The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

When Laws Collide in Cyberspace
The Globe & Mail
February 9, 1996

© Copyright The Globe and Mail, February 9, 1996
by Jack Kapica,

So far, the Internet has largely had an American flavour, dominated as it is by middle-class people whose understanding of correct behaviour is based on an appreciation of U.S. law, culture and values. But when other countries and other laws enter cyberspace, trouble happens.

Not two months ago, a German prosecutor got a spectacular response when he told CompuServe, the U.S. on-line giant, that allowing its German subscribers access to sex-oriented newsgroups would violate German law. Compuserve, in the only way it technically could, responded by blocking out all subscribers' access to a series of newsgroups, and freedom-of-speech supporters were appropriately exercised.

Now, the T-Online service of Deutsche Telekom, which provides Internet access to more than one million Germans, has blocked access to a website carrying the views of Toronto-based Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel. According to a Mannheim prosecutor, Germany's powerful laws against spreading racial hatred apply to the "Zundelsite" too.

But to reach Mr. Zundel, who has subscribed to Webcom, an Internet provider based in Santa Cruz, Calif., where the U.S. First Amendment provides him more free-speech protection that [sic] he could enjoy in Canada, T-Online had to block all data coming into Germany with the word "Webcom" in the address (http://www.webcom/com/). That block affected 1,531 Webcom subscribers as well. The reaction has been intense.

Many users became further concerned last week when Congress passed the U.S. Telecom Bill, an omnibus piece of legislation containing a repressive clause giving the state astonishing powers to prosecute those who post "indecent" material on the Net. In this atmosphere, the T-Online action constitues a further affront to the freedom-of-speech sensibilities of many Net denizens, who may or may not be aware that other countries do not share the U.S. perspective.

Declan McCullagh, a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, and at least six others hastened others hastened to create "mirror sites" that copy everything Mr. Zundel posts at Webcom, but makes it available at different Net addresses not blocked by T-Online.

By the end of last week, Mr. McCullagh took down his website because he felt that too many news stories were implicating Carnegie Mellon for his act. "I disassociate myself from this material completely and entirely," he wrote about the Zundelsite ( Reacting to all this, David Jones, of Electronic Frontier Canada, the watchdog group monitoring censorship issues around the world, sent out a press release noting that Germany's attempt to censor Mr. Zundel has achieved the opposite effect, that of spreading Mr. Zundel's wretched views. "With the publicity," he writes, "more people might want to visit these web pages to see what all the fuss is about."

This statement points to a growing philosophical problem in North American society: the increasingly common accusation that the very act of reporting the news is equivalent to propagandizing on behalf of the people and events contained in that report. In the past, keeping an eternal vigilance on society's misfits was considered one of the prices of living in a democracy. But in a society increasingly reared on the cult of celebrity, the matter is less clear. Now, it seems, simply mentioning Mr. Zundel's views is tantamount to promulgating them.

This debate leaves many people in the Jewish community in a dilemma: Is it better to challenge those you disagree with, or ignore them?

The Nizkor Project, a British Columbia-based organization dedicated to fighting racial hatred (, chooses the first option. Ken McVay, its director, not only tries to counter Mr. Zundel's allegations but provides a hot link to the "Zundelsite." The strategy carries a price, however. Mr. McVay is finding that to confront Mr. Zundel's presentations is to battle endless side-issues raised by Mr. Zundel, one of which is over the proper venue to debate the matter (the Web or the alt.revisionism Usenet newsgroup?).

Conversely, the Simon Wiesenthal Center (, also dedicated to the fight against racism, offers no link to Mr. Zundel's page.

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