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Censorship Government The Internet Your Rights Online

German President Refuses To Sign Censorship Law 272

Posted by kdawson
from the german-for-hot-potato dept.
thetinytoon writes "German federal president Horst Köhler has refused to sign a law to block child pornography that passed Parliament earlier this year, stating that he 'needs more information.' In Germany, the federal president has the right to reject a law only if its passage violated the order mandated by the constitution, or if it is obviously unconstitutional — he can't veto a law simply because he disagrees with it. The law was passed under a coalition government, but a different coalition took power before the law reached the president's desk. Political observers guess that the political parties would like to get rid of the law without losing face, but since it has already passed the Parliament, they can't simply abandon it."
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German President Refuses To Sign Censorship Law

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  • Matter of framing (Score:5, Informative)

    by aaandre (526056) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @03:08PM (#30263454)

    This is a censorship law pushed through legislation smartly framed as "Blocking Child Pornography." So, when the question comes up, are you against or for child pornography? Of course, the correct question is, are you for or against blanket policy allowing government censorship of the only free/cheap mass information medium in the world under the pretense of protecting children?

    And, in the realm of censorship, Germany seems to have the most sense (amongst Western nations incl. U.S. and England) , probably having already gone through the fiery blindness of mad political rampage in the past.

    For more on framing and how it defines the political scene (esp. in the U.S.) check this interview [is.gd] with George Lakoff, professor in linguistics. Here's a list [is.gd] of his lectures on YouTube.

  • Re:Editers!* (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 29, 2009 @03:09PM (#30263460)

    Well, parliament translated to german is Parlament.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 29, 2009 @03:12PM (#30263486)

    To make this clear:

    The coalition in Germany has changed, yet the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) which is the major part of the present coalition (CDU + FDP) also participated in the last coaltion (2005-2009) consisting of the SPD (German Social Democratic Party) and the CDU. The law was initiated by the CDU (without opposition from the SPD, to be true, but also without much enthusiasm) and they really did their best to have it passed.

    The same people who initiated it are now trying to stop it - not because they suddenly came to their senses, but because they wanted it so bad they fucked it up. They still want it, they just have to make a better (more in line with the German constitution) attempt. If they don't stop it now, it is likely that it will fail in the court (Federal Constitutional Court), which will make it harder for a seccond attempt (and cause more negative publicity).

    The Federal President is also ideologically associated to the CDU (although he is not allowed to be part any party), and he would be part of it, if he hadn't been elected as President. He won his election because of the support he got from the CDU. So he, too, didn't develop some common sense but is just helping his mates.

  • Re:Only two options (Score:1, Informative)

    by Reemi (142518) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @03:14PM (#30263490)

    Are we talking about the same topic?

    From the article:
    ---
    The law, which critics argue would block access to other, innocent sites and therefore amounted to censorship, could breach Germany's constitution, experts believe.
    ---

    Shame on those who modded you up. Accusing somebody of supporting child pornography is really low. Furthermore, this is Germany you're talking about and the President is NOT able to make laws.

    Just remember, what we saw here is a president doing his task PROTECTING the people from parliament passing unconstitutional laws.

  • Re:What the? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 29, 2009 @03:16PM (#30263498)

    The idea that the president can't veto a law, and that the only checks against parliamentary power are the constitution itself kind of bugs me a little. The German system in general bugs me a little I suppose, because I place such high value in free speech and things Germany apparently values differently.

    Well, we had a few problems the last time one person had to much power...

    The highest value according to the German constitution ( http://www.iuscomp.org/gla/statutes/GG.htm ) is human dignity:
    (1) Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority.

    One result of this value system is that the highest German court ruled that it is against the constitution to fire on captured civilian airplanes, even if this action could save lives:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luftsicherheitsgesetz

  • by Xaduurv (1685700) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @03:27PM (#30263548)

    ... or at least according to the former family affairs minister - she said that everyone who is against this law is either a paedophile criminal or their lobby.

    man anyone can get a lobbyist on their side these days...

