MAINZ, Germany — German authorities have introduced a proposal to facilitate network blocks against adult sites deemed to have inadequate age verification systems, and also to prohibit financial institutions from providing payment services to those sites.
On Wednesday, Germany’s Broadcasting Commission of the Federal States released its draft proposal to reform the State Youth Media Treaty (JMStV).
According to the commission, the regulations in the draft concern “the technical protection of minors in the media.”
The existing youth protection systems, a statement released with the draft argues, “should be made easier to use and linked together so that they can be as effective as possible.” The draft also includes “improving legal enforcement.”
Suggestions and comments on the proposals can be submitted until Dec. 7.
German tech news site NetzPolitik speculated that the proposal may change the balance of power in what it called “the cat-and-mouse game” between adult sites and German media regulators.
The proposal reads, “The responsible state media authority can prohibit those involved in payment transactions, in particular credit and financial services companies, from participating in payments” for the offending sites.
A comment on the draft makes clear the aim of the proposed measure: “The addition is intended to specifically address the experiences of the state media authorities in enforcing measures against providers of large porn platforms.”
Shutting Off the Money Supply to Adult Sites
“The new proposal would allow the media regulator to turn off the money supply to targeted adult sites,” explained NetzPolitik reporter Sebastian Meineck, who has been covering German efforts to censor the internet. “This new tool is a direct result of the crackdown on porn sites in Germany; above all, Germany’s once most visited site, xHamster.”
Meineck noted that while xHamster is the most immediate target, the proposal’s effects could go “far beyond that.”
Meineck told XBIZ that there is a regulation in German media law concerning online gambling, which has a similar structure to the JMStV and includes a similar authorization to prohibit payment transactions in “objectionable” cases.
The proposal also simplifies the process for the state to order network blocks.
The media regulator, Meineck wrote, “is already allowed to issue network blocks for porn sites that resist the mandatory age controls. A network block means that Internet providers such as Vodafone, 1&1 or Telekom must prevent customers from accessing a website as usual. In order to achieve such a block, the supervisory authority currently has to carry out time-consuming administrative procedures, some of which are ineffective.”
The proposed change would make it easier for the government to more easily target mirror websites that host content similar or identical to sites that have already been ordered blocked, without “another complex procedure,” as the draft comments clarify.
A Complex Network of Bureaucracies
In Germany’s complex federal system, the different states are mandated to set common rules for the protection of minors throughout the country, through the Broadcasting Commission of the Federal States. Representatives of the states sit on this commission, which is chaired by the Rhineland-Palatinate state.
The two relevant regulatory media laws are the State Media Treaty (MStV), affecting all age groups, and the JMStV, which affects minors.
The executive authorities to implement those laws also act in tandem, but each federal state has its own bureaucrats. Of the 14 media supervisory authorities, one in particular has been waging war on adult content: the State Media Authority of North Rhine-Westphalia, under the direction of Germany’s top anti-porn crusader, Tobias Schmid.
As XBIZ reported, Schmid has waged a relentless campaign, targeting specific adult sites as part of a drive to require age verification for viewing sexual content in Germany. Schmid has been described as having “a fetish for order,” and his efforts led to a court issuing a “network ban” and blocking access to xHamster last year. Last month, the country’s media regulators initiated steps to order a block of Pornhub, YouPorn and MyDirtyHobby.
Internet regulation is in the hands of the State Media Authorities, which can coordinate efforts through the Commission for Youth Media Protection.
According to the NetzPolitik article, however, some legal experts in Germany have questioned whether German media regulators have the authority to regulate foreign adult sites such as Pornhub or xHamster.
Marc Liesching, a professor of media law and media theory at the Leipzig University of Technology, Economics and Culture, is quoted as issuing a recent legal comment in support of the “country of origin” principle, which states that services should be regulated where they are based.
For legal purposes, both xHamster and Pornhub are based in Cyprus.