Why it’s about censorship

The following article is a quick-n-dirty translation of an article by Jens Scholz; the original is to be found here. I’ve left the links in this translation pointing to the original (German) targets, but I’ll write about this subject in more detail in the next few days. I have a number of thoughts on this subject, both in terms of my photography and how I feel about where modern ‘globalised’ society is going.

The continuous rubbing of hands ought to be causing an audible rustling. But the idea of sending the subject ‘child pornography’ out there as a bugbear in order to introduce the planned internet censorship system is a really good one. While it’s never really worked using terrorism or internet criminality, one can now really wave the sledgehammer and simply defame critics by suggesting that they want to protect the distribution of child pornography. How swiftly that can lead to career and social death was amply shown only a few weeks ago by the example of Tauss (who incidentally was not “caught” online, but via mobile phone contacts and the mail).

But – just as it’s intended by the choice of this subject – I digress.
Because the problem that the critics have is not that access to child pornography is to be restricted, but the instruments of censorship that are being built to this end. On closer inspection it’s pretty clear that it’s not about child pornography and the fight against it; it never was.

It’s about the installation of a general technical system and the general way it’s being implemented: it’s about the fact that a real, bona-fide system of censorship, truly deserving of the name, is being introduced. Even if the websites to be blocked initially really are only child porn sites (which ought to keep this list extremely short); the technology, the administration and even the psychology are to put in place to enable the implementation, and swiftly, of an effective censorship.


The providers (ISPs – trans.) are to re-jig their name servers in such a way that websites chosen and named by the BKA (Bundeskriminalamt: Federal Criminal Agency, sort of like the German FBI – trans.) are not reachable, and replaced by a ‘stop sign’. At the same time the BKA is to be able to see at any time which users wanted to see websites from this list and were instead redirected to the ‘stop sign’.

A normal internet user who has not changed his name server to a free DNS server will simply not see certain sites, and will receive the notification that they just wanted to look at child pornography. They don’t know whether that’s really the case, and they’re not allowed to verify it either, since even the search for child pornography is a felony. The user must also be clear about the fact that they’ve just done something that the BKA sees as illegal and may use as a reason to pursue prosecution.

The risks for every internet user are immense simply in virtue of the technology, since a perfidious reversal of the burden of proof has been installed: they must in future prove their innocence, e.g. that they have gone to the forbidden site accidentally. Have lots of fun explaining TinyUrls, iFrames, root kit attacks, hidden scripting and so forth to a judge, assuming that *you* even know what they are…

The solution for now: change your name server in order to sidestep this peril entirely. It’s quick and anyone can do it.

The technology is, interestingly enough, the smallest problem in this whole affair. There are countries whose efforts at censorship are much more advanced. The people there can still use the Internet, anonymously and without censorship. The internet was built by nerds. A country can demand all it wants; on a technical level it will never ever be able to control it.


Here are the salient points that turn this into an instrument of censorship:

  1. The blocked sites are on a list compiled by the BKA, directly and without supervision and verification, and which the ISPs have installed preferably without inspecting them. No judge decides about the content, there is no independent inquiry about the legitimacy, and there is no mechanism for removing an address from this list. The Police decides which request for which information is a crime. But deciding in advance what is a crime and subsequently determining whether it has been committed is not the role of the Police.
  2. The list is secret. As long as this remains the case, anything can be on it without ever requiring justification. Whoever questions this turns themselves into a suspect. This is how censorship works.
  3. The draft of the law is sufficiently vague that the BKA can in principle put anything onto the list. Since on the web anything is simply one click away from another thing, and since the law also wants ‘intermediate’ sites to be blocked, it is now de facto possible to block any site.
  4. The system is intended to allow the direct investigation of attempts to access. Sites will not only be blocked, but also attempts to access these can be investigated. This lead to secret surveillance, searches of home and property, and other life- and existence-threatening procedures.

The prosecutors of this land have been practising pre-judgment by releasing the occasional press release about ongoing investigations, and to have the press tag along to spectacular and publicity-friendly arrests (e.g. Zumwinkel, Tauss, Frau B.)


And so we arrive at the desired effect of censorship: the introduction of the proverbial scissors in the head – effective self-censorship, since one doesn’t know what might happen if one too clearly and volubly utters criticism. Keeping the list of forbidden sites secret, and the list’s complete lack of accountability through the absence of any controls is an intentionally deployed instrument to generate insecurity.

Another is the connection with the subject of child pornography, which brings us back to the beginning of this article. We know by now that even the slightest hint that one may perhaps have something to do with paedophiles and the abuse of children can destroy one’s existence, even if it later transpires that there was no substance to the allegations. This is a strong and effective lever, which Herr Gorny has recognised, since his attempt at introducing the scissors in the head through the attempt at portraying file sharing as a terrible crime was ineffective, and so he has latched onto the more effective trigger – whereby he puts copyright infringement on the same level as child molestation.

The Minister of Justice then even provides tips to the correct parties sides, who of course react promptly. Aside from anything else, digressing briefly, I find it strange that Frau Zypries is always shown as a whistleblower. Even though – at least according to her – it was her that made the draft bill harsher in comparison to the previous version from Frau von der Leyen, and this bill now even wants to pursue access to ‘stop sign’ pages.

To answer the question when and why a society can reach the stage where a part of it decides that such an intervention is required, and another part of it (of which I consider myself a part) sees a massive injustice therein which must be fought, should please read the article “Kampf der Kulturen” over at netzpolitik.org.

Permission to copy and paste this article in its entirety and re-publishing anywhere, sending it per mail, or posting in forums, is hereby explicitly granted. But please name me as author. A link back would be nice, but isn’t strictly required.

by Jens Scholz


About lidlesseye

Mouthing off about photography, and occasionally important things too.

Posted on May 17, 2009, in Culture. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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