    Where have you been? Lobbyists will side with ANYONE if they have enough cash. They're the whores of the political world. On another note, the same argument has been used to try to put down opponents of the proposed Internet filter in Australia, even though it would try to block much more than child pornography (basically anything that would be given a rating higher than MA15+ - oh how i hate our nanny state). We find it incredibly offensive to be labelled as such.

  • Re:What the? (Score:5, Informative)

    by cheesybagel (670288) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @03:28PM (#30263558)
    The German President is mostly a figurehead. Sort of like the Queen of England. Supposedly serves to preserve tradition, unity, and all that rot. The person with de facto executive power is the Chancellor (think of him as the Prime Minister).
  • Re:What the? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Menchi (677927) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @03:31PM (#30263572)
    To understand why the president is such a weak position in Germany, think of it as a constitutional monarchy. Back in 1918 (that's less than 100 years ago, basically yesterday in terms of history) Germany was a monarchy. Then, when the riots broke out, the guys who would found the Weimar Republic intended to go for a constitutional monarchy, with a weak Kaiser who's just a head of state without any actual powers. But things got out of hand, one thing led to another and suddenly the Kaiser was exiled and they had to do without him. So they created the position of president, more or less a Kaiser, just elected. He had some reverse powers and that's it. But in the Weimar Republic political chaos was the very common and so the reverse powers were used on a daily basis. After the war when the new constitution was written this was identified as one of the factors that caused the previous republic to fail and so they decided that the president should have even less reverse powers. And that's how we got here. Also, the Constitutional Court is a very good check against parliamentary power. The judges there tend to have the most common sense of all courts and because they need a 2/3 majority to get elected there, party politics tend to be kept out of the process.
  • Re:What the? (Score:5, Informative)

    by cpghost (719344) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @03:36PM (#30263588) Homepage

    The idea that the president can't veto a law, and that the only checks against parliamentary power are the constitution itself kind of bugs me a little.

    Unlike France and the US, Germany doesn't have a presidential democracy. Moreover, the German President is not directly elected by the people but by a group of electors called "Bundesversammlung", which itself (unlike the electors in the US) is NOT elected by the people, but nominated by parties in the Parliament (Bundestag). So, the German President's legitimacy is weaker than that of a French or US president which is elected much more directly by the people. Think of the German President's role as a kind of emergency fallback, in case the Government was disabled... or goes crazy (it's all clearly defined in the German Basic Law). The reason for this strange setup is historical: those who drafted the German Basic Law were still under the impression of the disaster that an almighty Fuehrer (Hitler) can cause, and wanted to curb Government's power a little bit, without giving too much power to the President either. Furthermore, they were also deeply distrustful of the People (who voted NSDAP a decade and a half ago, let's not forget that), so they added a level of indirection in the election of the President. Take all this together, and you can understand German Basic Law a little better. It's still strange, though.

  • Re:Only two options (Score:5, Informative)

    by schon (31600) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @03:37PM (#30263596)

    Hello,

    Allow me to introduce you to the concept of sarcasm. [wikipedia.org] It will probably surprise you to learn that people sometimes say things that are obviously false in order to demonstrate the absurdity of the statement. Sarcasm is fairly common on the internet, and if you have been online for more than a few days, you likely have encountered it already in other forums.

    I also suggest you do some reading on verbal irony [wikipedia.org] so that you may partake in discussions such as this one without embarrassing yourself further.

  • Re:Censorship? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 29, 2009 @03:55PM (#30263678)

    m-w.com:

    Main Entry: 2censor
    Function: transitive verb
    Inflected Form(s): censored; censoring \sen(t)-s-ri, sen(t)s-ri\
    Date: 1882

    : to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable ; also : to suppress or delete as objectionable

    Main Entry: censorship
    Pronunciation: \sen(t)-sr-ship\
    Function: noun
    Date: circa 1591

    1 a : the institution, system, or practice of censoring b : the actions or practices of censors; especially : censorial control exercised repressively
    2 : the office, power, or term of a Roman censor
    3 : exclusion from consciousness by the psychic censor

    See definition of censorship, 1 a.

