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Three Days Before Elections, Largest German State Censors Pirate Party From The Net

56

Repression

Repression

Reality sometimes does exceed fiction. Three days ahead of the elections in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, the Piratenpartei‘s website has been discovered to be censored in schools. These state-run institutions do not allow people – voters – to read what policies the challenger party stands for.

Specifically, it is the election program of the German Pirate Party that is being actively censored in schools, under the category “illegal drugs”. It is no secret that the German Pirate Party wants to change the law to regulate, rather than prohibit, cannabis. Apparently, expressing a desire to change the law is seen as just as dangerous as breaking the law – just questioning the current policy: enough to suppress freedom of speech in the state-run schools.

It should be noted that the Piratenpartei is currently polling at levels that would give the party 8-10% of the seats in the state parliament, so the challenge is real and the challenger is expected to win seats in the elections this Sunday. It is far from a nonsense minority party; rather, it currently has a lot of the media spotlight.

The censorship was first discovered by Kai Schmalenbach, who posted a “website censored” screenshot when trying to access the election program in a school in the city of Soest.

The censorship being used in schools is called Schulfilter Plus (“School Filter Plus”), who, according to Netzpolitik, washes their hands and say that they just use another censorship list from IBM, which they claim “has a good reputation”. Assuming this censorship is revoked immediately, which we don’t know, officials claim it may take as much as 24 hours before voters may again see what the challenger party stands for. At such a point in time, it would be less than 48 hours before the election stations open on Sunday morning.

If this is not a demonstration of the utter rejectability of censorship and why it should never be allowed under any circumstance, as events like this will happen, I don’t know what would be the necessary demonstration.

The Swedish Pirate Party had a similar episode in the run-up to the 2006 elections, when the Swedish Pirate Party’s website was censored on August 23 from all public offices in Västra Götaland, one of Sweden’s largest regions. (The election was held on September 17.) After a media outcry, and the responsible IT people essentially saying “we have delegated this censorship to corporations in the United States, so we cannot be held responsible”, the censorship was lifted.

Via Netzpolitik (in German).

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About The Author: Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and is a political evangelist, traveling around Europe and the world to talk and write about ideas of a sensible information policy. He has a tech entrepreneur background and loves whisky.

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56

  1. 1
    mmm

    Wow! If I was Microsoft, I’d sue Schulfilter for pirating the design from the Windows XP installer for this blocking notice.

    http://fixingmycomputer.com/images/Windows21.jpg

  2. 2
    agtrier

    The German word “Steilvorlage” comes from the football game and describes the situation where your opponent (inadvertedly) passes you the ball in a way that makes it very easy for you to score a goal.

    It is a very good description of what is happening here :-)

    Go, Pirates, go!

    ag.

  3. 3

    Has anyone verified this with IBM?

    I wonder is there would be something unconstitutional about this although I know absolutely nothing about German politics (or North Rhein-Westfalia for that matter!)

  4. 4

    Wait… what?

    This is… I don’t even know what to say. Let’s hope this is a mistake. Otherwise it looks like a concerted attempt to erase a dissenting political party.

    Freedom of speech **specifically exists** to protect dissent – opinions that may not be popular or dominant – so that things can at least be **discussed.** If you can’t even discuss policy, then what use is it? What power does it have over anyone?

    I just… wow. I don’t even know what to say here. Again, let just hope this is some sort of accident.

  5. 5

    Hmm, be careful to not fall into the sensationalism. This does not look like a political censorship and the explanations are probably true.

    1) It’s only in some schools in the state (so not the whole state like you could imagine while reading the title)
    2) School and companies are using completely absurd products, made by american people, to filter content which is inappopriate for the workplace.

    It has been reported several times that my own website is banned in most workplace or public administration. Why ? Because, for automatic american filters, it falls into the “amusement/leisure” category. And when the IT administrator of a company is faced with the question: “should employees be able to browse amusement/leisure website?”, the answer is no, for the sake of productivity (which is stupid but another debate).

    Here, the word “cannabis” appears on one page of the website -> the filter automatically classify it as “website speaking about illegal drugs”. Then, when the administrator of the school’s IT is faced with the question “Should I allow students of the school to browse websites related to illegal drugs?”, the immediate answer is “no, of course not. If a children learn about drugs on a computer from the school, it will become my responsability”.

