- Germany's conservative opposition party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), is calling for more voluntary cooperation to combat right-wing extremism on the Internet.
In an open letter Thursday, CDU General Secretary Ruprecht Polenz called on political parties to support the CDU's "Net Against Violence" (Netz Gegen Gewalt) initiative.
"The relative anonymity, the speed and the global availability of the Internet are abused by extremists for their purposes," reads the letter. "The structure of the Net makes it difficult to combat this, especially on a national scale. But this fact must not lead to a capitulation to illegal content. We must do what we can."
The CDU is calling on users to help by implementing filtering software to protect youth from exposure to online right-wing propaganda, and by reporting extremist sites to ISPs (Internet service providers) and to German federal security agents.
"The only thing that we can do as opposition is try to organize the Web community to help to identify those sites, to support those people who try to develop filtering software... while knowing this is insufficient," said Jochen Becker of the CDU's Internet office.
The "Net Against Violence" Web site includes forms allowing users to report the addresses of extremist sites to Germany's federal secret service, or to groups developing filtering software.
One link is to the Bertelsmann Foundation, that is developing a filtering system in cooperation with the Internet Content Rating Association (ICRA), which was founded by industry giants such as AOL Europe GmbH, IBM, and Microsoft.
A new filtering program will be rolled out in September, building on the existing Recreational Software Advisory Council (RSACi) standard, said Bertelsmann Foundation spokesman Thomas Hart. "Whereas the old system had categories like nudity, violence, and sex... you couldn't tackle, say, extremist content. The new system will be able to do that, because in addition to the actual filter according to categories, there's another option: black lists and white lists."
Nonprofit groups like the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Anti-Defamation League have undertaken to maintain lists of objectionable sites that users can download and implement with their filtering software, Hart said.
Conversely, "white lists," of recommended sites for children for example, can also be downloaded. "The basic principle of the ICRA system is one of user autonomy and of self-regulation," Hart said. "The whole system very heavily depends on interested third parties."
Asked how "Net Against Violence" intends to combat the problem of extremist Web sites registered outside Germany, the CDU's Becker said, "We ask the government to put pressure on the international community, especially on the ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers)... they will have the opportunity to really shut down Web sites. At present, their job is not to control, they are just administering the domains but they are not really controlling them from a content point of view."
The ruling coalition government had no immediate reaction to the CDU initiative. An Interior Ministry spokeswoman said the government had rolled out its own anti-violence project, the Alliance for Democracy and Tolerance (Bündnis für Demokratie und Toleranz) in May. The Alliance's Web site carries a motto and a video spot about tolerance.
"Net Against Violence," which does not have a telephone contact number, can be reached on the Internet at http://www.netzgegengewalt.de/. The Bertelsmann Foundation can be reached online at http://www.stiftung.bertelsmann.de/. The "Alliance for Democracy and Tolerance" can be reached online at http://www.bmi.bund.de/demotol/.