The grandparents used to tell us kids stories about times in Germany when it was strictly forbidden to listen to BBC radio news. Our grandparents hid their radio in the basement of their house and only dared to turn it on with low volume. The family sat closely around the radio and received illegal British broadcast about battles and political information during World War II.
The grandchildren could hardly believe those radio stories. We were too young to understand the full meaning of the story and its context. But from our point of view we understood that our grandparents hated censorship because we children had our own experiences with it - our parents did not allow us to watch TV series like "The Avengers".
Today I am a parent myself and I censor my little daughter's TV consumption in order to protect her from nightmares and square eyes caused by watching telly all too intensely. I am responsible for my daughter who is too young to make her owni decisions.
The German Federal Prosecutor is not my father and I am not a child anymore. In order to prevent me from receiving information on Internet which is illegal in Germany, the Federal prosecutor is trying to press Internet providers to keep that information out of my reach.
In August 1996, the German Federal Prosecutor wrote to German Internet providers and on-line services telling them that they could possibly be charged with aiding and abetting persons who are currently the subject of a preliminary inquiry by the German Federal Prosecutor due to an article published in a magazine which offended German anti-terrorism laws.
The German Federal Prosecutor wrote (excerpt): "Under the following Internet addresses ... [the GFP names two WWW sites] ..the complete issue is available... [of the Radikal magazine who is subject of preliminary inquiry by the GFP. The GFP explains why they deem the text to be illegal in Germany]... We want you to be aware that you are possibly making yourself liable to prosecution by acting as an accessory to criminal offences [according to German anti-terrorist laws Â§Â§ 129a,3 and 130a,1 StGB] if you allow the text to be accessed via your Internet dial-ins and host computers."
Although the German Federal Prosecutor merely pointed out the possibility of being liable to prosecution and although the opinion of the GFP as expressed in the letter has not as of yet been proven right by a court decision, several German providers responded to the letter by temporarily closing off the WWW sites where the electronic version of the article was previously available to Internet readers. From the point of view of a WWW site, for example xs4all.nl in the Netherlands, the action of German providers (among them the largest German providers) means a blockage of all of their WWW information for a great number of German netizens because of a single web page among the thousands of pages xs4all offers at their site.
It is practically impossible to filter the flow of data in order to keep specific WWW pages which are stored on WWW sites in other countries outside of the German state territory when Germans are allowed to contact these countries by phone for example - unless the German government decided upon massive censorship measurements which would be not according to German Laws as they are today. Xs4all is rotating IP numbers, and most of German netizens never had any problems accessing www.xs4all.nl and the illegal Radikal issue. Internet technology all in all withstands censorship attempts.
Despite the pleasant fact that censorship is impossible, the actions taken by the German Federal Prosecutor and German Internet Providers should not be left uncommented. Written inquiries were made by Elly Plooij (Europarliament-VVD) at the European Commission. The Electronic Frontier Foundation released a Global Alert, "GERMAN GOVERNMENT PUSHES BLOCKAGE OF NETHERLANDS WEB SITES". People sent letters of protest to German providers, the Federal Prosecutor and German Embassies abroad. Many mirror sites for the censored Radikal magazine were installed.
Contemporary Germany wants to participate in the European Community as a civilized and liberal member state and it is not at all my intention to parallelize today's situation with the Nazi times. But do you understand that I - after receiving the news about this censorship attempt - was reminded of childhood stories told to me by my grandparents?
I really would wish that today people would at least always consider the political importance of Freedom of Information in a historical context when they think of banning texts from the state's territory and of preventing self-responsible adults from reading information.