Internet activists foil ban on Nazis Nerds on the Net foil ban on Nazis

Click to follow

Some of America's most admired colleges are being used by free speech activists to make Nazi propaganda available in Germany. The University of California, Carnegie-Mellon University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have all become hosts to copies of a Nazi web-site to which Germany's state-owned Deutsche Telekom last week tried to block access.

The latest round in the fight over international attempts to censor the Internet started when a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom blocked all access to Webcom, one of the largest suppliers of Internet-accessible advertising space in California, because one of the 1,500 sites there was maintained by Ernst Zundel, a neo-Nazi based in California. His site is dedicated to asserting that the Holocaust never happened, which is illegal under German law.

Within days of the ban, Declan McCullagh, a student at Carnegie Mellon had made the Zundel material available from his campus. He also made it simple for anyone who wished to follow his example to make a copy on to their university's computers, which seems to have been widely done.

Such actions, performed by people who have no Nazi sympathies themselves, have mystified some Germans on the Internet. One German commentator said: "I don't understand all that activity for a person of that history. I like your enthusiasm and believe in free speech, [but] I really hate your attitude that you know what is right for Germany to do. We are a democracy and we have reasons why we did certain things."

This attitude seems incomprehensible to most American users of the Internet, who see what they had imagined as a global republic, run to their rules, suddenly under threat all around the world. The first Japanese to be charged with disseminating pornography on the net was arrested in Tokyo on Thursday.

In Washington on the same day, Congress overwhelmingly approved a telecommunications Bill which has the incidental effect of severely restricting free speech on the American portions of the Internet, by making it an offence to send "indecent" material to minors. Civil libertarians believe this portion of the bill is unconstitutional, but until the courts have struck it down, they argue, it will prohibit even the dissemination of abortion advice over the Internet.

As the freewheeling culture of the Internet comes into contact with variously authoritarian regimes around the world, some yield and others fight. The government of Malaysia has acknowledged it cannot hope to censor the Internet in future.