German court upholds Web ban on Nazi content

The ban has been criticized as state censorship

German authorities have the right to block Web pages containing extremist content, and the cross-border character of the Internet can't undermine powers vested to the federal states, the administrative court in Arnsberg, Germany, ruled on Friday.

The Arnsberg court dismissed a lawsuit filed by an Internet service provider against the State Media Authority of the German federal state of North Rhine Westphalia. The unidentified service provider, based in Hamm, Germany, had sought to reverse an order issued by the Dusseldorf district authority to prevent Germany-based ISPs from providing access to Web sites of U.S.-based servers hosting neo-Nazi content.

The ISP can still lodge an appeal against the ruling with the Higher Administrative Court in Munster.

Dusseldorf district authority President Jurgen Bussow said in a statement that he doesn't expect an appeal because of the "milestone decision" reached by the Arnsberg court.

In 2002, North Rhine Westphalia, Germany's most populous state, issued a ban on Web sites disseminating neo-Nazi information. The ban affected 76 service providers in the state.

To date, no other German federal state has adopted the controversial blocking order.

A battle against neo-Nazi online services has been heating up ever since Germany's highest civil court ruled in late 2000 that the country's laws banning certain material can also be enforced against foreign-hosted Web sites.

The Association of German Internet Businesses has criticized the North Rhine Westphalia government ban as state censorship.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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