9th Karlsruhe Constitution Dialog

Today, the “9th Karlsruhe constitution dialog”, a one-day event with talks and a closing panel discussion addressing the question “The Internet in the politics – renaissance or threat of the democracy?” was held in Karlsruhe, Germany. The event was arranged by the liberal Firedrich-Naumann-Stiftung and open to the general public.

The first speaker was justice Prof. Andreas L. Paulus – judge at the Karlsruhe Federal Constitutional Court – who delivered a talk about New Media and the constitutional rights. Prof. Paulus, who is dealing with copyright issues in his daily job, explained the various roots of copyright law in national, European and international legal systems. He mentioned that the Berne Convention was one of the first international treaties and also outlined the importance of copyright law in many other fundamental agreements on human rights on both, European and international scale. He acknowledged that given this importance of copyright law, no contemporary political party questions copyright in general.

Paulus frequently stated that as a judge who is professionally involved in hot copyright issues, he may not express his opinion to a number of interesting questions or he would have to bail out, shall those issues ever come to the Federal Constitutional Court. However, he did mention a number of already taken decisions by his own and other courts. Most notably, a decision by the Karlsruhe Federal Constitutional Court concerning access to and use of dynamic and static IP addresses and PIN codes for communication devices by law enforcement authorities earlier this year (BVerfG, 1 BvR 1299/05) and a decision made by the Landgericht Hamburg (Az. 310 O 461/10) in a lawsuit between YouTube and the German collective rights management organization GEMA. He also emphasized the current understanding that making one’s work publicly available does not imply waiving ones rights associated with this work. (A fact that, I guess, is perfectly clear to anyone only remotely involved in free software but still seems to freak out big media if it comes to rights of individuals who are not big media but, e.g., Wikipidia authors…)

Asked by a women in the audience what he thinks about Google Street View, he outlined the German concept of the freedom of panorama and stated that, if at all, Google’s service might be illegal not by making and publishing those photos but by connecting their data in a non-trivial way. Of course, he added that no photo may compromise the rights of any individual shown on it. Paulus carefully tried not to be concrete on anything about this issue but I think he’d generally consider chances to sue Google for its activities to be low. (After all, despite a contrivers political debate about the topic, no respective trial is known to me so far.) He also clarified that the German constitution grants everyone the right to communicate freely and anonymously over the Internet but that there is no right to anonymously break the law. (Could only the crowd have listened to that more carefully…)

Most interesting to me (which basically is the reason I bring up this whole, dreary story) he stated that he considers the concept of DRM to have failed in practice. Prof. Paulus said that most users are not willing to accept being unable to make backup copies of artwork they legally purchase. However, he mentioned Apple’s iTunes as an example of a successful alternative, which I think is, moderately speaking, a little unfair. I was also happy to hear that he couldn’t imagine a three strikes law to be reconcilable with Germany’s constitution.

Next to speak was Prof. Christoph Bieber from the NRW School of Governance at the University of Duisburg-Essen. He gave a talk about “the Internet and elections” in which he basically spoke about the use of so-called social media in Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign and outlined differences and parallels to the situation in Germany. A fair bit of his talk was dedicated to the sharp raise of the German Pirate Party which is generally considered to be the most on-line of all German political parties.

At the beginning of his talk, Prof. Bieber was giving some live-presentation of his Twitter and Facebook page which was probably interesting for the generally non-computer savvy majority of the audience.

After lunch, the journalist and publicist Dr. Ursula Weidenfeld had a talk about the changes the Internet caused for political journalism and Prof. Andreas Otterbach from the Hochschule der Medien Stuttgart delivered a talk about citizen participation via social networks.

After each talk there was a short discussion with questions from the moderator Karl-Dieter Möller and the audience. What was very shocking for me was that several speakers and the audience were bemoaning the fact that the Internet may be used anonymously. Several times, claims to routinely collect, store and analyze personal identification data from anyone who uses the Internet were met with resounding applause by the crowd. This was especially disturbing to me since the Firedrich-Naumann-Stiftung is closely related to the German liberal party which currently is the strongest voice in parliament against re-introducing telecommunications data retention in Germany. I really hope that this was due to the vast majority of the audience having been composed of people who obviously didn’t know a thing about the Internet. Also, I hope that the Liberals will try to change this by educating also their elder members. What disturbed me even more was that the people delivering the talks said these weired things and those folks were supposed to be knowledgeable about the subject.

