Geert Lovink on Fri, 11 Jul 1997 19:23:24 +0200 (MET DST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> interview with armin medosch

From: "Armin Medosch" <>

Interview with Armin Medosch (Telepolis) 

the following text I wrote in response to questions of 
the danish journalist erik kjaer larsen. I thought it 
might be interesting for nettimers too. It is about 
internet laws in germany.

Hallo Erik,

find here some URLīs and some commentaries to your 

> I gather from Telepolis informations that the laws 
> are generally very unpopular in Germany, at least with 
> the opposition. 

That's not precisely true. The law is unpopular amongst 
economists, researchers, users. But concerning 
political parties in parliament the split goes right 
through the parties themselves. The only party with a 
clear position are the Greens, they are against the 
law. Within the SPD there is a small group which is 
net-wize and against the law. But the majority of the 
SPD Parliament members doesnīt understand anything and 
just wants to secure their influence on the regional 
level (many regions are spd-governed).
And also the leading christ-democrats are split. There 
is a hardline law and order enforcement group around 
Minister Kanther, which tryed to bring in these sharp 
paragraphes about liability of isp`s. There is the 
economy-friendly liberal group around Rexrodt, which 
would rather have liked to have another law. Ruettgers, 
the one who conceived the law, is somewhere in the 
middle. he doesnīt seem to have a real opinion of his 

You can find out about diverse positions in a funny 
photo story about the parliamentary discussion with 
cites of original statements.


Bundestag beschließt Multimediagesetz

Kommentar Multimediagesetz

Rechtsunsicherheit als Programm

> If you can find the time, I would also ask you to 
>specify the most obvious threats to freedom of speech, 
>coming from the new laws. Are they in reality similar 
>to CDA...

No, I would not say that. The CDA is a completely other 
cup of tea. "Free speech" was not in the centre of the 
german discussion. It was rather that the government 
wanted to hold ISPīs liable for illegal and harmful 
content on the net. The idea was/is, that if an ISP has 
got notice of illegal content which he is providing 
access to (he is not giving the information, just acces 
to it through the internet) then he should block access 
(block a certain newsgroup, a website). There is strong 
incidence that the Kanther-Hardliners purposefully 
created a test-case with the leftwing newspaper 
"radikal". This magazine is forbidden in germany since 
it was found guilty in several trials of supporting 
terrorist action in the eighties. For ten years they 
could not produce an issue in germany any more. So 
their latest issue was put on the server xs4all in 
holland. Last September the german state prosecuter 
wrote a letter to all ISPīs that they should block 
acces to xs4all. Unfortunately for the state prosecutor 
it is not possible to ban a single website, instead the 
whole server has to be blocked. But xs4all is very 
popular and soon there was a huge wave of protests. The 
accused webSite of radikal was mirrored on 60 -70  
servers around the world. So just a few ISPīs followed 
the wish of the prosecutor and tryed to ban, but many 
didnīt. It is yet an open question if those who didnīt 
block will be accused by the state prosecutor.    

Then in January 97 the government did the next unwize 
strike on the net. They accused Angela Marquardt, 
former vize-director of the post-socialist party from 
east germany (follow up party of SED) that she 
supported terrorism by displaying a link on here 
homepage to the "radikal"- page. Actually the 
prosecutor sayed that she was "providing access to 
terrorist material" through this link. This lawsuit 
raised the question if users can be hold liable for 
links they supply on their private homepages. In June 
Marquardt was spoken free, but the argumentation of the 
judge was very formalistic and didnīt touch that basic 
question about users liability for links. 

So you see, in germany the discussion  is rather not 
about indecent speech, you can say "fuck" if you 
want, but about political radicalism  of the extreme 
left and the extreme right. As often the government 
choses the left as open target because the right is 
much more dangerous and federal police is said to be in 
serious investigations about right wing activities but 
does not want anything to go out in public in a too 
early state because that might warn the neonazis about 
police inquiries.  

