Austria Net Providers Vow to Pull the Plug

VIENNA, Austria -- Austrian Internet access providers vowed to take the entire country off-line for two hours Tuesday to protest an unprecedented move by the government to keep smut off the worldwide computer net.

"Some 95 percent of Austrian providers that are connected internationally will take part in the protest. And more are joining us every hour," Peter Rastl of the Austrian Association of Internet Providers, or ISPA, said.

The action was sparked by a dawn raid on Vienna-based provider VIPnet last week. Police impounded the group's entire computer network Thursday following allegations that it had been misused to feed child pornography onto the net.

The raid followed a legal complaint lodged against a VIPnet client who allegedly fed the illegal material onto the net using VIPnet's access points.

"This shockingly incompetent procedure of the authorities should be of concern to all Austrian computer users," ISPA said in a statement.

The association said policemen had pulled the plugs on VIPnet's computers without shutting them down first, which could seriously damage the machines, and took away all of its computers, pushing the company to the brink of financial ruin.

Austrian authorities claim providers are fully liable for illegal material fed into the net through their gateways. Providers maintain, however, that customers should be responsible for whatever they put on the net.

"Considering the sheer amount of information that is being made accessible on the net," Rastl said, "it is neither technically nor practically feasible to control the contents."

But the real problem, they say, is that authorities, and not just in Austria, are still far too ignorant about the risks of cyberspace. ISPA now wants to offer Austrian investigators free computer training and unlimited access to the Internet.