Gallery H
Free Expression
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Government Internet Censorship Laws Loom

By James Donahue

We have been hearing of government censorship of Internet services in China, Iran and other nations under the strict thumb of dictatorial rule, but now it is happening in Germany. Protest groups are fighting it, and the legislative issue has yet to become law, but the threat of censure of free speech actually looms in that western nation.

While there has been little fanfare, Turkey has been blocking some sites for at least a year, and New Zealand is investing in new technology that government officials say will block certain Internet sites. It seems that governments around the world are very interested in controlling what people read and see on the World Wide Web.

Will it happen in the United States?

The issue hinges on an effort by the German parliament and New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs to clamp down on child pornography. But opponents see such a law as a tool to control political voices and other freedoms of expression that have made the Internet the amazing global communication tool it has become.

The fight is similar to past efforts in the U.S. to pass laws banning pornography. Every time the issue comes up it fails because no one has yet been able to define the difference between pornographic images and nudity in art. Free expression in the arts is such a sacred part of American values we all agree it must be protected at all costs.

That U.S. President Barack Obama used the web as a foundation for his amazing victory in the 2008 political elections has not gone unnoticed. Would some power factions like to stop future candidates from achieving that kind of rapport with the masses? You bet they would.

If it becomes law in Germany, all German Internet providers will be forced to create filters that block certain chosen web sites, from a secret list provided by the German Federal Criminal Office. Users to attempt to access these sites will have a big red “STOP” sign pop up on their computer screens.

For now there will be a record made of anyone who attempts to open these sites, but the information cannot be used for criminal prosecution. The police, however, do retain the right to use such data on suspicion of illegal child pornography activity.

In addition, the Criminal Office would have the authority to monitor and add new websites and domains to its list. This includes sites hosted outside of the European Union.

German legislators pushing for the law argue that it is only designed to fight child pornography. But some politicians have already suggested that they would like to see it expanded to include violent video games and hate sites.

And there you go. Once they have such a tool, what is going to stop them from drawing a line in the way it will be used?

As we see it, child pornography does not appear to be as severe an issue as some religious and political pundits are making it out to be. New Zealand authorities, however, claim they have identified an estimated 7,000 child porn sites. This is double the number reportedly identified by authorities in the UK. We wonder just how many such sites really exist, and just how much interest exists for such perverted material.

From where we sit the suspicion is growing that this issue may be a smokescreen for government control of Internet freedoms of art and expression. And that is a freedom we cannot afford to lose. We strongly encourage the German, New Zealand, Iranian, Turkish and Chinese people to stand up against these controls. The movement needs to be stopped in its tracks before it takes root.