French Bar Owners in Custody for Offering Private Wi-Fi Connections

Written by Bill Toulas
Last updated July 31, 2021

Grenoble’s police have taken unprecedented action against five bar owners who were casually offering free Wi-Fi internet to their clients. According to a 2006 anti-terrorism law, every internet service provider in France is obliged to keep internet usage logs for at least one year. This measure is meant to help the law enforcement authorities trace back terrorists, identify them, find out more about their connections, and stop their plans before anything bad happens. However, it is little known that mere bars qualify as ISPs under this law, and bar owners were very surprised when they got arrested.

For violating the particular law, the punishment is one year in prison and up to 75,000 Euros in fine. Having to deal with this surprising menace all of a sudden, and especially during these rough times, is pushing the bar owners to the ropes. One of them stated that nobody told them about this “detail,” not even during their license IV resumption compulsory training.

Indeed, the trade union confirmed that this is not part of their training, as restaurants and bars aren’t by definition offering internet services, so it wouldn’t be a prerequisite for obtaining an operating license.

Related: The Dangers of Unknown Wi-Fi Networks During the Coronavirus Lockdown

Large businesses like hotels, airports, or conference centers use internet connectivity packages that include logging services, so they are covered against this legal requirement. However, smaller businesses like cafes and bars cannot cover the higher cost of these packages, so they are left with the only option - of not offering Wi-Fi to their customers. This sounds totally anachronistic in 2020's France, but it's the precedent that Grenoble police has created with its action.

As for the users, this story makes it clear that when you use public Wi-Fi, you most probably have personal data logged and kept for at least a year. Also, the law enforcement and intelligence authorities in France have the right and interest to look into this data without asking your consent or even informing you about it. If you are out there and in need to connect online, at least make sure that you are using a VPN tool from a reputable and trustworthy vendor.

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