At the end of the day, a panel discussion with Christian Schwarz (general secretary of Germany’s Pirate Party), David Hirsch (editor-in-chief of the magazine “liberal”), Prof. Peter Henning from the Institute for Computers in Education from the Hochschule Karlsruhe and Reiner App (a media consultant) was arranged. I’d like to outline the quotes that were most notable to me.

Prof. Henning pointed out that the Internet itself is neither a good nor a bad thing and definitely “can’t be blamed if our democracy doesn’t work well”. He also argued that the first hype about everything that is digital has faded away and now the Internet is more a serving rather than a dominating technology. He was concerned about people getting false information via the Internet and mentioned the example of a man who killed two members of the US air force at the Frankfurt airport in 2011 presumably being motivated by a movie scene showing the rape of Muslim women by US soldiers which he had mistaken for reality. He said that blocking foreign websites that host material which is illegal in Germany is a necessity. What he didn’t say is that in December 2011 the German Bundestag had abandoned a former law (that had never been applied) for blocking websites with child pornography as it did not contribute significantly to combating child pornography and raised general concerns while cooperation with foreign law enforcement authorities had shown to be a feasible way to effectively take down servers that host child pornography (record of the 146th assembly). Apart from this rather disturbing opinion, Mr. Henning also acknowledged the importance of the Internet for developing countries being a requirement, not a consequence of prosperity.

Mr. App was pointing out that while the Internet can definitely be a source of false information, it can also be a source of correct and clarifying information and mentioned an antisemitic film that was shown on the Turkish public TV channel. I’m further very thankful to him for emphasizing that “one third of the Germans is registered at Facebook and anyone who thinks in a liberal way and believes in market economy will see a problem with this”. He concluded that distributed social networks would be a better alternative. App also warned of companies like Apple who not only control the hardware people use but also the information, they may access via it and mentioned examples of magazines not being available in Apple’s store for showing naked people on the front cover which he called a way of censorship.

Mr. Schwarz expressed his dismay about the entire hall applauding when Prof. Otterbach had earlier promoted data retention in what was supposed to be a liberal convention. Since the remainder of the panel didn’t agree that what Prof. Otterbach had claimed would be data retention, Schwarz went to explain it which wasn’t a big success. Many people in the audience started shouting at him. I guess thinking might have been more effective. He did not share Mr. App’s concerns about monopolists on the web because he thinks that things may change quickly. However, he was drawing the picture of a future where every house has its own server so no monopole infrastructure is needed. (Which I think is quite the contrary of the current trend of weak thin clients and smart phones doing the actual computation on fat remote servers.)

I didn’t take much notes of of what Mr. Harnasch said but I liked his finding that the Internet allows clever people to become cleverer and stupid people to become more stupid.

Most of the debate was of course wasted on fruitless and off-topic discussions about new railway stations in Stuttgart and advertisement for the Liberals and the Pirates.

I think that the symposium’s topic was highly relevant and is very important to our society. It was spoiled however by focusing on the ridiculous question whether we should use the Internet rather than how we should use it. The majority of the audience apparently had little or no knowledge about computers or the Internet. I very much liked the talk of Prof. Paulus and I think that good points came up at least sparingly during the debate. I hope the German liberals will put in more effort in educating their members in new technologies so they can form a more profound opinion in the future. Last but not least, I’d like to thank all the talkers and the Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung for having arranged the event and providing all the generous service there.

The event was entirely held in German language. All English translations given in this article (except for the title of the event) were made by myself and are for informal purpose only. Shall I receive complains from speakers about misquotations or mistranslations, I will do my best to correct the information provided here.

This text is Copyright (C) by M. Klammler 2012. It may be used under the conditions of the Creative Commonos Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported (CC BY-ND 3.0).

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