German officials are calling for the United Nations to help create international standards for acceptable content on the Web, a plea that comes just as Hamburg prosecutors accuse America Online's German service of being used for transmitting child pornography through email.
Claudia Nolte, German's minister for family affairs, appeared Tuesday before the United Nations to discuss how the international body could play a role in developing standards to protect women and children from violence and sexual exploitation online. Nolte said that international standards will be necessary to prevent pornographers and neo-Nazis from operating outside national jurisdictions.
Germany has consistently taken a harder line than other European countries on the issue of controlling Internet content. Pending legislation would require online services and Internet access providers to report suspected illegal activities to the government or be held liable for any unreported crimes, including circulation of child pornography.
If that law were on the books already, AOL could have been charged charged with abetting the child pornography ring under investigation. The leading online service says the accused pornographers didn't use AOL at all. But the company cannot have forgotten that the Germans temporarily shut down its competitor CompuServe in December after discovering that nearly 200 newsgroups accessible through the service contained explicit sexual content. CompuServe restored access to all but five groups in February, but in the meantime had to shut down its newsgroup access worldwide.