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Germany won't block access to international Nazi sites


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No to government intervention

Strong privacy culture

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BERLIN (Reuters) -- Germany, which has some of the world's toughest laws banning race hate propaganda, has conceded defeat to the cross-border reach of the Internet and given up trying to bar access to international neo-Nazi sites.

Deputy Interior Minister Brigitte Zypries, the government's Internet security chief, said this week in an interview with Reuters that it was unrealistic to try to shield Germans from outside Web sites, even though police do aim to stop homegrown Nazi and other offensive material, such as child pornography.

"It's right to act against right-wing radicalism but it is wrong to create hysteria," she said.


"With the growth of Web pages there is a greater chance of encountering such sites. We are not happy about this," Zypries said. "That's life and that's the Internet and you can't change it. You can't build a wall around Germany."

The growth of the Internet has given Germans increasing access to extremist materials such as Third Reich imagery and symbols, which were banned after World War II. Possession of swastikas and making the stiff-armed Nazi salute are illegal in Germany.

Yet in common with governments around the world that have found national laws increasingly vulnerable to being sidestepped over the Internet, the outpouring of neo-Nazi and other race hate sentiment abroad has undermined those constitutional safeguards set up in the wake of wartime defeat.

No to government intervention

Facing German official and media pressure, leading online bookstores did agree last year to stop shipping Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" to Germany, where it is banned. But the rapid growth of the Internet and freedom of speech laws in the United States and elsewhere mean that anyone can easily read it online.

A French judge this year took another approach and ordered U.S. portal Yahoo to block French access to any parts of its U.S. Web site on which third parties auction Nazi memorabilia. Yahoo said that was impossible. The case continues.

Zypries disagreed with such government intervention.

"We do not want to oblige the providers to do this," she said. "One cannot react with such measures and prevent everything. This contradicts the medium."

Although neo-Nazis remain a tiny minority in Germany, far-right racist attacks, especially by disillusioned youths in the formerly Communist east of the country, continue to throw a spotlight on the issue. Some Germans fear more sophisticated use of technology could mean an organized campaign of terror.

A recent report by the Federal Agency for the Protection of the Constitution, the internal security and intelligence body, showed a 10 percent rise in 1999 in the number of far-right activists deemed violent. There are now 8,200 of them.

Strong privacy culture

Sensitivity about the past also means that Germany has a strong culture of personal privacy and so far the government has shied away from efforts being made in the United States and Britain to monitor certain e-mail for signs of illegal activity.

"Germany, because of its history with state restrictions, is especially careful and we are very sensitive about state intrusions into the private sphere," Zypries told Reuters.

"Anyway, the Americans are not further along in the fight against organized crime even though they have these rights."

The Nazis and then the East German Communists routinely read and censored Germans' mail.

Police officials do seek to shut down illegal sites inside Germany and last year acted against 200 child pornography related sites in the country.

"The Federal Criminal Office regularly patrols the Internet, so to speak," Zypries said. "They sit in their offices and surf and look to see what sites they find, where criminals propagate certain things and see if it originates from Germany."

Discussing recent computer virus attacks, Zypries said business must play the lead role in protecting themselves.

"It is business which must develop over the Internet and it is these businesses that must create the security," she said.

"It is the same as a bank here in the city which must make themselves secure against a break-in. We don't surround them with police either."

"Any new technology automatically brings new risks. You can't get around this."

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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