    And that’s it. No real censorship. Just dumbtools used by people that want to minimize their responsability.

    Retrospectively, I wish we were fighting a real big bad guy who wanted to censor us on purpose…

    • 5.1

      I am assuming that this was a mistake, because frankly, I don’t believe anybody could be this stupid on purpose. But it shows what mechanisms we introduce and subject to ordinary human error when we accept censorship.

      To me, this result is unacceptable. In any engineering, you seek out points where human error can have disastrous consequences and eliminate them. When it comes to censorship, including automated such, this appears to not have happened.

      Society, on seeing things like this, is very close to accepting with a shrug that some expressions get automatically censored if they’re too close to being inconvenient, and I won’t accept anything like that happening.

      • 5.1.1

        I share your vision but the current problem is that we always need someone to be responsible for every mistake which is happening.

        A kid is exposed to pornography through the schools computers? parents attack the school which attack the IT.

        Consequence: nobodoy want to be responsable any more. Nobody wants any responsability. I faced that myself when trying to convince governements and industries to switch to Linux/LibreOffice (I’m working for a LibreOffice support provider) : I was told, several times: “If I take Microsoft, nobody will blame me if it fails. If I choose something else, I will pay every little problem.”.

        So, if you are the IT guy in this world, it is logical that you don’t want to take any responsability. So you install a filter. More filter is better (less risk). And, if there’s anything, you can still blame the filter.

        To summarize I would say that it’s not against censorship that we are fighting. We are fighting for the right to people to recognize their own mistake (and you are leading the way) and the right for people to not be held responsible for every single stupid shit that could happen.

        Well, interesting debate but my base point is that the title of the article is misleading ;-)

        • Scary Devil Monastery

          Speaking as an IT guy my response would insetad be this:

          PARENT: My kid managed to learn about pornography in school!!!

          SCHOOL: That’s terrible, look, we’ll take a look what the techs say.

          ME: What was the login id of your child? *clickety-click*. Fixed. I guarantee your kid now will not be able to view pornography on school computers.

          PARENT: Why can’t my kid log on to the school network?

          ME: Because i ran rm -rf on his user account, as per your request. *hangs up*

      • 5.1.2
        Ben

        Have to agree with Ploum on this one, having been involved with implementing a very similar system, the chances are that it was processed either by a computer searching for keywords or by a drone in a third world country with a vague grasp of english and no grasp of the political landscape in Germany. There should however, be a mechanism to request the URL be re-checked, at least at a staff level.

        These systems are far from perfect and in a lot of circumstances downright infuriating but implicating them as part of a conspiracy against a political party is probably stretching it.

        This incident does show the dangers of applying a filter at a country level, like China uses or as it has been suggested in Australia.

    • 5.2
      Hervé Musseau

      If it was as simple as a search on the word “cannabis”, a lot of sites would be equally censored, including most other parties’ (probably for stating that they oppose legalization or depenalization).

    • 5.3
      Elena

      As a german student I can say this is completely true.
      My school uses this stupid filter and we hardly can see any webpage. This filter even censores sites we need for study issues. For example some history pages, assumingly because of what you just said: drug or sex mentioning (which is pretty often the case in ancient rome).
      This forces students to use wikipedia more often than they wish to, because it’s one of the few webpages we can open.
      We (the older students) usually just ask our teache to log in with his account so that we can see all of the web.. but even then the message “this page does not suit your project” will sometimes come up. How does this stupid programm know what my project is?
      Really really bad tool. If you’re a school – don’t use it! ^^

    • 5.4
      triplethinker

      actually, a child *should* be able to learn about drugs in school.

      i personally take great comfort of the fact that my mother was open about alcohol.

      lead to a lot less puking and feeling sick during puberty ;)

      and having knowledge about chemical drugs i knew that i didnt want to take most of them prior to even trying.

      not arguing with you there, just wanted to mention this ;)

  6. 6
    Mika Sjöman

    well AeliusBlythe, as we have seen – this have happened before.

