30 May 2010

The Pirate Party's Dubious Understanding of the Sentence Against Former MP Tauss for Child Pornography

As reported e.g. on "The Local" and "Die Zeit", a Karlsruhe district court (Landgericht Karlsruhe) handed former Social Democratic parliamentarian Jörg Tauss a 15-month suspended sentence on Friday, 28 May 2010, for the possession of child pornography, which Tauss said he would appeal and raged about a "crazed prosecutor" and a "political and medial prosecution".

While the defence did not deny that Tauss possessed the illegal material and instead alleged he’d had it for work-related purposes for research about the scene only, the judges were convinced that the 56-year-old had illegally possessed some 260 photos and 40 video clips containing child pornography between May 2007 and January 2009, since “the overview shows that Tauss was not travelling through the virtual child pornography scene in fulfilment of his political duties, but out of private reasons” as Chief Judge Udo Scholl explained.

As to Tauss’ claims of special parliamentary exemption from the law, the Judge said that such claims were invalid even if Tauss was an expert in online criminality, since "the same powers are valid for all parliamentarians" and the "status equality forbids special rights for certain parliamentarians".

In September 2009 the German Bundestag annulled Tauss’ parliamentary immunity, clearing the way for prosecutors to press charges and Tauss left the centre-left Social Democratic Party, for which he has been an MP since 1994, after the investigation against him began. He then became the first and only member of the Pirate Party (Piratenpartei) in the Bundestag until the general election in September 2009.

The German Pirate Party, who sees itself as representing those in the information technology community, campaigning for privacy protection as well as the loosening of intellectual property rights, such as copyright and patent protection, declared on Friday that the party would make no decisions about Tauss’ membership until they reviewed the court’s verdict. In an official statement following the verdict the Pirate Party did not find it adequate to comment on the evidence against its "honorary member" or the harm such practise brings about, but instead called the trial a “bad sign of public prejudgement” and said that “questionable press work” by public prosecutors had severely hindered the rule of law and forced the Pireate Party to defend themselve against "nasty accusations" of being a "paedophile party".

In fact, many self-declared campaigners of internet freedom consider the (suspended) verdict against Jörg Tauss too harsh, showing a dubious legal understanding of parts of the free internet community.

Whereas Pirate Party spokesman Simon Lange said that "we trust that he will make the right decision for himself and the party” and that "it is up to him if he wants to leave the party", Tauss meanwhile voluntarily left the Pirate Party in ordert to, as he said, avert any damage to the party. This step, however, could in fact damage the party even more, since now there are no more options left to articulately distance from Jörg Tauss and his legal understanding, e.g. by excuding him from the party.

However, as assumed in this article of German nationwide weekly quality newspaper "Die Zeit", it would not have been certain anyway that a majority among the "pirates" would have supported Tauss' exclusion, such as pirate blogger "Flecky" who feels that "an exclude of Tauss would show a tremendous weakness of character". Many "pirates" and other self-reported campaigners of a free internet regard Tauss more as a victim than as an offender.

In advance of the proceedings Tauss tried to explain on his blog why he had to perform independend research in his role as an MP. For this reason he posted all sorts of questions to the Federal Government (Bundesregierung), to show how ignorant and inactive the authorities are regarding this issue. Many comments on his blog postings show that the majority of readers shares Tauss' view that the legal action hit the wrong people and that this, as some sort of conspirancy theory, may be the case even on purpose, since Tauss had turned prominently against the proposed internet access barriers, such that is is no wonder that certain players want hin to get out of the way!

Event the Pirate Party itself hinted in an official press statement at some conspiracy in relation to the internet "censorship" plans of the Federal Government, since "in the course of the investigation one could get the impression that the procedure was not so much about criminal invenstigations of an accusation but rather about the judical background music for a political project for implementing an instrument of censorship and restricting the freedom of all citizens".
The manner in which the "pirates" now complain about the procedure and the perceived harshness of the verdict rather reveals a dangerous legal understanding, which can be viewed entirely as symptomatic of this party and its supporters. In fact, in connection to the recent debate on blocking child pornographic websites, the anti-censorship activists of the German Pirate Party tended to almost exclusively argue technically and to virtually avoid any moral or legal issues, showing a lack of interest in a workable solution for a social problem but rather discloses a self-centered interest in an internet without moral or legal limits (see earlier posting). 

Many who are familiar with software and computers extremely well certainly regard the gaps in knowledge of ordinary citizens and politicians hair-raising. And as it is nearly always the case for technical experts becoming political, this technical predominance may well lead to a situation in which existing laws are not anymore regarded as universally valid. But only because Jörg Tauss better finds his way in the internet than e.g. officials or not so computer-affine MPs, it does not relieve him of the duty to observe the same law that apply to all other citizens. If one wants more expertise and better laws, the only option is to work towards this by regular democratic measures and not by autocratically undermining existing law.