Frankfurt Appellate Court says online demonstration is not coercion
The collective blockade of a corporate website in the context of a political event is not violence or coercion but legitimate free expression, a German Higher Regional Court in Frankfurt decided on 22 May.
The decision came almost five years after the online demonstration took place. The groups "Libertad" and "Kein Mensch ist illegal" (No Human is Illegal) had called for an online blockade of Lufthansa's website to protest against the company's participation in the deportation of asylum-seekers. With a script- (client-) based distributed denial of service attack, the Lufthansa web servers were supposed to be blocked during the annual company's shareholders assembly on 20 June 2001. Though Lufthansa was mostly able to adapt to the protest by renting more bandwidth for that day, the event created significant public interest. 13000 people participated in the demonstration, the Federal Ministry of Justice publicly questioned its legality, and others even spoke about "computer sabotage". The online demonstration was accompanied by an offline protest at the shareholders assembly venue. The organizers had tried to register the online protest with the authorities beforehand like a normal demonstration, but had been rejected.
While the organizers called the demonstration a modern form of non-violent blockade and referred to their constitutional right to freedom of assembly, Lufthansa and the Frankfurt public attorney saw in it a call to coercion. The offices of Frankfurt-based group Libertad were searched and computers seized, and the main official organizer, Andreas-Thomas Vogel, was indicted. Investigations were led by the state security branch of the police and the attorney's office. The Frankfurt district court convicted Vogel to a fine in summer 2005, and ruled that the demonstration equalled coercion against Lufthansa and other website visitors.
The first criminal chamber of the Frankfurt Appelate Court now dropped all charges and ruled (No. 1 Ss 319/05) that the demonstration was in fact no violence or coercion, but had been targeted at influencing public opinion. Therefore it was legal. Libertad spokesman Hans-Peter Kartenberg commented: "The Internet, in spite of its virtuality, is a real public space. Where dirty deals are made, there you can and must also protest against them." This ruling will be important in the future development in this legal field, as this trial had been the first criminal case about online demonstrations in Germany.
Decision by the Frankfurt Appellate Court (in German only, 22.05.2006)
Statement by Libertad on the ruling (in German only, 1.06.2006)
Higher Regional Court says online demonstration is not force
In German (1.06.2006)
http://www.heise.de/newsticker/meldung/73755 In English (2.06.2006)
(Contribution by Ralf Bendrath, EDRi-member Netzwerk Neue Medien, Germany)