  7. 7

    Just to illustrate my point: my previous comment is not displayed on this blog (but should be in your moderating queue). Is that censorship ? I think not. And I believe that what happened in those schools is exactly the same thing.

    • 7.1

      Not true. I think you’re confusing the right to an audience (which nobody has; nobody has the right to demand to be published on a specific platform — here, in the comment field, for example) with censorship, which when a third party intervenes in the information exchange between two consenting parties.

      If I don’t consent to publish something on my own platform, nothing can force me to do so.

      A third person standing between myself and an audience, preventing the audience from hearing my message, is censorship – typically so if that third person is acting in some sort of official capacity or authority, which is the case here.

      • 7.1.1
        Bruno

        Rick, you’re right but read carefully what Ploum just wrote, he’s got a point. Let’s call it censorship in this case of the school, I think we can all agree on that. But the point brought up is if it was deliberate or not, if there is some scam behind this because of the upcoming election and the growing power of the PP or if it was the result of some bad filtering mechanism and the outsourcing of responsibilities.

        This should be investigated somehow and even if the case is the latter, which would be not as serious, it is still worrying how this filters are set up in schools. That is precisely another point of debate where the PP is very apt to act upon and question the order of things.

  8. 8
    Bob Thing

    Spot the obvious mistake: Children can’t vote

    • 8.1

      Dear Bob Thing,

      two things:

      1) Children in schools can indeed vote. I turned 18 – and voted – in my last year of secondary school. Additionally, several states in Germany have lowered the voting age to 16 (not sure if NRW is among them).

      2) Regardless of whether they have voting rights, they have the right to discuss the society they live in and its policies, and take part of other such discussions.

      • 8.1.1
        Jeff

        “Additionally, several states in Germany have lowered the voting age to 16 (not sure if NRW is among them).”

        It’s at 16 for council elections in NRW, not for the state election:
        http://www.wahlrecht.de/landtage/

        Anyway, age is irrelevant. People are expected to learn in school and this filter software shit prevents them from doing so. It’s not a problem for students only but also for teachers:
        “Oh, I am sorry, but the Piraty Party website is blocked. I can only inform you about the other parties, educate yourself at home. Oh, your dad is running a filter software as well? …”

    • 8.2
      gurra

      Spot the obvious mistake: Schools are a place where kids are supposed to learn things. Stopping children from learning is ultimately against the purpose of a school.

    • 8.3

      Well, High school in Germany runs until 13th grade usually, so many are 19 when they graduate, and the voting age in Germany for state elections is 18 or 16 (18 in this case).

    • 8.4
      Scary Devil Monastery

      Adding to gurra, Rick and Justus…School is a place where children learn, including about politics and the societal system. Blocking selected parties on a school level is the same as exposing children to only a carefully few vetted political opinions until they reach the age where they actually CAN vote.

      This is very bad, as anyone who even attended their own schools should know.

      Or are you of the opinion that careful selective indoctrination of school children by the few “approved” powers-that-be are a good thing?

  9. 9
    Datavetaren

    One cool thing though would be to use the web-blocker page to be used on posters and it becomes a meta-advertise for the Piratenpartei essentially saying that “if you don’t for us then this will become a frequent thing in your life too” :)

  10. 10
    Datavetaren

    One cool thing though would be to use the web-blocker page to be used on posters and it becomes a meta-advertise for the Piratenpartei essentially saying that “if you don’t vote for us then this will become a frequent thing in your life too” :)

  11. 11

    There’s a funny aspect to this, too. Most of the German media and the other parties try to portrait the Piratenpartei as a party without a politcal program. Which of course now means that something non-existant has been blocked by a filter “by accident”.

  12. 12
    AVHellraiser

    Who publishes such a BS? Its true that schools in Germany are owned and run by the state, but the state does not conteol the software which is used at our schools. Therefore to state that one german state censors one party is completly bullshit. There is a fine line between being carefull and being paranoid. One might believe it or not, but I think this is just a software glitch. And by the way, I m not trying to boil this down or something, I m a member in the German Pirate Party, but sometimes a glitch is just that, a glitch.

