January 29, 1996
Germany Moves Again to Censor Internet Content
By NATHANIEL C. NASH
RANKFURT, Germany -- For the second time in two months, Germany has pushed to the forefront of governments trying to impose state censorship on the Internet, putting pressure on a commercial online service provider to block access to Internet material the government considers illegal under German law.
The T-Online service of Deutsche Telekom said it voluntarily blocked access last week to the World Wide Web site of the Toronto-based neo-Nazi, Ernst Zuendel, after state prosecutors in Mannheim warned the company that they were investigating whether it was "helping to incite racial hatred."
The company, which has more than a million customers in Germany, said this was the first time it had censored material at the insistence of a government official, and it complained that holding it responsible for anti-Semitic material was unreasonable.
"Of course we do not want to distribute neo-Nazi materials," said Hans Ehnert, a spokesman for Deutsche Telekom. "But you cannot check all Internet pages. We cannot search the entire Internet." Ehnert said the company itself had censored certain material from its users.
The Mannheim case comes a month after Compuserve, a subsidiary of H&R Block in the United States, announced it had closed access worldwide to more than 200 Internet user groups -- many of which dealt in child pornography -- because a Munich prosecutor had warned that it could be held accountable for distributing illegal sexual material in Germany. The Munich case stirred international attention, since it was the first time a government's action led to worldwide Internet censorship.
Both cases reflect Germany's long history of aggressively using censorship -- mostly against neo-Nazi groups -- in an effort to put behind it the horrors of Nazism, and maintain its international image of being unquestionably anti-Nazi.
While Germany's child pornography laws are not greatly different from those of other Western governments, its racial hatred laws are considerably stronger. It is illegal, for example, to deny that the Holocaust existed, and illegal to distribute any Nazi material of any kind. Even Hitler's biography, "Mein Kampf," cannot be legally published in Germany.
Zuendel is internationally known as a neo-Nazi who seeks to rewrite the history of World War II, saying the Holocaust did not take place. His anti-Semitic material is closely monitored by German authorities and officials have said he would be prosecuted if he ever came to this country.
The investigation against T-Online specifically states that by providing access to the Zuendel material, T-Online could be "assisting in inciting racial hatred."
Compuserve officials in Munich were also notified by the Mannheim prosecutors office, but they were told only that the Zuendel material was under investigation, not their service, company officials said.
"As far as we are told, the investigation is not against us at the moment," said Marielle Bureick, a Compuserve spokeswoman. "The prosecutor did not demand that we shut access to that web site, unlike the demands of the Munich prosecutor."
Copyright 1996 The New York Times Company