April 23, 1997


A coalition of civil liberties organizations from a dozen countries has written to German Chancellor Helmut Kohl to express concern about the prosecution of an official from the Compuserve company which is making available Internet access to German subscribers. The official has been indicted by local prosecutors.

The letter states the prosecution of the Compuserve manager Mr. Felix Somm is "ill-advised for both technical and regulatory reasons" and will "have a harmful impact on Internet users around the world."

The groups said that "the charges against Compuserve will establish a harmful precedent, and may encourage other governments to censor speech, limit political debate, control artistic expression, and otherwise deny the opportunity for individuals to be fully informed."

The organizations signing the letter, which was organized by the Global Internet Liberty Campaign, include the American Civil Liberties Union, Arge Daten, Association des Utilisateurs d'Internet, Derechos Human Rights, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Human Rights Watch, the Internet Society, and Privacy International.

Felipe Rodriquez, the administrator for XS4ALL, an internet provider that was recently blocked by German authorities in a separate matter said, "Is is not possible for a provider to censor the Internet according to the local law, custom or tradition. The Internet is too international and too dynamic for that to be possible. Censoring the Internet has, in most cases, proved to be counterproductive."

Andy Oram, a member of the Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility in the United States, said that he thought the attempts by German to limit use of the Internet in this manner were impractical. "Even if an Internet provider is notified that illegal material is coming from a certain site and cuts off all access to that site, the publisher of the material can easily find another site from which to send it."

The groups also noted their support for efforts now underway in the German parliament to liberalize the use of the Internet. "We believe that the measure now under consideration to reduce liability for Internet services will do much to ensure the protection of personal freedoms in the future," said the organizations.

The Global Internet Liberty Campaign was established at the annual meeting of the Internet Society in June 1996 in Montreal. It maintains a web site at with links to all of the member organizations.

Last September the group organized a conference in Paris to educate members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development about the need to develop cryptography polices that protected privacy and fundamental human rights. Aspects of the GILC recommendations were incorporated in the OECD Cryptography Guidelines released earlier this year.

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