Archive for January 29th, 2010

Friday, January 29, 2010

“Access Denied – Wait for the Appointed Time”

Australia’s federal government plans legislation against pornographic content on the internet, reports Tianjin’s Enorth (北方网), quoting China’s national broadcaster Zhongguo zhi Sheng (中国之声). The central message to the Chinese readership is probably meant to be that “every government worldwide censors, not only yours truly (net nanny)”, although when you continue reading the article, it soon becomes clear that the declared target of the Australian government is child pornography, rather than pornography in general. Enorth also quotes a certain Mr Xue (薛先生), a Chinese national who had worked in Australia for several years, as saying that contents with all kinds of “extreme” pornography were now targeted by Australian legislators.

It may be too early to tell if Canberra’s approach will turn out to be a justifiable move to protect society’s most vulnerable members, or if harmonization is its real objective. The picture seems clearer in Germany, a country without a long and established tradition of individual liberties, and a particularly heavy-handed and shameless government, when it comes to “family values”. JR (himself a German) believes many of his compatriots are more security- than freedom-minded, and fall for the charm of apparently simple solutions relatively easily. Only bloggers and people in the internet business seem to take offense so far.

Jun Jie for example, a German citizen who is running an honorable, decent blog, would be facing a problem. He wrote on January 26:

One of our politicians in charge of the harmonious German society, Ursula von der Leyen, has proposed a new law to make the internet more safe for minors. This law has not yet been approved, but if it will be approved, then the Chinese internet is an oasis of freedom. Here is what might happen:

Basically I have to rate my website to which age it is appropriate. I can choose between sitewide oder per page rating. Unfortunately it is to much work to make sure, all my articles including all posted comments by all my readers are safe for a certain age group. I’m not an legal expert, so I can’t really rate every piece of text without making mistakes. Bottom line is, I label my whole site suitable for people 18 years and older.

But there is the downside of this. If I label my website for people aged 18, I have to make sure, only people at least 18 years old access my content. Either I ask everyone to send me a copy of their passport and give them accounts, or alternatively, I only make my site only available from 11pm to 6am Central European Time.

Jun Jie’s problem: while his website is .com, not .de (Germany), the contents of his pages are on a German server and therefore (apparently) under German jurisdiction. A statement he links to, by Arbeitskreis Zensur, a German pressure group against censorship, can instantly give you an idea how slippery and fast the road to censorship can be:

according to the draft (written by the federal states as part of a treaty for the protection of minors using the media (Jugendmedienschutz-Staatsvertrag), a blogger – as any webmaster in Germany – shall be required to prove that he or she promptly removes comments which “qualify for affecting the development of younger persons (negatively)”. All contents will be required to be categorized as “suitable for an age from zero years old, from six years old, from twelve years old, from sixteen years old, from eighteen years old”.

Certain contents shall only be available at certain times of the day. And access providers shall be required to block foreign websites that won’t be in line with German regulations for the protection of minors (Jugendschutz).

The good news is that the draft – not surprisingly – seems to be lacking clarity and standards. If passed, it will hardly stand in court. But before a constitutional court makes a decision, months or even years may go by. Until then, it will create a lack of legal certainty. Besides, it shows how inefficiently German politicians open secondary – and useless – theaters of war. Our country has a number of real problems we’d really need to address.

JR believes that the availability of content that may affect the development of minors isn’t the real problem. The fact that minors may surf the internet without parental guidance at all is a problem indeed, but none that the bill in question would solve. The development of minors wouldn’t be in the least affected if they stayed away from the internet altogether until they are sixteen anyway. And once they are sixteen, they should understand that certain sites simply aren’t for them to “visit”. In fact, there is no need to watch such sites at any age, merely for the silly reason that they are available. Once in a while, hardcore Christians may actually be smarther than Christian Democrats (at least in theory): “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. (1 Corinthians, 10:22).

JR has lived without the internet for most of his life. Neither too little, nor too much of it affected his personal development. Free internet access for minors won’t produce computer geniuses. Mindful work with computers and software may do so.

The current government initiative is just another helpless, but dangerous move to deal with problems which would need smart educational approaches instead – approaches many in our society seem to feel unable to take.

But censorship won’t solve any problems. It will only aggravate them. And if you are unable to access Jun Jie’s website right now, from inside and maybe also from outside Germany, it will probably be because the time in Germany is between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m..

Once the law has been successfully passed, that is. For now, it can be safely said that the CCP propaganda, once again, is missing out on a really juiciy example of foreign censorship policies. Help yourselves, greenhorns!

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