Germany's clumsy attempt to block access to specific sites has resulted in the controversial information being copied all over the Internet.German prosecutors are at it again -- bumbling around in cyberspace, trying to block access to information they think might be illegal under German law. According to some reports, the prosecutors hope the case will end up in court where it may start to resolve some of the uncertain legal issues about who is responsible for information accessible through computer networks.
They've declared a computer in Santa Cruz, California (www.webcom.com) to be 'off limits' because one of Web Communications' more than 1,500 customers is Ernst Zundel -- a Canadian resident notorious for claiming the Holocaust is a Jewish hoax. Stefan Althoff, spokespeson for Deutsche Telekom, indicates his company's T-Online service (Germany's largest) has complied with a request from the Mannheim prosecutor's office. ``We have blocked access via the Internet to Herr Zuendel and his information,'' he says.
``What's ironic, is that this latest attempt at censorship has backfired. Instead of limiting the audience for Zundel's propaganda, Germany's clumsy attempt to block access has resulted in the information being copied to new locations in cyberspace and becoming even more accessible, ... and with the publicity, more people might want to visit these web pages to see what all the fuss is about,'' says David Jones, president of Electronic Frontier Canada, a non-profit organization that advocates freedom of expression on the Internet. ``It's rather unfortunate,'' says Jones, who stressed that EFC ``strongly disagrees with Zundel's views.''
So-called 'mirror sites', which contain copies of Zundel's propaganda, are springing up at various locations in the world-wide-web. ``It reminds me of the Greek myth in which Hercules battled the many-headed serpent, Hydra. Whenever he sliced off one head with his sword, two more grew back in its place,'' comments EFC vice-president, Jeffrey Shallit.
The appearance of so many mirror sites is partly due to the efforts of Declan McCullagh, a free speech activist, who has packaged up the controversial information into a single file and posted a message in a Usenet newsgroup with instructions on ``how to open your very own Zundelsite mirror archive in five minutes or less.'' So far there are at least ten mirror sites, including ones at Carnegie Mellon University, Stanford University, and MIT. ``If Germany starts to prevent their University's from connecting to other Universities outside the country, it defeats the purpose of them being on the Internet in the first place,'' observes David Jones.
Mirror sites aren't the only headache for German censors. The oft-quoted adage: ``The Internet recognizes censorship as damage and routes information around it'' still rings true. ``Students in Stuttgart, Germany who can't access Zundel's web pages directly can still visit them indirectly, by using an innovative and award-winning web site in Toronto called the 'Canadianizer','' explains Jones. [ URL = http://www.io.org/~themaxx/canada/can.html ] Created as a sort of joke, this web site in Toronto, allows you to type in the URL of *another* web site that could be anywhere in the world. The computer in Toronto then fetches a copy of that web page and inserts a few 'Canadianisms', such as ending a sentence with 'eh?'. Once Canadianized, the web page is displayed for you. But since the page appears to be coming from Toronto, the German blocking mechanism will be fooled -- it cannot detect that the information really originated in California. ``It's just a detour on the Infobahn,'' says Jones.
If censorship won't work, you might wonder, what should be done about people like Zundel who spread hate and lies? ``Zundel thrives on publicity,'' says EFC's Jeffrey Shallit. ``The right way to deal with him is either to ignore him, or to counter his propaganda with the truth about the Holocaust.'' Shallit points to the efforts of the 'Nizkor Project', based in Vancouver, which has assembled a huge electronic archive on the Holocaust that researchers around the world can consult to counter the bogus claims of Holocaust deniers. ``Anyone with an open mind will see who's telling the truth,'' says Shallit, who himself lost many relatives in the Holocaust.
The approach is not new; Justice William O. Douglas, said in 1958: ``The way to combat noxious ideas is with other ideas. The way to combat falsehoods is with truth.'' Ken McVay, who runs the Nizkor Project, was recently named to the prestigious 'Order of British Columbia' for his successful work fighting hate in Canada and elsewhere.
Montreal newspaper reporter, Matt Friedman, recently wrote: ``... while the mainstream and the traditional authorities dither about, befuddled by the growth and power of the on-line medium, unable to settle on either a coherent plan of action or a means of combating hatred without bringing down the Internet in its wake, McVay and his colleagues are doing battle -- and winning.''
Declan McCullagh's page on circumnavigating German censorship, URL =
The Simon Wiesenthal Center (Los Angeles office), phone: (310) 553-1303