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Child pornography

February 23, 2010

Germany has enacted a law aimed at curbing child pornography on the Internet. But in the face of criticism and protests, the law won't be enforced, says the government.

A blurred photo of someone sat at a computer, symbolizing a child pornography consumer
The German government wants to curb Internet freedom to fight child pornographyImage: AP Graphics

A new law to curb child pornography has come into force in Germany, but, in a legal curiosity, it is not going to be used by the courts. The salient point is that instead of blocking child porn websites, the government now thinks it would better to erase them.

The controversial legislation was drafted in 2009 by the former conservative family minister, Ursula von der Leyen, who said that she was willing to act against "a massive spread of child pornography on the Internet."

Protestors demanding Internet freedom didn't want to listen to the government's arguments
Protestors demanding Internet freedom didn't want to listen to the government's argumentsImage: AP

"We are no longer going to tolerate the fact that pictures of children being raped are massively accessed and distributed on the Internet in Germany," she said, shortly before introducing the bill to parliament last year.

Mere symbolism

Under the new law, the German Federal Criminal Office (BKA) is supposed to provide a regularly updated list of websites, which they've found to contain child pornographic pictures and images.

German Internet providers must then post a red "Stop" sign on them, but are not allowed to erase them. The German law also doesn't extend to providers based abroad.

Christian Bahls from the organisation "Abuse Victims against Internet Access Blocking" accused the government of pursuing "a policy of symbolism," which he described as "a slap in the face of the victims of child pornography."

"The victims of abuse are being abused again, namely as symbols in a questionable government campaign," he said.

Freedom vs crime fighting

Since last summer, there's been a groundswell of protests by Germans who see the law as a first step on the path towards government censorship of the Internet.

Ursula von der Leyen
Ursula von der Leyen is eager to stop child abuse material on the InternetImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Franziska Heine has been spearheading a public pressure campaign called "expedition against Internet blocking," which is aimed at forcing parliament to re-introduce the law.

About 134.000 Germans have signed on to an official petition to parliament pressed by the group.

Mrs Heine claimed that the law was based on "entirely false information" about the distribution of child pornography.

"The law has huge repercussion for the freedom of information, but does little to help the victims," she said.

Mrs Heine's opinion is supported by police specialists investigating cases of child pornography.

Frank Federau, a member of a special unit at the regional police office in the federal state of Lower Saxony, believes child abuse material is not primarily exchanged using the Internet.

"The internet is a channel of communication for paedophiles, but the material as such is distributed on CDs and DVDs via ordinary mail."

Legal doubts

Wolfgang Hoffmann-Riem, an expert on constitutional law, even believed that the new law was not in line with the German constitution.

"The fact that the Federal Criminal Office has been made responsible for providing the list of websites to be banned, is a clear breach of power-sharing laws in Germany."

Hoffman-Riem pointed out that police in the 16 German federal states were in charge of crime fighting and investigating criminal content on the Internet, and that the law infringed upon their duties.

In the face of so much criticism, the government has decided to amend the law in the course of the next few months.

The new legislation, the government said, would then allow providers to erase child pornography websites.

Author: Uwe Hessler
Editor: Andreas Illmer