A German regional government leader has added weight to French calls for US internet firms to block access to Nazi propaganda on their web servers.
Dusseldorf District Government President Jurgen Bussow has written to four US internet service providers (ISPs) requesting that they prevent access to four websites containing racist neo-Nazi material, including one based within Yahoo-owned Geocities.
The German authorities have stepped up their attempts to combat the offending material in recent months, threatening fines of as much as DM500,000 (£157,000) for ISPs who host neo-Nazi websites. It is this action which has resulted in many of the sites being transferred to US web servers.
"If a content provider is based in the US, I can't get at them," said Bussow in an interview earlier this week. "But I don't think any ISP wants to be known in Germany for spreading Nazi propaganda."
However, Bussow said that Article Seven of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the US has signed, may provide a legal basis for the matter to be taken further. The Article guarantees protection against discrimination and incitement to discrimination.
Bussow also sent his letter to US government official William Kennard, chairman of the US Federal Communications Commission. Any attempts to close down web servers, however, may fall foul of the US First Amendment, which offers a broad protection of free speech in the US.
Germany has long been at the forefront of attempting to regulate internet content.
In August 1997, the country became the first to regulate the commercial arm of the internet, which allowed for ISPs to be prosecuted for hosting illegal content if they do so knowingly and it is "technically possible and reasonable" for them not to.
In May 1998, Felix Somm, head of Compuserve in Germany, was given a two-year suspended sentence after a regional court ruled he should be held responsible for the ISP's policy of allowing open access to the Usenet newsgroups, which included illegal material.
And Bussow is not the only European official asking US internet firms to prevent access to Nazi material on their servers.
Earlier this month, a French judge postponed a decision until 6 November on whether web portal Yahoo is violating French law on the sale of anti-Semitic Nazi paraphernalia. The judge has asked for expert reports on whether it is technically feasible for Yahoo to filter out the Nazi material.
The ruling is being watched, because it could set a precedent on international jurisdiction and the responsibilities of portals for content on their servers.
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