Posted by NewsRoom on March 24, 1997 at 13:03:53:
A Country goes Off Line
Thursday, March 20, 1997 at 10:45, all computers in the
offices of Vienna-based Internet Provider ViP were confiscated
by seven plainclothes officers of the Vienna Wirtschaftspolizei
(Commerce branch of Police), accompanied by two experts,
effectively shutting down ViP's business.
The reason for the raid was a March, 1996(!) information
of the Munich,Germany public prosecution office that a
customer of ViP had illegally transmitted material on
the Internet containing child pornography.
The alarmingly incompetent behaviour of the police,
who acted only after more than a year, even though
electronic messages are typically deleted after a few
days, must make all Internet users in Austria concerned.
Even though there was no imminent danger, the sender
was known to the office of public prosecution at the
time and ViP was not accused in the process, all
computers with hard disks were confiscated - even
those not connected to any network.
What can the Internet Provider control?
Internet Service Providers take care of the interconnection of computers
connected to the global Internet and the transport of data among those
computers. Since not all users are permanently connected to the Internet,
their data are temporarily (often only briefly) stored on the providers'
The amount of data that accumulates in this fashion is enormous; the more
than 27000 News Groups and the cached WWW pages occupy over 40 Gigabytes
at major providers.This is equivalent to more than 20 million standard
Checking the contents of such a vast amount of
information is therefore neither possible nor
reasonable for an ISP. The editorial responsibility
resides solely with the originator of the information.
The internet has come to be an integral component in
the daily routine of many companies and private
citizens. Its availability directly affects the
competitiveness of a country.
The Confiscation and Austrian Jurisdiction
The legal framework for Internet Service Providers is
largely unclear in Austria.
According to the Ministry of Justice, the ISP's direct
liability for criminal actions of their customers is
based on the fact that, by offering access to the Net,
the providers create a source of danger, the control of
which they are responsible for. This would directly
imply a liability if contents are not checked.
This position is highly debated.
The legal framework for confiscation, however, is clear
Austrian law (P.142 Ch.1 StPO [criminal prosecution act]) regulates
confiscations, disallowing any unnecessary attraction
of attention or any unnecessary disturbance to those affected.
Reputation and privacy of the affected are to be protected
as much as possible. Moreover, it is stated that
only items that can be of importance in the case
can be confiscated. A neither produced evidence nor
eliminated the suspicion, or in the case of imminent
In the present case, no employee at ViP was questioned.
There was no imminent danger since the contents in
question had not been present on the provider's computers,
or in fact the whole Internet, for a year.
The "due care" advocated by the law was not afforded
either, since police forced the abrupt turning off of
the equipment, which can lead to damage and data
A country goes off line
The Austrian Internet Providers want to alert the
public, politicians and officials to the fact that,
under the current legal conditions, Internet service
is not possible.
To clearly demonstrate the effects of the current
jurisdiction, the cooperating Internet Providers will
turn off all their services on Tuesday, 25 March 1997,
from 16:00 to 18:00 CET, leaving Austria
unreachable from the Internet during that time.
A Proposal for Cooperation
The Austrian Internet Service providers condemn the
circulation of illegal contents on the Internet and
will cooperate with the law enforcement authorities
as they have in the past.
The ISPs believe that the individual originator is
responsible for the contents he is disseminating.
This is clearly stated in the terms of the ISP's
General Business Terms. Blocking of contents must
be mandated by a sufficiently authorized legal
institution, such as a judge.
Extending their existing level of cooperation with
the authorities, the ISPs offer to connect the
responsible judicial authority to the Internet
at no cost and to educate their officials in the
use and the nature of the Internet. Moreover, the
ISPs offer their assistance in the formation of
an Experts' Commission.
The Association of Austrian Internet Providers,
currently being established, plans to create an
Internet Coordination Office that would accept alerts
of illegal contents and would cooperate with the
authorities in addition to coordinating these issues
among the providers.
ISPA - Austrian Internet Providers' Association
Dr. Michael Haberler
Tel 89933 -533
Dr. Peter Rastl
Tel 4065822 -227
ViP - ein Service der Firma Comdes Handels Gmbh=20
Tel 25 73 317
E-Mail: email@example.com (CURRENTLY INOPERATIVE)
Tel: 40 40 20
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