|Felipe Rodriquez on Mon, 21 Apr 1997 10:49:24 +0200 (MET DST)|
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|nettime-nl: Thunderclouds on the Net's Horizon|
Thunderclouds on the Net's Horizon by Sabine Helmers As the bright streak of Hale-Bopp fades from the earth's view, the night sky darkens once again. Not only is the firmament a shade darker, but the Net has been as well since April 11. The Deutsches Forschungsnetz (German Research Net, here abbreviated DFN), the oldest and still most important ISP in Germany, connecting universities and research institutions, has blocked access to the Web server of the Dutch Internet Service Provider (ISP) XS4ALL. Connecting to the Web address "www.xs4all.nl" is no longer possible via the DFN which has acted on a request from the German federal law enforcement agency (Bundeskriminalamt), which in turn reacted to the demands of federal prosecutors (Bundesanwaltschaft) that one of the texts outlawed in Germany no longer be distributed via the Net. The text at the heart of the controversy has already made headlines throughout the past year: an article in issue 154 of the publication Radikal outlines tips and tricks for sabotaging the railways. According to federal prosecutors, this text runs contrary to German law if it is to be interpreted as calling for acts of violence against the general public and constitutes a violation of Articles 129a, Paragraph 3; 130a, Paragraph 1 and 140, Paragraph 2 of criminal law (Strafgesetzbuch). As early as August 1996, the federal law enforcement agency and federal prosecutors notified German ISPs that this same article in Radikal was entering German territory via the Net and warned them that they could possibly make themselves liable to prosecution for aiding and abetting criminal activity if they didn't block access to this article. But sorting through the streams of data flowing through the Internet to pick out individual items is still not possible. The Net wasn't created with this function built in. Technically, only one possible choice is left to any ISP which is forced to block a particular text, and that is to strike the entire source from the Internet addressing system, thereby blocking it completely. In the case of XS4ALL, this means that thousands of Web pages are equally blocked, some of them including information on Amsterdam sports clubs and artists, the pages of the Israeli Embassy, universities and private home pages -- all that's usually found on Web servers of perfectly normal ISPs and is entirely legal according to German law. At the same time, XS4ALL is not a usual commercial ISP in that it has its historic roots in the Dutch hacker movement and considers one of its primary goals to be providing access to any and everyone. The managers of XS4ALL vehemently refuse to remove the Radikal article which was placed on its Web server by one of its clients, the Dutch "Solidarity Group for Political Prisoners". The text does not violate Dutch law. Last September, some German commercial ISPs reacted quite quickly to the letter circulated by federal prosecutors by blocking their Dutch colleagues for several weeks. At that time, the DFN simply sent a letter to XS4ALL demanding that the Radikal article be removed from its server. The DFN began to look into the legality of the matter on its own. The commercial ISPs lifted their blockade once the "Solidarity Group" -- albeit for only a short time -- took the problematic issue of Radikal off the server. In the meantime, the text had been copied and placed on numerous spots around the Web by free speech fundamentalists. For many, that was the end of the matter. They were wrong, as the DFN has now been forced to realize. German officials are evidently still surfing throughout the Net and keeping an eye out for illegal material. On April 2, the DFN received a letter from the federal law enforcement agency with the information that the text was still available in Germany. Taking the current legal situation into account, the DFN decided it had to heed the warning and block XS4ALL in order to avoid a legal confrontation with the terrorism fighters. The DFN intends to maintain its blockade as long as the Radikal text named by the agency is still accessible in Germany via XS4ALL. Accessibility is being checked daily. Since those in Holland are in no mood to bend to German law, the blockade may last quite a while. Technically, such a blockade is feasible, but the question remains open as to whether or not it's just -- whether or not one can simply block large, sweeping areas of information such as XS4ALL on a Net which serves international research in all fields of expertise and the greatest possible scientific communication without running into conflicts with the goals of an Internet Service Provider. Since April 16, the DFN has placed news of the blockade on its Web server but without any further comment. The spokesperson for the DFN also didn't elaborate any further than to restate the official position on the telephone. In Amsterdam, the management of XS4ALL reacted to the renewed blockade with amazed perplexity. Felipe Rodriquez, one of the managers who underwent a judicial inquiry last year, and may do so again now, says, "Neither the German nor the Dutch officials has been in contact with us regarding the Radikal article. Whether or not we'll have to remove the text from our server is a question which would nevertheless be decided by a Dutch court. It's not our task as a provider to limit the free speech of our clients without an official court order." The fact that XS4ALL has been singled out by the German prosecutors further angers Rodriquez: "For several months, over 40 Web sites are known to be mirroring the Radikal pages. Why is the DFN blocking only our server? It's totally absurd. I'll be sending Mr. Maas of the DFN a letter listing the mirror sites [and he did on April 17/dwh]. Then he'll be formally obliged to block these servers as well." While until now both blockades of XS4ALL have been conducted in such a way as to suggest that all the parties involved desire to keep the action as low profile as possible, such a twist could cause a far more tumultuous situation. Instead of a fine-pointed, possibly temporary blockade, the DFN would have to enforce a far wider blockade which may well effect several large US universities. In the long run, such a policy would lead to an increasingly isolated German Internet. One hopes that the thunderstorm building on the Net's horizon serves to clear up the legal situation in Germany. -- Sabine Helmers has received some reaction from readers of the original version of the article which appeared in German at Der Spiegel Online on April 16 <http://www.spiegel.de/97/16/poolho142.html>. Some have pointed out that the blockade doesn't actually work what with proxy usage, ftp, direct dialup and all. She didn't bring this up in the article because, 1, she figured it was pretty common knowledge, and 2, she wanted to focus on XS4ALL, not Radikal. Also, it should be noted that the current legal situation regarding an ISP's obligations is still mighty fuzzy. What's currently being hashed out is whether or not an ISP is required to do anything if it becomes aware that illegal materials are passing through its wires. /dwh, transsetzung rapide! -- XS4ALL Internet BV - Felipe Rodriquez-Svensson - finger firstname.lastname@example.org for Managing Director - - pub pgp-key 1024/A07C02F9 -- * Verspreid via nettime-nl. Commercieel gebruik niet toegestaan zonder * toestemming. <nettime-nl> is een gesloten en gemodereerde mailinglist * over net-kritiek. Meer info: email@example.com met 'info nettime-nl' in de * tekst v/d email. Archief: http://www.factory.org/nettime-nl. Contact: * firstname.lastname@example.org. Int. editie: http://www.desk.nl/~nettime.