17 June 2009

Germany to Vote on Block List Aimed at Stopping Child Porn

16 06 2009 - The German parliament is slated to vote on a bill this week aimed at cracking down on child pornography via the establishment of a mandated DNS block list.

Representatives of the two parties that compose the country’s coalition government agreed on a final version of the bill late Monday night despite massive opposition from online activists and ISPs. Critics argue that DNS blocking is ineffective and fear the list could be the first step towards massive Internet censorship.

Try to access a web site hosting child pornography from within Germany, and you’ll be met with a red stop sign. Or at least that’s the premise of new legislation that could be approved by the German parliament as early as this Thursday. The bill would authorize the German Federal Police to establish a block list containing the domain names and IP addresses of web sites hosting and linking to child porn. ISPs would be required to block such addresses and redirect all traffic to sites hosting the iconic warning messages.

Germany’s coalition government initially drafted the bill in April. The legislation has been met with intense resistance by German Internet users and civil liberties advocates alike. An official online petition against the bill has attracted more than 128,000 signatures, and the sheer number of citizens trying to sign the petition has brought down the parliament’s web infrastructure on more than one occasion.

ISPs have also criticized portions of the bill, which originally called for them to log each attempted access to a blocked site and share such log files with law enforcement officials. Politicians eventually seemed to understand that labeling someone a suspected pedophile simply because he once clicked on the wrong link wasn’t a very clever idea in the age of URL-shorteners. The new version of the bill doesn’t contain any logging requirements.

Online activists, however, remain steadfast in their opposition to the bill. DNS blocks are ineffective, they argue, because circumventing them is as simple as using a DNS server located outside of Germany. Critics also fear that child porn is only the beginning and that laws mandating the censorship of other types of content will follow.

Such fears are not completely unfounded. Record labels and book publishers have already argued that ISPs should also block access to file-sharing sites like The Pirate Bay and one-click hosters like Rapidshare. Some politicians have even proposed extending the block list to also cover sites offering ultra-violent video games, online casinos and Islamic propaganda. Oliver Süme of the German ISP association eco recently stated  that Internet access providers are “increasingly doubting that this measure will be limited to child pornography” in light of these demands.

Germany is not alone with its filtering ambitions. Six other European countries already have similar block lists to combat child porn. These lists are usually guarded with secrecy, but a few were recently leaked onto the web, prompting German Internet activist Alvar Freude to use them to protest the pending bill by analyzing the listed web addresses with a script that sent out automated takedown requests to the sites’ hosting providers. The results: 250 of 348 providers responded, and 61 sites were taken down within the first 12 hours. Said Freude: “Taking down these sites doesn’t take longer than sending block lists to ISPs.”


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