Marquardt case see here

This special concern about radicalism is a heritage of 
germans special history - the third reich and the RAF 
(Read Army Fraction) terrorism in the seventies and 
early eighties. Because of fascism in the german bill 
of rights the right of free speech is not given to 
neonazis. Any holocaust denials or activism of neonazis 
is strictly forbidden and not considered free speech. 
Because of the RAF this was extended also to the 

Another area of specific concern is organized crime in 
general and child pornography in particular. Thats why
Minister for Inner Security affairs  Kanther wanted to 
forbid strong cryptography and wants to hold ISPīs 
liable for content. Law enformcement agencies of the 
state should have access, to his opinion, to all 
communication channels which people might use. Thats 
why allready in 1996, when the telecommunications law 
(not to be mistaken as the new multimedia law) was 
passed, a paragraph was included, that the state should 
have secret acces through special phone lines to all 
customer databanks of telecommunications providers 
(phone companies, so to say). Without the provider or 
the customer even taking notice of it they can get 
their connection data. This is not the same as 
wiretapping. They are not listening automatically to 
phone conversations (this needs still a verdict of a 
judge). But they can easily find out, who talked to 
whom at which time. They can find out who uses phone 
sex or other special services. Especially journalists 
are very suspicious about this paragraph because they 
fear that the anonymity of informants cannot be secured 
any longer. Also people involved in political affairs 
can easily become blackmailed if they do phone sex ore 
other things which  seem to be socially not accepptable 
for public persons. 

> Do you think the insellösung could/would be adapted by other countries?

I think that Germany is not heading for an 
"inselloesung" any longer. They obviously lost the 
battle with xs4all and they lost the radical case. And 
maybe they even got sick about being mentioned in one 
sequence with Singapore and China when talk is about 
internet censorship.  
So Kanther drew back from his cryptography banning 
plans. Probably not because of protests of the left but 
because of industry protests. Quite a significant 
effort is done in germany in research about 
cryptography with major companies like Siemens and 
Daimler Benz involved. Cryptography is free now in 
germany, at least for the next two years (try-out 
Also it seems that they donīt see the ISPīs liability 
for content so narrow minded any more. Instead of state 
action they seem to favour now rating systems like 

The Bonn conference and the Ministers declaration about 
the internet published on 8th of July marks a turning 
point in the position of the german government. Instead 
of an "inselloesung" they try now to find concensus 
about how and to which extend the internet should be 
regulated on a European level. They probably found out 
that one country alone has not even the technical 
possibility of gaining controll over the net. What 
should they do, build a huge firewall around the german 
The tendency goes, as in economy, towards the building 
of huge power blocks - Europe, North America, the 
ASEAN states. The Bonn declaration is an attempt to 
formulate a European position: Not the internet as a 
"free trade zone" as Clinton has proposed recently, 
but as a mixture of regulation, self-organisation and 
economical liberalism. 

Bonn Declaration

> Was Rexrodt one of the laws protagonists?
>  I may sound a bit paranoid, but it could look like the 
> Bonn declaration of last weekend is just a fancy 
> facade atop a hidden EU-internet-agenda?

So I wouldnīt say that this is paranoid. But also it is 
not so "hidden". It is, as I said above, about forming 
a European position within the triad of economical 
superpowers. There is a number of issues involved with 
this and the driving force to act is economical growth 
and the creation of new jobs. So the Europeans disagree 
with the USA in a number of issues. For example the 
domain name question. The EU opposed the IHAC proposal 
for new top level domain names. The Europeans are also 
no longer pleased with the fact that all 
top-level-domain name root servers are located in the 

The Bonn Declaration reads like a sundays sermon to me. 
To gain the foremost goal of economical growth and 
staying at least in touch with the technological 
development they have, to my surprise, included a 
number of social issues. They say that the net should 
not cause new exclusions, the gap between information 
rich and information poor should not become bigger. 
They even talk about public access terminals in 
libraries and that europes chance is content on the 
net. Governments should improve possibilities for 
citizens to get informed and to participate in 
democartic processes. They even declare "good will" to 
support development countries to get connected. 

