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Child porn

August 18, 2010

Germany sees itself in the forefront of the fight against Internet child porn - a battle critics say it's losing due to international law discrepancies and its own protection laws.

A disk labeled "child pornography"
The Internet has allowed child porn to spread like wildfireImage: picture-alliance / dpa

German police and child protection advocates are disappointed with Germany's fight against Internet child pornography, which they say is hampered by discrepancies in international policy and by German law itself.

Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) launched a campaign at the beginning of 2010 to promote the deletion of child pornographic websites the world over. Yet, according to the BKA's statement for the January-July period, 40 percent of these websites (on average, 140 each month) remained online a week after they had alerted local authorities. The daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung meanwhile puts this "failure" rate at as high as 63 percent.

"It's no wonder," said Michael Kappe, spokesman for the CareChild protection association. "As long as the BKA continues to turn to local police forces instead of writing directly to the Internet providers [who host child pornographic websites], there's no reason why it should work better now than before."

Kappe said his organization had once sought out child porn sites and had written to the service providers directly. "The sites were deleted in a jiffy," he said.

Konrad Freiberg
Freiberg says a new privacy law works against policeImage: picture-alliance / dpa

German police do not write to Internet providers directly for fear of stepping on their international counterparts' toes. "But actually, that's what they need to do," Kappe said.

Local jurisdictions face a global Internet

Konrad Freiberg, chief of Germany's police union, says that German authorities "are trying to keep on top of new developments," adding that "what's especially important here is international cooperation."

He says Germany is pushing for international cooperation to fight child pornography online, but that "the Internet is a global affair, whereas police forces are generally limited to particular jurisdictions with different laws."

Although Germany fancies itself the international vanguard in the fight against Internet child pornography, it faces the challenge that, while the sites are accessible to anyone in Germany, German authorities usually do not have the jurisdiction to shut them down directly.

Germany is therefore dependent on international support and cooperation in order to fight child pornography on a global scale, an undertaking in which Interpol and the FBI are strongly involved.

Two investigators search the internet for child porn
The BKA tracks down around 140 sites a monthImage: dpa

Germany's protection laws hamper investigations

But here, international policy discrepancies place Germany at a disadvantage. For example, most of the sites the BKA wants to see deleted are based in the United States. Kappe believes that many of these sites are tolerated by US authorities - or even run by the FBI - in order to entrap pedophiles.

Kappe would like to see such tactics allowed in Germany, but as it is, such so-called "honey pot" baiting websites worsen the situation in Germany by making child pornography available to German pedophiles, as domestic authorities are prevented by German privacy law from piggy-backing on the US investigations.

In May 2010, Germany's Federal Constitutional Court ruled that it was illegal for Internet service providers to store data on their customers' online activities if there were no concrete suspicions against them.

"Our colleagues at the BKA tell us that the fight against child pornography has become more difficult and more limited because of that decision [by the Constitutional Court]," said Freiberg.

German police, meanwhile, are forbidden from committing any crimes to further an investigation, meaning that German police may not possess child pornography themselves.

Discs containing child pornographic images
Some of the tactics used by police in different countries are incompatibleImage: AP

"They can't even infiltrate child porn exchange groups, because they don't have the entrance ticket. Generally you can only crack these circles if you yourself can offer child pornography for exchange," Kappe said.

Deleting or blocking?

Debates have raged among German politicians for months on whether it is more effective to delete sites containing child pornography, or simply block them.

Both sides are taking the results of the BKA's efforts as evidence that they are right, but Freiberg chalks the deletion versus blocking debate up to politics and electioneering.

"Of course deletion is better," said Freiberg. "But deletion doesn't always work. And everyone knows that an expert can get around any block, but it's still better than nothing."

Author: David Levitz

Editor: Susan Houlton