cr> CIS censorship: The whole story


Craig A. Johnson

The following is an account by the German journalist, Michael  Kunze,
of the CompuServe/Germany  censorship issue.   Kunze writes for Der
Spiegel, the major German news magazine and Der Spiegel Online.

I think the most telling phrase in the account below is, "CompuServe's
approach is not to guarantee for 'freedom of speech and information'
but  to make 'money'."  It is instructive to see how Compuserve bent
over backwards to a perceived threat of prosecution.



From: •••@••.••• (Michael Kunze)
Date: Sat, 06 Jan 1996 09:33:39 GMT
Organization: Spiegel Online
Lines: 114
Message-ID: <•••@••.•••>
Reply-To: •••@••.•••
X-Newsreader: Forte Agent .99c/16.141

Dear Nettizens,

Some few fivehundred postings ago, I promised you let you have more
details about the CompuServe censorship case investigated by the
editorial staff of SPIEGEL online. It is not a story of evil but of
people acting overambitious and ignorant. And it is not quite as
simple as DrG might be wishing!

To keep it short, here are the facts:

In 1994, a Task Force called "AG EDV" was set up by the Bavarian
Minister of Interior at the Police Headquarters in Munich. Initially,
the Task Force was formed to search persons dealing with pornographic
material via BTX the former online service of German Telekom and its
work was limited to one year.

For the moment, investigations of this Task Force ran successfully due
to the assistance of Telekom. But simultaneously, people being
suspected changed their ways of distributing  either to closed BBS
systems or chose more secret methods. So the Task Force was compelled
to enhance their efforts and they raided Munich BBS systems.
Furthermore, they studied computer magazines to find ads for
pornographic CD-ROMs. During this operation they found what they were
looking for, and "PC Direkt", a Ziff Davis publication, and some other
magazine were forced to pulp some issues.

All activities of the Task Force could not have happened, if they were
not supported by a whole bunch of local prosecutors and judges.
Sticking together, chatting, doing favours forms a part of the social
life in Munich - in malicious words - the 'Munich swamp'.

The prevailing opinion of the Task Force and of some prosecutors is
that carriers of digital information could held responsible for the
content of what they are spreading. This meaning matches exactly the
content of the CDA. But this is only one point of view. Up to now,
there doesn't exist any law or direction in Germany concerning
responsibilities of ISPs or online services regarding contents they
only do deliver. And so, judges decide from case to case. The German
department of justice thinks that carriers could be held responsible
if they deliver illegal content "deliberately". But then, could one
call them "carriers"?

Last summer, a kind of hysteria about Internet pornography broke out
in German media. A few journalist had made their first steps in the
Internet and discovered nasty postings in the Usenet hierarchy. A student of Erlangen
University was seized because of spreading child porn via Usenet.
Then, the "Time" article about Internet porn was published and quoted
by nearly every German newspaper.

I think at that time the Task Force planned to investigate the Usenet.
Due to the facts that CIS had become a big ISP and their German office
is located in Munich, CIS seemed to be a worthwhile target. Somehow
the Task Force managed to get a search warrant to investigate the
Munich CIS office on November, 22nd.  However, the search was more or
less like a visit. Let me quote the public prosecutor: CompuServe "was
quite cooperative". "We sat together talking about chances to kick
pornographic contents out of CompuServe's information system." The
police officers just collected a copy of the CompuServe association
contract and the address of the CEO.

Two days later, CompuServe's German managers published that they "will
do anything to support the work of German authorities fighting against
pornography in Cyberspace". On December, 8th, CIS was handled a list
of more than 200 newsgroups by the Task Force. In my opinion,
interpreting the prosecutor and the CIS spokeswoman, this list was
presented to CIS as containing "suspicious newsgroups". In the
attached letter from the prosecutor it is said: "... it is left to
CompuServe to take the necessary steps to avoid possible liabilities
to punishment."

So, if CompuServe should have ever had threats, it could have been
only very small ones. But there is no reason to their German
management to risk anything. CompuServe's approach is not to guarantee
for "freedom of speech and information" but  to make "money".

When i interviewed the prosecutor, it soon became quite clear that his
department had tried to bring CIS to court to get its legal position
checked by some judges. Because of CIS servile tactics they had to
give up their goal.

The ominous list itself shows, how ignorant the members of the Task
Force are about the Usenet. In my opinion, they just sampled all
newsgroups containing words like "sex", "erotic", "gay" and so on and
put the result onto the list.

We have two in depth articles on the whole affair on our web server.
One is an extended version of what i've posted here, the other deals
with the CDA and the actual political and legal situation concerning
the Internet. Unfortunately for US readers, these articles are in
German because we didn't found the time to translate them. But i hope
will can manage this until Monday 8th, 8:00 AM, EST. Then, you should
point your browser to


or have a look at our complete online services at


By the way, SPIEGEL online is the online department of the reputable
German news magazin DER SPIEGEL.

Michael Kunze                          Tel.:+49(0)40-3007-0
Redaktion/editorial staff              Fax :+49(0)40-3007-2986
Spiegel Online
Brandstwiete 19
20457 Hamburg / Germany