    • 12.1

      Of course it is a mistake – I refuse to believe that somebody was this stupid intentionally. Still, this mistake – which was enabled by the state having institutionalized censorship, delegated its execution without oversight, and generally being very sloppy about it – had very serious consequences, and those consequences are the heart of the matter here: through the actions of a state or its agent, a political party was censored three days ahead of the election.

      Whether it was through malice or incompetence is not really in dispute – I can’t believe anybody was stupid enough to do it intentionally. Thus, the incompetence and its consequences are in focus.

      • 12.1.1
        AVHellraiser

        This is getting really insane. On one site you have a lot of people going nuts about protecting our kids from such things as porn, drugs or whatever while at school and on the other hand you have people going nuts about censorship on the net.
        The state itself has the obligation to protect our kids, especially at school. You can argue a lot about the methods, but at least they are trying and I think filtering software on school routers/servers is a good way to start. I wouldn´t want my daughter to watch porn online while at school or at home, and I take a lot of measures to ensure that she can´t access certain pages while at home. So does the school she goes too and I think it is right. And me and other parents are perfectly fine with that. Nobody screams at us and calls us censors. Anyway, I think my point is, if the state is trying to do the right thing, it should have the room to make mistakes as well. As I know out of experience, school networks are administrated by some old teachers who most of the time can´t make head and tails of the hard- and software they are forced to work with. There is no centralized administration of those networks. Usually the admin gets the order to use this or that software and then has to get it up and running with almost none support whatsoever. I bet my ass on the fact that most of the software admins at the schools do not even know what a filter list is or how to update one.

        Anyway, the real fun part is that none of the big news services in Germany, or even the Pirate Party itself over here, seems to give a crap about this. The only one crying havoc about this are a few websites online.

        • Actually, you’re quite wrong in your perception that everybody thinks that censoring the net in any way can be justified. I strongly believe that a school with any filter – including for pornography – should have its funding revoked.

          Since it cannot be justified at all, I reject the notion that overstepping bounds like this into completely intolerable consequences can be excused.

          On the other hand, I’m based in Europe – nudity and sex are not taboo here, neither to adults nor minors. I even grew up in a nude encampment. With that, I do acknowledge that there are cultural differences (but good luck outsmarting a teenager’s hormones).

          Cheers,
          Rick

        • Jaime Frontero

          “The state itself has the obligation to protect our kids, especially at school.”

          Why? And from what (specifically on the ‘net)? Have you already forgotten what it was like to be a kid? Do you really believe that censorship and regimentation are either effective or desirable? Why not try *teaching* – about the world as it truly is?

          “I wouldn´t want my daughter to watch porn online while at school or at home, and I take a lot of measures to ensure that she can´t access certain pages while at home.”

          Oh good god. And I’m an American. I gave my daughter a wide-open internet all her life. And she’s doing quite nicely, thank you. On her way to one of the best journalism schools in the country (with a scholarship) – and fully armed for her career, by virtue of her familiarity with the world as it really is.

          And I note that – as a single parent (male) – it was I she came to when she deemed the time right for birth control. And for all the other stops along the way to 22 years old.

          Do you understand that by the time your daughter is twelve, you will never know what the most important things in her life are, unless you work at it with integrity and honesty?

          It’s only a fool who believes that sheltering children from reality will serve them well.

        • Vik1ng

          ” I take a lot of measures to ensure that she can´t access certain pages while at home.”
          And that is completely futile, because kids will still find that stuff if they want to. Also if you don’t want her access to porn this would also mean you would have to block websites like Reddit and imgur or basically any (image) hosting services. Btw. in Germany you can even buy a very popular teen magazine (Bravo) with nude pictures inside. Just google ‘bravo nackt’ and disable safe search.

        • Vik1ng

          ” I take a lot of measures to ensure that she can´t access certain pages while at home.”
          And that is completely futile, because kids will still find that stuff if they want to. Also if you don’t want her access to porn this would also mean you would have to block websites like Reddit and imgur or basically any (image) hosting services. Btw. in Germany you can even buy a very popular teen magazine (Bravo) with nude pictures inside. Just use google image search for ‘bravo nackt’ and disable safe search.

  13. 13
    Nicklas

    Hey, the Germans, if any, should know that “I just followed orders” doesnt work as an excuse.
    The excuse “it takes 24 hours to update” is just another “I followed orders”.