  • Re:Censorship? (Score:5, Informative)

    by the_other_chewey (1119125) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @03:59PM (#30263694)

    First of all I wonder why you always use the term "censorship" if it is clearly not appropriated?
    The law is about blocking a web site, that was found distributing child porn.

    Not quite. The law is about establishing a nationwide site-blocking infrastructure at ISPs. Which sites are to be
    blocked is supposed be decided by the BKA (federal police - roughly comparable to the FBI) without involvement
    of a judge or any further oversight, and of course the blocking list is to be kept secret, because it could be misused
    as a "shopping list" by evildoers.

    Additionally, the first version of the law had a logging provision, where the detection of somebody trying to access
    one of those blocked sites would be probable cause for investigating the person for certain crimes. I believe this was dropped,
    but you get the idea...

    This law is about much, much more than just child porn.

  • by Zorpheus (857617) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @04:01PM (#30263698)
    Some more informations about this issue: There was a lot of discussion about this law in internet forums, but the arguments against this law were not taken serious by the established parties. There was even an online petition against this law which was signed by 134012 people. This is the largest number of signers for a petition yet. Since more than 50000 signed it, it had to be discussed again in the parliament. But not much happened. The new pirate party played a very important role in the camaign against this law. They got 1.5% of the votes in the last election, which is a lot for a new party. This is probably also a reason why this topic is now taken serious by the other parties. If the pirate party reaches 5 %, they will move into the parliament. This would be the 6th party in the parliament, making coalitions to form a government even more difficult than they are already.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 29, 2009 @04:08PM (#30263732)

    If you're going to Godwin, you could at least have found a real Hitler quote instead of that made-up crap.

  • Re:Matter of framing (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 29, 2009 @04:13PM (#30263770)

    The ban on Nazi symbols was brought into play while the Allied occupied Germany. Furthermore, can you imagine the national and international backlash if a politician honestly wanted to get rid of this law? Two words: political suicide.

    Secondly, there's no real censorship on games/movies - it's just that games which are deemed unfit for children and youths (i.e. below 16/18 years of age) may not be shown / advertised for during "normal" hours, i.e. before 2200h. From 2200h to 2300h you may broadcast movies for 16 years and up, after 2300h you may broadcast movies 18 years and up. Some movies / games / songs may not be advertised / shown publicly at all - but you can still buy them in a brick and mortar shop (after you have shown yourself to be older than 18 years, of course).

    The amount of titles which are actually banned from being sold (not owned. You may own Mein Kampf, but you may not sell it) are actually only quite a few titles.

  • Re:What the? (Score:5, Informative)

    by he-sk (103163) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @04:51PM (#30264008)

    The idea that the president can't veto a law, and that the only checks against parliamentary power are the constitution itself kind of bugs me a little.

    As others have said, the German president is mostly a figurehead and the real executive power lies with the chancellor.

    In the German system, there are three checks against an overzealous parliament: First, the president can refuse to sign a law as has happened here, but only for a very limited set of reasons.

    Secondly, many laws require to be passed by the Bundestag (upper chamber of the parliament, made up of elected members) AND the Bundesrat, the lower chamber that is made up of the executives of the German states. (Remember that Germany is a federation of states just like the US.) The Bundesrat just held up the EU-US SWIFT deal, so it appears to be working as a check.

    Finally, there's the constitutional court which can be called upon by certain constitutional institutions directly or indirectly by anybody as a court of last appeal (not really, but it works that way in practice.) The court actually has a very favorable view in Germany, because it has reigned in some of the excesses of the parliament, however there is a growing concern that lawmakers just keep throwing shitty laws at the court that it will fold eventually.

