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Filtering Out Hate

A city council in Düsseldorf has decided to block the content of 80 web sites it deems right wing. The decision has rubbed civil rights advocates the wrong way.


Filtering out the bad stuff for the good of all

Nowhere has the German government's fight against neo-Nazi propaganda been more intensive then in the Internet.

Interior Minister Otto Schily has tried working with US officials to block German sites operated out of the United States that are heavily accessed by the country's right-wing extremist population. German states and cities have instituted their own bans, ordering local service providers to block sites with a right-wing extremist bent.

The practice has run afoul of civil rights advocates who warn of a slippery slope effect in Internet censorship. Next week, one such advocate, the Chaos Computer Club, plans a demonstration in North Rhine Westphalia's state capital Düsseldorf in protest of moves made last year by the city to block 80 web sites.

In all, twelve internet service providers participated in blocking the web sites last November. The Düsseldorf city council justified the decision by pointing out the content of the sites hindered the goals of a peaceful and orderly society.

They said they would block the sites until the end of April, by which time new technology will allow the government to filter out, not block, certain content.

A slippery slope

Internet censorship opponents consider filtering dangerous because it can very easily be expanded to filter content on legitimate web sites as well.

Alvar Freude of the Internet initiative ODEM.org said the local government was using the "ban on right-wing extremism to justify other, comprehensive, censorship measures."

In addition, they argue, filtering out or blocking right wing propaganda doesn't effectively deal with the problem. Dialogue and discourse, they argue, is much more important than high-tech gadgetry that might eliminate or soften an offending site for a few days.

"Right-wing extremism and racism is a problem, but you solve this problem by dealing with it, not by phasing it out," said Andy Müller-Maguhn,. Europe's representative on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), and a Chaos Club member.

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