    Well, call whoever delivered the system and tell tham that they have 20 minutes to fix the issue or they will be faced with charges for obstructing the political process.

    Imagine what had happened if it had been the “BIG” political party in Germany who had their www blocked? The company would have been raided, like Pirate Bay was, and accused of state terrorism in minutes.

  14. 14
    Hervé Musseau

    Is it even lawful to block access to a political party’s website? Depending on the law, it could be grounds for prosecution, annulment of the election, or some other legal recourse. Not sure the German PP should just let it slide. At the very least an argument to use in debates and political ads.

  15. 15
    Pirate Rick

    ARRRGH!!

  16. 16
    AVHellraiser

    So Rick, I do not know if you have kids, but you are really telling me your are fine with 10 year old boys watching gangbangs or even worse, some woman fucking a horse? Really? Because I strongly believe that such content shouldn´t be watched by any minor. This has nothing to do with cultural differences, it has something to do with a sane mind. I have no problem with nudity nor porn, but porn isn´t for kids, there is a reason why it´s called “adult entertainment”. As mentioned before, I´m from Germany and also a member of the Pirate Party over here and I have very strong believes when it comes to censorship on the net. But I also believe that kids need to be protected from environments that they can´t possibly fully understand. You wouldn´t let your kids walk right into a bar of which you know that drug runners and addicts attend to on a regular basis, would you? So what is the difference between keeping kids out of drug bars and keeping them out of porn sites?

    Anyway, I think we both have our positions on this.

    Have a nice evening

    • 16.1
      Anonymous

      Thing is, the tighter your grip, the less respect you’ll have.

      If you’re a teenager with raging hormones, you want to do sexual stuff. That includes watching porn. You may not like the fact that “Daddy’s little girl” will one day grow up, get a nice pair of tits, a boyfriend and do a shitload of stuff in bed you may or may not approve of – much of it no worse than what you did to her mother. It’s called part of growing up.

      Now, either you can face this with strict rules of celibacy etc – and those rules are more likely to make her resent you than not – or you can come to your daughter and start a dialog. Teenagers won’t do as they are told, unless they see a good reason for it. Teenagers will question you and the life they’re used to. It’s in their nature. That does not mean they’ll stop loving or respect their parents, because you can respect and love someone even though you disagree with them.

      Don’t be a douchebag parent. If the kids want to watch porn, let them. And at the same time, have a long “flowers-and-bees” talk with your kids and why people do this. That way the kids can have a healthy relationship to both sex and their parents. But, then again, that would require time and effort, two resources always scarce these days…

    • 16.2
      Scary Devil Monastery

      I certainly wouldn’t want my kid to walk into a bar. However, where the internet is concerned my approach would be to simply explain to my child the exact same things I would tell it regarding talking to strangers or going into bars.

      I.e. I would enlighten my child to the best of my ability to the dangers on the internet in the same way i’d enlighten it about the dangers in the real world. What to watch out for and why.

      In the hopes that the child would grow up to become an adult already knowledgeable about the on and offline hazards instead of having to learn-by-doing at an age where that is no longer so simple or natural.

      Preventing information only ensures the child grows up to be a naked and confused adult with no perception of what goes on. And eventually what you may create is someone who goes and votes for ultra-authoritarians instead of liberals since the child has grown up under censorship in one form or another until it seemed perfectly natural.

      This is what we see in Sweden right now. Unlike Germany the current generation grew up being prevented from any and all uncomfortable aspects of society. And thus now we have a general surveillance of the citizenry even the DDR could not boast.

      And the majority of this generation, never having gotten away from the idea that some great father figure is there to protect them from all harm, now accepts authority blindly.

      As a pirate you may want to think about WHY you are a pirate in the first place. You may be living it – but you are teaching something completely different. In the long run, “protecting” a child shouldn’t mean to isolate it from the real world either. That does the child more harm than good.

    • 16.3
      Pekka

      Funny you say that. I saw all kinds of things during those early years of mine, even before the age of 10. Violent movies, violent games, violent news… played Larry, saw goatse, tubgirl, rotten.com and all the others. Oh, and I have been wathing occasional porn for quite long. Not that I’d be some kind of a sexual predator or a creep in the beginning, but I sure as hell am not now either. I consider myself the be just a regular grown up adult with some higher education and shit. And a profession most importantly.

