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CompuServe seeks custom ban technology

CompuServe has announced that next week it will restore access to 200 banned newsgroups, but may still ban access in Germany, where the newsgroups are illegal. CompuServe is working on technology that will allow it to ban material in specific countries.

CompuServe has announced that next week it will bring back access to 200 banned newsgroups containing sexually explicit material, but may still ban access in Germany, where the newsgroups are illegal. The company is currently working on technology that will allow it to ban material in specific countries, according to CompuServe officials.

The online service will block material based on regional requests; company officials say they will refuse to block newsgroups in the United States.

CompuServe claims that the German government threatened to take legal action if the company refused to pull the newsgroups. As a result, CompuServe said it will handle future bans on a "case-by-case basis."

Some say the ban was misguided in the first place. "This is an attempt by the German government to put their finger in the dike to stop a leak," says Jerry Michalski, analyst with EDventure Holdings, "but what they don't realize is that the dam has already broken."

Germany's request comes at a time when the United States government is trying to ban "indecent" material on the Internet, and some say that CompuServe's decision will foster Net censorship. "It seems to be a trend that is building, and I wouldn't be surprised if we had widespread closing of all newsgroups in the United States," says Andre Bacard, author of the Computer Privacy Handbook. "CompuServe's decision will definitely be cited in future decisions on Internet censorship," he adds.

Others agree. "The German request clearly opens the door for the destruction of the Internet as an open forum," says Neal Horsley of the Christian Consumers Association.

If CompuServe is successful in devising the technology to accommodate regional bans, critics say the problem would still not be solved. "Many of the things they might try to fix this can be gotten around," said Michalski, "and may result in CompuServe becoming a less desirable service."

If this trend persists, could such actions lead to conflicts between nations? Michalski thinks so. "If there's a World War III," he warns, "it won't be about an archduke's assassination--it will be about bits crossing borders."