French ISPs Protest Arrests, Shut Down Usenet

In early May 1996, French police shut down France's two largest Internet access providers and arrested their top executives after finding child pornography in Usenet, an Internet service for discussion groups carried by the providers. The heads of FranceNet and WorldNet face up to three years in prison and around US$100,000 in fines.

Internet providers across France responded by staging a "strike," closing off access to the entire Usenet collection of thousands of discussion topics beginning May 8. The strike ended May 14 after French Telecommunications Minister François Fillon agreed that providers should not be held liable for their users' actions.

Most Usenet groups are freely accessible, allowing anyone to read and write messages on any topic. The Internet provider industry has generally argued that providers should be viewed as similar to telephone companies with regards to not being liable for their users' conversations if illegal.

France also restricts speech on other topics, such as racism and World War II.

Source: May 14, 1996, Associated Press article, "French Internet providers end cyberspace strike early."