition to be heard on the floor of the German parliament.
The bill also requires the German chief privacy commissioner to periodically review the website block list, but the incumbent official has already balked at that.
Critics have proven that there are more effective, less instrusive ways of suppressing child pornography, such as emailing the web hosting companies involved to get the objectionable content removed from the interwibble almost immediately.
Furthermore, small ISPs might not have sufficient resources to comply with the infrastructure demands of the plan.
The worst fear, of course, is that once the German government has an Internet censorship apparatus in place, it will be deployed by authoritarian elements of the government, political parties or security agencies to repress freedom of political expression, dissent and free access to information. µ