  • Re:What the? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Ma8thew (861741) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @05:03PM (#30264086)
    Interesting post, but a few things are different between New Zealand and Germany. The equivalent to the Prime Minister in Germany is the Chancellor. Based on reading the Wikipedia article, the Chancellor is selected by secret ballot of their parliament. They are the head of government. The President is selected by secret ballot of a wider pool of people, but is largely ceremonial, much like our Queen. Much as the Queen can (theoretically) veto laws, so can their president, but it appears he has more legal scope to do so than our monarch.
  • by mister_playboy (1474163) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @05:09PM (#30264122)

    I googled it and it looks legit... here is a more specific attribution:

    Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler, Publ. Houghton Miflin, 1943, Page 403

    Very insightful quote... thanks to OP for bringing it up.

  • by couchslug (175151) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @05:51PM (#30264434)

    Cute, but with many eyes all fakequotes are shallow:

    http://sydwalker.info/blog/2008/12/08/having-fun-falsifying-history/ [sydwalker.info]

  • Re:What the? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Shining Celebi (853093) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @06:09PM (#30264542) Homepage

    Because the constitution isn't a listing of rights, but powers of the federal government. One of the objections to the bill of rights was that it would be interpreted as a complkete list, and look - that's what happened.

    It's important to look behind the superficial arguments opposing the Bill of Rights and more deeply into what those who followed that line believed. The federalists, like Alexander Hamilton and John Adams, were the ones making the argument that the Bill of Rights would be interpreted as a comprehensive list. This was not what they actually believed. This was pure misdirection. The federalists were opposed to the Bill of Rights because they favored a more powerful and centralized government. John Adams believed the British system of government was the best possible, king and all, and fought for America's system to be the same. Hamilton, John Jay, and the others followed this line to varying degrees. Naturally, as soon as they got into power, they started passing laws like the Sedition Act, which made it a crime to say bad things about the President. Adams arrested many anti-federalist newspaper editors under this law, flagrantly violating freedom of speech and expression.

    The federalists were not actually opposed to the Bill of Rights because they feared it would limit the rights of the people to only those enumerated. They feared the Bill of Rights because it would limit the power of the government. The federalists were determined the stomp over the rights of the people to the greatest extent possible, as evidenced by laws like the Sedition Act. They were not looking out for people and freedom.

    Political arguments in the past were no different than political arguments today. Context has to carefully be considered. The Bill of Rights preserved and enshrined the rights of the people, and they have done so time and again. We would have lost a lot without them.

  • by MartinSchou (1360093) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @06:21PM (#30264636)

    Just to clarify, as I'm sure some people will wonder why Hitler wrote a book during the war:

    Mein Kampf [wikipedia.org] was published in 1925, eight years before Hitler rose to power in Germany.

  • Re:What the? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Toonol (1057698) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @06:50PM (#30264806)
    The USA has restrictive laws against showing nipples.

    Less than you think. Movies? Cable? Books? Games? There aren't legal restrictions against showing nipples. Even in public, often, it's explicitly legal. The apparent reluctance to show, for example, nudity in a PG movie is NOT a matter of law. The only major media channel that has substantial laws restricting what can be shown or said are those that use public airwaves (broadcast television and radio).
  • Re:What the? (Score:3, Informative)

    by phantomcircuit (938963) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @07:30PM (#30265056) Homepage
  • by mqduck (232646) <mqduck AT mqduck DOT net> on Sunday November 29, 2009 @08:11PM (#30265258)

    That's not an accurate quote. The second part is actually by a rabbi, and presumably isn't an endorsement of such a tactic.

    "The state must declare the child to be the most precious treasure of the people." --Adolf Hitler

    "As long as government is perceived as working for the benefit of children, the people happily will endure almost any curtailment of liberty." --Rabbi Daniel Lapin

    Source: http://www.restoreliberty.com/ch5children.htm [restoreliberty.com]

  • by iris-n (1276146) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @08:34PM (#30265336)

    It actually is a different translation. A worse one, IMHO. But the GP's quote is fake. The real one is about eugenics, not censorship. Here it is:

    It will be the task of the People's State to make the race the centre of the life of the community. It must make sure that the purity of the racial strain will be preserved. It must proclaim the truth that the child is the most valuable possession a people can have. It must see to it that only those who are healthy shall beget children; that there is only one infamy, namely, for parents that are ill or show hereditary defects to bring children into the world and that in such cases it is a high honour to refrain from doing so.

