March 25, 1997 2:00 PM ET
Austrian ISPs pull plug to protest police raid
By Maria Seminerio

  In the first-ever nationwide protest of a government action against an Internet service provider, a group of Austrian ISPs will shut down for 2 hours this afternoon to protest a police raid on a Vienna ISP.

The Internet service blackout, to last from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. (16:00-18:00 GMT), will involve nearly all of the European nation's 50 ISPs, which serve some 350,000 customers, according to the Austrian Association of Internet Providers. It comes in response to a March 20 police search of an online service provider called ViP, which was prompted by a year-old investigation into the alleged posting of child pornography by one of ViP's 2,500 subscribers, association officials said.

Police confiscated ViP computers and servers during the raid, effectively shutting down its operations, according to the association. The unnamed ViP member was the subject of an investigation, begun in Munich but later transferred to Austrian authorities, into pornographic materials involving children, which showed up on Usenet newsgroups.

ViP officials and Austrian police reportedly knew the identity of the alleged offender, but the raid against the ISP proceeded anyway, association officials said.

The incident is not the first of its kind. Investigators seeking evidence in another child pornography case searched CompuServe Inc.'s Munich offices in November and pressured the company to briefly cut all its subscribers' access to about 200 newsgroups considered obscene or offensive, including neo-Nazi sites.

Pornographic online materials depicting children were also the focus of a police raid of two ISPs in Paris last May. A group of French ISPs protested by cutting off access to newsgroups for several days.

In 1995, Austrian police raided the headquarters of another ISP whose customers allegedly posted neo-Nazi propaganda.

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