So has the wind changed? The turning down of the CDA by 
the Supreme Court might be further incident. Maybe it 
also influenced the Bonn declaration. But  I think we 
should be careful with any prognosis at this state. 
Just some examples: 
The EU is also in favour of 
extending copyright to databanks "sui generis", that 
means that any statistical data displayed on the net is 
copyright protected. The WIPO conference in Geneva in 
December 96 turned this proposal down which could have 
a very negative effect on educationel purposes because 
financially week educational organizations will not 
have the money to pay for acces to data banks. Also the 
rating systems issue will become big in the EU in the 
next months. Nobody knows yet where the legitimation 
for rating authorities should come from. Companies and 
Organizations rate on a very arbitraily basis. Also the 
EU seems to believe that the further building of the 
technical infrastructure for the net should be done 
merely by market forces. So it is hard to believe that 
an information superhighway, which is entirely created 
and owned by companies will not lead to new exclusions 
or would out of humanitarian reasons give free acces 
tothe poor, the unemployed, the homeless people and the 
people of the (non-geographically understood) third 


> Could you help me to specify the role of
> Rexrodt/Bangemann in all this - I heard they stood
> behind the Bonn conference, and apparently Bangemann
> is also the architect of the INFO2000 scheme.> 

There is not much to say about them. They are blunt 
neo-liberalists. Rexrodt, as his liberal-democrat 
collegue in the Kohl-cabinet, Schmidt-Jortzig, Minister 
of Justice, have not got much to say in the government. 
They might do some typical liberal statements in public 
but the decisions are made elsewhere. Bangemann 
probably wants to be seen as the grounding-father of 
the european information-highway. But as a technocrat 
he lacks any vision of cultural dimensions.

Germany is very federalistic. So lots of the real 
power  is in the hands of regional leaders like 
Stoiber, minister president of Bavaria, Schroeder, 
minister president of Lower Saxony and Rau/Clement, 
leaders of Northern Westfalia. These are the richest 
and most poulated states in Germany. There is the car 
industry, the defense industry and the media power. 
These regional "barons" often unite against their own 
party leaders and the federal government. Especially 
Stoiber (CSU, very right wing) and Schroeder (SPD, 
probable "Blair-like" candidate for the next federal 
elections) are acting joined forces when it comes to a 
strong DMark, a delay of EMU and a pro-industrialist 
So, and this is a remark going back to the Multimedia 
law, this law would be maybe even not so bad, if there 
was not a second law. This second law, a kind of 
contract between the federal states of germany, gives 
regional leaders control of the internet to some 
extend. The two laws try to create an artificial 
separation between internet services adressed to closed 
circles and other services adressed to "the public". 
The public part should be treated in a similar way as 
radio and televison with all laws counting for press, 
radio and tv being extended to the internet. But where 
is the separation? Can a real audio server be compared 
to a radio station? Is a mailinglist adressed to the 
broader public, if anybody can subscribe? 

So both laws went through parliaments now and both come 
into force on 1st of August. But in the parliamentary 
discussion it became obvious, that even the lawmakers 
are not very pleased with the results. The split 
between regionalists and internationalists goes right 
through the parties, the government as well as the 
opposition. Those MPīs who have got some idea of the 
working of the net know that the split between closed 
and public services is artificial and will cause many 
unnecessary lawsuits. Companies are threatening that 
they will operate german internet business from abroad 
(IBM, CompuServe) and will only come back, when the 
"legal dust has settled" (Hermann Neuss, IBM). So when 
passing the laws  an addendum was creqated that the law 
maybe should/could be soon revised.

> I went to a INFO2000 congress in Denmark recently.
> It was disastrous - EU talks about content, but no 
> money is apparently given to those who actually 
> develop content. Only for as far as it is commercial.

Thats right, thats one of the problems. It is easy to 
write down a sermon of twelfe pages and call it 
"Ministers declaration". At the moment the EU not even 
has a department for something as digital culture or 
media culture. There is the arts funding programme 
"Kaleidoscope" with a very limited budget and there 
are all these programs of DG XIII. There is a lot of 
money at DG XIII, but small cultural content providers 
will find it hard to get it. The big consortiums of 
research departments of multinationals like Siemens or 
Philips, together with Universities are in the race 
there. So how can three small registered societies 
from, lets say Hungary, Danmark and Netherlands can 
compete with these giants in teh race for funds. 
Telepolis also tryed to get in touch for information 
about the multilingual program. We would really love to 
have the possibility that articles that we write in 
german can be translated into english. We are only able 
to translate into the other direction ourselves. But we 
didnīt even get a letter back from the EU. 
So I would be in favour of a europeanwide campaign to 
support small content providers throughout Europe (deep 
Europe, as syndicalists would say) and to support the 
free publication of publicly interesting material 
through EU money.

 I hope all this could be of any help for 


#  distributed via nettime-l : no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a closed moderated mailinglist for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime" in the msg body
#  URL:  contact: