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German authorities use 'Nazi Shazam' in crackdown on far-right radio stations

Police in Saxony are to utilise new music identification software to identify and shut down internet stations playing banned songs.

Far-right organizations demonstrate during a May Day rally in Erfurt, Germany in May of this year
Far-right organizations demonstrate during a May Day rally in Erfurt, Germany in May of this year
Image: Jens Meyer/AP/Press Association Images

GERMAN POLICE ARE touting a new high-tech tool to identify illegal neo-Nazi songs in seconds, dubbed “Nazi Shazam” after the popular music identification software.

Authorities in the eastern state of Saxony hope to use their creation to identify and shut down Internet radio stations that play banned songs.

“Music is an introduction to right-wing extremism, we all know that, so for me this is very important,” Saxony interior minister Markus Ulbig told reporters in the state capital Dresden this week.

Neo-Nazi hard rock has long been an important recruiting tool for far-right groups, back to the days when CDs were handed out at street demonstrations.


The ‘German Federal Review Board for Media Harmful to Minors’ blacklisted 79 songs last year for espousing neo-Nazi ideology or having racist lyrics, according to news magazine Der Spiegel.

The new Saxony prototype creates a unique code or “digital fingerprint” based on the frequencies in songs, and then checks music being broadcast on Internet radio, or submitted on a CD or MP3, against a database of gathered “fingerprints” from banned music.

“The programme is obviously faster than men and needs no sleep,” said Martin Strunden, a spokesman for the state interior ministry.

Previously, officers had to listen to songs and compare lyrics with a database of restricted music.

“It would take a day or two just to listen to and transcribe an album,” said Jens auf dem Keller, who is in charge of media oversight for the Saxony police.

“Digitalised, it takes just moments.”

Similar technology is used in the smart phone application Shazam, which captures audio playing on the radio or at a concert and identifies the artist and song title.

Saxony officials are calling for police around the country to submit music samples to increase the size of the database, which currently contains about 3,500 restricted songs, before they begin using it.

The impetus for the new software came after officials noticed a marked increase in far-right Internet radio stations in 2011 and 2012.

Far-right groups evolve online

Police development of more sophisticated Internet surveillance comes as far-right groups grow increasingly savvy in their own online outreach.

“The strategies of the neo-Nazis, they’ve changed in the last years, they’ve moved from the real world more and more to the virtual world,” said Julia Wolrab, with the association “Against Forgetting – For Democracy”, which offers advice to people confronted with extremist propaganda online.

In a 2013 report, the state-operated German media monitoring organisation jugendschutz.net found for the first time that far-right groups used smart phone applications to deliver music and TV programmes to supporters, and adopted barcode-like QR codes to recruit potential members.

Police in Saxony also hope to develop a smart phone application so officers can monitor music at live concerts, but a spokesman said legal questions must be answered before that is possible.

Other German police departments say they are waiting to see how the programme works in Saxony before potentially adopting it.

- © AFP 2013

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