German Official: ISPs Liable for Hate Sites

ISPs (Internet service providers) in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia could face fines of up to 500,000 marks (US$231,000) for carrying Web sites with neo-Nazi propaganda.

In an open letter, Düsseldorf district government president Jürgen Büssow charged ISPs based in the state with searching their servers for any illegal material they might unwittingly be hosting. He warned that if they do not block such sites within a reasonable time period, they can be fined under a law banning the publication of racist propaganda.

"I don't want to make business difficult for any providers," said Büssow in an interview Monday. "I'm just asking for their cooperation."

Since German users can easily access illegal propaganda on foreign servers, many of them based in the U.S., Büssow said he has also sent letters to U.S.-based ISPs and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, informing them of the German law.

Büssow noted that he has no legal authority to fine foreign ISPs, but said that he is determined to stop the flow of propaganda into his state. If ISPs do not cooperate voluntarily, "we'd have to block access to entire providers," he said. There is legal precedent for doing so, he added.

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