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(Fwd) FC: German trial of CompuServe ex-chief a porn test case

------- Forwarded Message Follows -------
Date:          Wed, 13 May 1998 04:03:13 -0700 (PDT)
From:          Declan McCullagh <declan@well.com>
To:            politech@vorlon.mit.edu
Subject:       FC: German trial of CompuServe ex-chief a porn test case
Reply-to:      declan@well.com

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 12 May 1998 23:03:45 -0700 (PDT)
From: MichaelP <papadop@PEAK.ORG>
To: Declan McCullagh <declan@well.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
    communication. The
               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
   Zuendel, a
    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
                                  the US.

    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.
** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this
material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a
prior interest in receiving the included information for research and
educational purposes. **

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