German censorship of the Net
See also TBTF for 1999-12-16, 1997-04-04, 1996-08-08, 05-31, 02-04, 01-31, 01-22, 01-14, 1995-12-31
This time it's the prosecutor from Mannheim. This time they're censoring neo-Nazi material by a German expatriate living in Canada. Again the censorship is being applied with a heavy hand; this time millions of German Internet users are being denied access to hundreds or thousands of innocuous information sources hosted from a site in California. (See TBTF for 1996-01-22 for a related story.)
Ernst Zundel (also spelled Zuendel) is a visible online proponent of the theory that the Holocaust did not happen. Espousing such views, or possessing material furthering such views (the German word is "Volksverhetzung", or "inciting material"), is a crime in Germany. The prosecutor for Mannheim is investigating whether, since such materials were available to Germans from Zundel's Web site hosted in Santa Cruz, all of Germany was a crime scene. The prosecutor spoke to representatives of Compuserve and of T-Online, the online service run by Deutsche Telekom. These organizations are the only large-scale Internet providers in Germany. Compuserve says they were not pressured or urged to take any particular action. T-Online, however, decided to block all network packets originating at Zundel's host site (www.webcom.com) from entering Germany. This action cut off all T-Online subscribers from all the resources at Webcom, which include the commercial and personal pages of 1500 businesses and individuals.
Free-speech advocate Declan McCullagh <declan at well dot com> does not endorse Zundel's views, but he has nonetheless gone to some lengths to demonstrate to the Mannheim prosecutor the futility of trying to censor speech on the Internet. He has mirrored Zundel's Web site to computers housed at Stanford, Carnegie Mellon University, MIT -- in effect daring the German authorities to cripple German research by shutting off access to these universities. Others have used his "Zundelsite kit" to scatter mirrors across the Internet. A downside to this up-the-ante tactic is the increased visibility it lends to this extremely offensive material, and McCullagh's actions seem to have made other free-speech advocates uneasy.
Thomas Roessler <Thomas.Roessler at sobolev dot rhein dot de> writes from Germany that after talking with a spokesman in the Mannheim prosecutor's office he believes the prosecutor received a tip explicitly mentioning Zundel, Compuserve and T-Online; the official then had no choice but to investigate. The German courts have not clarified the question of whether it is a crime to act as a blind carrier of illegal information. The Cypherpunks list specuates that the person who tipped the prosecutor may have been a free-speech advocate hoping to provoke a court test of just this question.
News stories over the last several days indicate that both France and South Africa are considering censoring neo-Nazi material on the Internet.
Dr. Claude Gubler, long-time physician of Francois Mitterand, published a book titled "Le Grand Secret" days after Mitterand's funeral. Dr. Gubler reveals that Mitterand suffered from cancer for the last 11 years of his life but kept the fact a secret. The book sold out in bookstores on the day of publication; the next day it was banned by the French government because Mitterand's widow and illegitimate daughter complained that it violated their privacy. Pascal Barbraud, the owner of a cyber-cafe in the town of Besangon, scanned all 190 pages of the book and made them available (as 190 .gif files, 9 MB in total) on the cafe's Web site. Thousands of visitors downloaded the images. Within 5 days the images had been run through optical character recognition software and the book's full text (in French) had been posted to alt.censorship and was available at several sites in HTML form (at 72 KB). See for example <http://www.cs.cmu.edu/afs/cs/user/declan/www/le-secret/>.
Those of us with some investment in Apple -- technological or financial or emotional -- have had a rough few weeks. The company lost $69M in what should have been its strongest quarter, announced the layoff of 1,300, and struggled to stay afloat in a swirl of rumors predicting its imminent merger with a variety of white knights. (At least no one has so far launched a hostile bid.) The suitor most reliably reported is Sun Microsystems. The rumored talks have broken off apparently because the sides were too far apart on price. Sun's stock price has risen since then and Apple's has dropped. MacUser magazine has posted an excellent survey of Apple's troubles and prospects at <http://www.zdnet.com/%7Emacuser/applefuture/>.
High on the list of news that Apple didn't need in the midst of this turmoil was word that Mac Netscape 2.0 will probably go "golden" without support for Java. Netscape's Marc Andreesen confirmed the rumor in a message that Dave Winer, the legendary Mac programmer, posted on his popular DaveWorld site -- see <http://www.hotwired.com/staff/userland/itstwueitstwue_476.html>. Andreessen said that the delay was caused by the unexpected difficulty of the Mac port and an early shortage of experienced Mac programmers on the project. He says that Mac Java will ship as soon as possible, "hopefully within the next couple of months." Meanwhile Winer, a longtime and passionate Mac proponent, has set up a Windows NT system next to his PowerMac 8100.
Even without this delay Netscape has already been scooped at providing the first Java runtime on the Mac platform. At MacWorld Expo, Natural Intelligence announced availability of Roaster 1.0 for the Power Macintosh, a development environment for Java applets; it caused the hottest buzz at the show. (See <http://www.natural.com/>.) Symantec <http://www.symantec.com/> will ship its Java environment in the first quarter -- the product introduced as "Latte" but now to be called "Symantec Cafe for Java" because of a trademark conflict. Pity, that.
The _ACLU Cyber-Liberties Update_ for 1996-01-24 reports that while online activists have been fighting the Communications Decency Act still pending at the federal level, nearly twenty states have considered legislation to censor the Internet. Eight states have already passed such legislation: Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Montana, Oklahoma, and Virginia. In addition bills are actively pending in California, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Even New York and Washington, traditionally hotbeds of both first-amendment sentiment and online/computer industry, have introduced censorship legislation. In an op-ed piece in the New York Times for 1996-01-24, J. Walker Smith of Yankelovich Partners argues against protection of privacy rights and on the side of Internet restrictions. His firm conducted surveys in which large majorities of U.S respondents rated issues of crime and security in Cyberspace ahead of concerns about the erosion of privacy in the new medium.
The US Postal Service wants to move into the electronic world. It's planing a hybrid service carrying both paper mail and e-mail, electronic shopping kiosks, and certified electronic mail, to roll out over the next few years. Meanwhile here's a service you can use today to reduce postage expenses and delays when writing to destinations in Europe. A UK company called PaperMail <info at papermail dot win-uk dot net> will accept email and send out snail mail for a faction of the cost of sending a letter from the US or other parts of the world. Mail should be delivered the next day within Britain and within a few days to the rest of Europe. (PaperMill does not seem to have a Web site; for more information email them at the address above.)
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