  • by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@@@gmail...com> on Sunday November 29, 2009 @08:52PM (#30265420) Journal

    Actually he mixed two quotes, one by Hitler and the other by a Rabbi of all people. The first part "The state must declare the child to be the most precious treasure of the people." is Hitler and the second part "As long as government is perceived as working for the benefit of children, the people happily will endure almost any curtailment of liberty." Is by Rabbi Daniel Lapin.

    Here is my source [restoreliberty.com] with the relevant quotes at the top of the page. Scary to think that even back then the "think of the children" liberty snatch was in play. Scary shit.

  • Re:What the? (Score:3, Informative)

    by mjbkinx (800231) on Monday November 30, 2009 @03:30AM (#30267918)

    Short answer: You've just witnessed how your country went from a democracy to fascism in just a few years, murdered millions of its own citizens and killed many more millions across the continent. Now you've been given the task of writing a new constitution. What do you do?

    Given the then very recent atrocities, the first thing you write down is that Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority. With that out of the way, you analyze what went wrong with the old constitution, and decide the new constitution must be resistant against attempts to abolish it or alter its basic principles. Part of that is that some articles can't have their essential meaning changed, others can't be changed at all. But it goes further -- organizations that have the goal to abolish the constitution can be banned (along with symbols that represent them), and if the Federal Constitutional Court agrees, even parties (so far a successor party of the NSDAP and a communist party in the 50s.) Also, no speech that is capable of inciting violence against minorities.

    Those are the limits. I realize some of the consequences sound ridiculous to Americans, but you have to see it in the historical context. Also, some impressions Americans often have about those limitations are simply not true. For example, showing swastikas. I've seen plenty of swastikas in history class or in movies. That's perfectly legal (education/art). A T-shirt with the NSDAP flag, on the other hand, can indeed get you a fine of several hundred euros.

    In practice, Freedom of Expression is alive and well in Germany (unless you're a Nazi.) There are no beeps during TV shows and wardrobe malfunctions are something to laugh about. You're much less likely to get sued, and civil and criminal sentences are much lower (incarceration rate is a bit over a tenth of the US'.) Nobody raises an eyebrow when you proclaim that you're an Atheist and several openly gay politicians have been elected into high offices (two equivalent to a governor and our new Foreign Minister/Vice Chancellor, for example.)

    When you read that the president can't veto a law, keep in mind that he's merely the Head of State. The US President is also the Head of Government, and elected directly (in practice.) Sufficient to say that last time those positions were held by the same person, it didn't work out that well for us. The parliament elects the chancellor, and the parliament can also elect a new one at any time. The ability to get rid of a Head of Government, without an "impeachable offense", can be useful at times. The parliament has proportional representation (with the limitation that only parties that get >5% of the votes are taken into account), so it almost never happens that a single party can form the government on its own, and those coalitions can break apart to form a new government with other parties. Finally, the courts usually do a very good job, some attempts to introduce particularly stupid laws you may have heard about backfire [bundesverf...gericht.de] and we get a new Fundamental Right out of it.

    One more thing that may be important: Election campaigns, particularly financing, work differently. Parties and their candidates get most of their financing out of tax money, depending on how many votes they had in the last elections, and membership fees. There's a limited number of campaign spot slots available that get assigned the same way, you can't just buy more. Also, no PACs.

  • Re:Only two options (Score:3, Informative)

    by colinrichardday (768814) <colin.day.6@hotmail.com> on Monday November 30, 2009 @08:27AM (#30269196)

    And how is making a speech a use of force?

    Besides, don't the actual businessmen of this world engage in information control all the time?

    To the extent that they do this to control people, then they're not Galt.

"Bureaucracy is the enemy of innovation." -- Mark Shepherd, former President and CEO of Texas Instruments

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