      So, funny you say that indeed. I feel like I have just been insulted – by you. Please stop insulting your own children as well.

  17. 17

    I had my blog censored for a while in the content-filter used by, among others, Luleå Kommun. The same filter also censored out the newspaper Fria Tidningen.

    When Fria did investigate it, the got a specific quote from Swedish JO, stating that blaming the fault on the company they buy the service from is NOT an excuse, the municipality is responsible for the filter and has to take the legal consequences of filtering.

    Read more (in swedish) http://www.fria.nu/artikel/81832

  18. [...] Fonte: http://falkvinge.net/2012/05/10/three-days-before-elections-largest-german-state-censors-pirate-part… Share this:DiggEmailFacebookStampaTwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Taggato con: Censura, elezioni, Germania, Libertà d'informazione, Partito Pirata, Riforma legge sulle droghe [...]

  19. [...] to make marijuana legal.  Despite its name the Pirate Party is not a bunch of cranks. As quoted at this German website (in English); The Piratenpartei is currently polling at levels that would give the party 8-10% [...]

  20. 18

    I wonder what would happen if periodically the filter “accidentally ” censored the websites of the mainstream political parties?

  21. [...] Three Days Before Elections, Largest German State Censors Pirate Party From The Net – Falkvinge on I… ISP kills off country-ban dodge after just 48 hours ? The Register [...]

  22. 19
    T

    CORRECTION:
    it says that ONE regional/state specific pirate party page (see “NRW” in url, that’s a state) is not accessible in ONE school. schools are financed by the gov. but not “run” by he government, they’re run by the communities they’re in. they gov. does not censor, germany isn’t china or america. this must be one IT guy on a mission or just a pretty dumb mistake.

    again: ONE school, ONE regional website (not the central page).

  23. [...] As reported by Rick Falkvinge, who founded the first Pirate Party in Sweden in 2006, “The Piratenpartei‘s website has been discovered to be censored in schools. These state-run institutions do not allow people – voters – to read what policies the challenger party stands for. Specifically, it is the election program of the German Pirate Party that is being actively censored in schools, under the category ‘illegal drugs.’” [...]

  24. [...] Pirate Party has fallen victim to a bizarre though seemingly unintentional act of censorship. As reported by Rick Falkvinge, who founded the first Pirate Party in Sweden in 2006, “The [...]

  25. [...] kommer vara där tillsammans med Rick Falkvinge och Ung Pirats ordförande Gustav Nipe, för att fira segern tillsammans med de tyska [...]

  26. [...] Det intressanta är om Piratpartiet kommer in eller inte. Alla opinionsmätningar talar för ännu en framgång för det tyska Piratpartiet som seglar vidare mot förbundsdagen nästa år. Precis som Gustav Nipe [...]

  27. [...] economy and populous cities in  North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany,  where a challenger party is state-censored prior to the upcoming election – Internet Oppression affects many communities for differing [...]

  28. [...] result came about after it was noted a few days ago that the German Pirate Party’s website was being censored in state schools, by a filter that claimed that the site was about “illegal drugs”. It [...]

  29. 20
    triplethinker

    Assuming this censorship is revoked immediately, which we don’t know, officials claim it may take as much as 24 hours before voters may again see what the challenger party stands for. At such a point in time, it would be less than 48 hours before the election stations open on Sunday morning.

    wait a moment…
    this means that the pages will be accessible friday afternoon?
    this means that it wont be accessible, since most schools are closed on saturdays…
    so in the end this means that the pirateparty wont be accessible before the election AT ALL.

  30. [...] recent example was the censorship of the German Piratenpartei three days ahead of the elections; the party was being censored in [...]

  31. [...] the Pirate Party has been censored in German schools, caught up in a filter intended to protect the kids because one of their platforms is the [...]

  32. 21

    I blog frequently and I really thank you for your information.
    This great article has truly peaked my interest.

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About The Author

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and is a political evangelist, traveling around Europe and the world to talk and write about ideas of a sensible information policy. He has a tech entrepreneur background and loves whisky.

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