Germany Forces ISPs to Agree to Web Filtering

For those who have been following the internet filtering debates, this latest development in Germany might ring a few bells. The German government and many of the German ISPs signed a “voluntary” agreement to maintain and enforce a website blacklist – a list that will be held in secrecy.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

Australians may know this debate all too well. A government says it wants to stop child pornography by blocking the websites. However, accountability on whoever maintains that list seems to remain a second thought. European Digital Rights has a very detailed report on these developments. In essence, the opposition to these web filters say that the filters themselves are designed for censorship rather than blocking child pornography. Added to the lack of accountability, ISPs will record who attempts to access blacklisted sites where police will have full access to those logs. Another part of the argument is the fact that issuing a complaint to the domain name will more than likely cause the registrar to terminate the account. Since the filter is on the DNS level, a change to OpenDNS would bypass the filters easily. In short, though, why not take the website down rather than leave it up? Besides, there is no mass market for such material and what little material does exist is traded privately rather than publicly.

We can add to this and point to the case that happened in Australia where the government insisted that the filters would be used to block child pornography, but it became increasingly evident that the filters would be more likely to be used as a government censorship tool. The point was driven home in a big way when filters in Britain blocked Wikipedia because an album cover found on the site. What was unique in the Australian case was the argument that the power that would be granted to the government might wind up being used for political censorship – either current or future.

More recently, though, British ISPs block ThePirateBay over adult content in spite of the fact that the website has a built in filter that, by default, blocks adult content in the first place. Some observers might connect the blocking of ThePirateBay to the court case against the site where, as it stands, the defendants are appealing on the grounds that the judge was not unbiased.

Still, the DNS blacklist idea has been a very politically charged and polarizing debate and it’ll be interesting to see how Germany handles this one considering that Germany was ground zero for the massive Freedom, Not Fear protests against overreaching surveillance that since went worldwide.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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