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The German Pirate Party fights censorship, but is it being censored?

Headlines will show that the German Pirate Party is continuing its recent growth in German elections. At the time of writing this, the latest exit polls for North Rhine-Westphalia (the most populous of Germany’s 16 states) suggest that the party will achieve approximately 7.5% of the votes. Under the German proportional representation voting system, a party needs a minimum of 5% before it can gain any seats. 7.5% would translate into 18 seats in the state parliament. 

Put simplistically, the Pirate Party grew out of the same movement that created The Pirate Bay in Sweden. The primary plank of its purpose is to fight internet censorship.

Meanwhile and ironically, however, Monica Horten at IPtegrity has discussed German internet censorship of the Pirate Party itself. A student in a North Rhine-Westphalia school attempted to access the German Pirate Party’s website from a school computer to find it was blocked under the ‘illegal drugs’ classification. Horten does not suggest this was genuine censorship, but more likely a failure of automated filtering systems. The system itself, operated by an organization called Time for Kids, is developed by IBM. It, says Horten, “crawls the web and categorises webpages according to its own internal algorithms.”

The assumption is that when these web crawlers found the Pirate Party’s pledge to legalize cannabis (the purpose is to eliminate the thriving black market in more powerful and dangerous adulterated cannabis), the word ‘cannabis’ tripped the filters and caused the site to be blacklisted.

Netzpolitik.org, a German blog that comments on internet issues, reported the event. “In North Rhine-Westphalia, some schools block the election program of the country's pirate party.” Time for Kids reacted angrily to this and subsequent blog commentaries. Writes Horten, “Time for Kids gave a hostile response to the Netzpolitik story. In a press release, they attacked Netzpolitik and other bloggers for fear-mongering. At least, that is the best translation I can do. The word they actually  used  is rather colourful, but untranslateable. They said that the blogs are full of “shitstorm-verdächtige Kommentare”.   Verdächtig means suspicious.”

The issue, however, is not whether this was an accidental ‘block’. The reality is that the Pirate Party was blocked and that this filtering system “is blocking political debate, and is contravening the right to freedom of expression.” Horten points out that it is wrongful categorisation that will happen all the time in automated filtering. “And, even worse, it opens the door to so much potential abuse.” Potential abuse is a danger for both automated and human filtering systems.

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