FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) -- Germany's most populous state is requiring Internet providers to block two U.S.-based neo-Nazi Web sites after a court ruled the measure did not violate the providers' rights, officials said Thursday.
The verdict followed months of legal wrangling between North Rhine-Westphalia's top new-media official, Juergen Buessow, and 18 Internet providers based in the state, who said they could not be held responsible for the sites' content.
"We don't want such content to be available to everyone," said Ulrich Schiefelbein, a spokesman for Buessow's office. He refused to name the U.S. sites or the providers, citing German privacy laws.
German law makes public spreading of Nazi ideology a crime, but the Internet offers a loophole to neo-Nazi sites based abroad. German officials have repeatedly made efforts to block such content in recent years, even though it is legal in the United States, where the sites are based.
The blocking requirement is the latest attempt by a government to rein in the global medium by imposing regulations on Internet service providers.
In the United States, Pennsylvania has a law requiring companies serving its customers to block child pornography sites. Panama tried to order its service providers to block cheap long-distance calls over the Internet, until its Supreme Court struck down the effort.
Critics say such efforts turn private companies into arms of the police and ultimately threaten the Internet by creating barriers to the free flow of information and innovation.
In the latest case, a district court in the city of Arnsberg ruled Dec. 12 that Buessow's order for providers to block access to the two American Web sites was legal.
The providers are appealing to a higher state court and have threatened to leave North Rhine-Westphalia for other German states that don't have limiting regulations.
If the verdict against the providers stands, it could set a legal precedent in Germany that could have far-reaching implications for providers nationwide.
Copyright 2002. Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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