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(Fwd) FC: German trial of CompuServe ex-chief a porn test case
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- Date: Wed, 13 May 1998 15:02:14 +0100
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Date: Wed, 13 May 1998 04:03:13 -0700 (PDT)
From: Declan McCullagh <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: FC: German trial of CompuServe ex-chief a porn test case
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Date: Tue, 12 May 1998 23:03:45 -0700 (PDT)
From: MichaelP <papadop@PEAK.ORG>
To: Declan McCullagh <email@example.com>
The Guardian Wednesday May 13, 1998
Pornography test case for Internet providers
German trial of CompuServe ex-chief airs censorship arguments
By Ian Traynor in Bonn
In a crucial test case bearing on the policing and freedom of the
Internet, the former head of a major online provider went on
yesterday charged with disseminating child, animal, and violent
pornography in cyberspace.
Arguments on cyber-censorship, commercial pressures, and
restrictions on the use of the Internet will feature in the trial
Felix Somm, 34, a Swiss national, former head of the German
of CompuServe, the Internet provider.
The Bavarian authorities allege that he "knowingly" facilitated
dissemination of illegal pornographic pictures and could have
electronic "firewalls" to prevent the spread of criminal
Mr Somm went before the judges in Munich contending that
commercial companies selling access to the Internet cannot be held
for the contents of material distributed by its subscribers.
When he was charged last year, Mr Somm warned that CompuServe,
more than 300,000 customers in Germany, would quit the country
France, but he later resigned and returned to Switzerland.
Cracking down on Internet porn and crusading to regulate what is
available via computer screens and telephone lines, the Bavarian
police raided CompuServe's Munich offices in December 1995,
Europe's first attempt to criminalise an online provider because
information put on the Internet by its clients.
CompuServe complained, but the then US parent closed access to
more than 280 news sites to four million subscribers worldwide,
provoking accusations of pointless censorship of electronic
company restored access to all but five sites.
Expert evidence to the court yesterday by a government adviser
supported the defence, saying that it would have been
impossible" for CompuServe to control the material. But the
said the parent US company could have banned suspect news groups
using the provider, although they could then have turned to other
Ulrich Sieber, a law professor, in evidence for the defence, said
the state was prosecuting the wrong person. The Bavarian
authorities were seeking a "scapegoat because of a lack of national
solutions in global
Professor Sieber has been engaged by the German justice ministry
help combat Internet child pornography. New German multi-media
legislation last year ruled that providers could not be held
accountable for information put into cyberspace by customers.
CompuServe and other such companies say they are about as
for what is on the web as are phone companies for conversations.
Bavarian government, however, is drafting legislation to make
providers accountable for customers' activities.
Two years ago, prosecutors ordered Deutsche Telekom's T-Online
provider to block access in Germany to the website of Ernst
leading German neo-Nazi operating from Toronto, Canada, to
access to pro-fascist propaganda illegal in Germany. Deutsche
said it moved voluntarily to block access to Zuendel's site.
That case highlighted the dilemmas triggered by transnational
cyberspace set against national laws, sovereignty, and cultures.
Dissemination of neo-Nazi propaganda, for example, is not illegal
Professor Sieber, a computers and law expert of Wurzburg
Bavaria, says neither Mr Somm nor CompuServe has a duty to censor
If found guilty on the child pornography charges, Mr Somm faces
years in jail.
The case continues.
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