Sinapore Teen Faces Fine and Jail-time for Using Neighbors WiFi

Garyl Tan Jia Luo faces a $10,000 Singapore Dollar (U.S. $6,425) fine and up to three years in jail under the Singapore Computer Misues Act simply for accessing the Internet through his neighbors open WiFi port. Luo did not engage in any malicious activity.

Dale's Comment: For the reason's I've already discussed in related posts (see below), this is completely nuts! Simple, non-malicious Internet access via open WiFi ports should be universally exempt from prosecution. The universal adoption of open WiFi ports would be an ENORMOUS social good – making the Internet freely available to anyone wherever they travel around the globe. Yes, hotspot owners need to make sure they are usuing proper firewalls to safeguard against malicious behavior, but, to my mind, the legal system, hardware specifications and WiFi users should all encourage open and safe universal open WiFi. In my ideal world WiFi routers would be user configurable so that the hotspot owner can pre-set how much bandwidth he/she wishes to make available for external use. The owner could adjust such permitted use at will, eg via a slider control, or the system could automatically adjust external use rights up or down depending on the hotspot owner's current usage, the time of day, etc.  Yes, I understand that this would run afoul of most current ISP terms of service contracts. But should it? Should laws be adopted to nullify this form of contractual prohibition. I argue that yes they should. With adequate technological safeguards in place, hotspot owners would be protected and ISPs would not face a sudden upsurge of system usage. Universal accessibility would spread such freeload usage around with minimal impact on any given ISP with a corresponding significantly positive social good. Among the many obvious social advantages, this would go a long way to bridging the digital-divide.

Sources: | Engadget | The Register | TechSpot

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FCC Rules Logan Airport Can’t Restrict WiFi

Text of Decision [.doc]
Logan Airport had told Continental Airlines that it may not provide free WiFi in its Logan Airport President Club frequent-flier lounge. Logan had claimed Continental's WiFi interfered with navigational instruments and was therefore a safety concern. However, when pressed Logan Airport could not provide any evidence that WiFi networks had ever caused harm. Meanwhile Logan sold its own WiFi access service to customers at the airport.

Bottom-line: Logan's restrictions had nothing to do with safety. It wanted to retain the lucrative WiFi revenue stream to itself and its licensees. With this FCC ruling, the FCC reasserted that its "Over-the-air Reception Devices" rules preempt local restrictions.

Dale's Comment: This decision has broader implications than restriction-free WiFi services at airports. For example, if Logan had prevailed, a landlord could have asserted the right to be the exclusive WiFi provider in its building, precluding home owners or businesses, for instance, from setting up their own internal WiFi hotsposts.

Sources: Government Tech | Information Week | Boston Herald | Engadget | Broadcasting and Cable | Boston Globe

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Schwarzenegger Signs Mandatory WiFi Equipment Warning Bill

Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed a new WiFi bill. Beginning on October 1, 2007, all wireless home networking equipment sold in California must come with an obvious warning (a sticker on the device itself or a screen in the software setup) about the dangers of unsecured networking. The warning must also give instructions on how to password-protect the network.

Sources: ars technica | Wi-Fi Planet | 

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Could Google’s Mountain View WiFi Be a Response/Solution to Net Neutrality?

The often controversial John C. Dvorak makes an interesting point in his August 21 PC Magazine editorial – “The Google Ploy – A Revolution“. Google, an ardent supporter of Net Neutrality, has recently completed wiring Mountain View (it’s home city) with free municiple WiFi. The first such successfully wired city in America. Google is also wiring San Francisco. In his article, Dvorak makes the point that Google could very-well profitably monetize this free service and use it as a profitable model for city-by-city WiFi rollouts nation-wide. While perhaps not Google’s original intention, as the cable companies and telephone companies have been talking about the need for tiered services (along with tiered pricing for the likes of Google and Microsoft), if Google were to pull this off, this could result in the ultimate end-run around local telco/cable-co duopolies and, in so doing, do away with the need for net-neutrality legislation altogether. He makes a very interesting argument.

Source: John C. Dvorak Article: The Google Ploy – A Revolution?  |  The Register

Google Wires Mountain View Articles: Google’s Mountain View WiFi Support Page  |  Wired  |  San Jose Mercury News  |  San Francisco Chronicle  |  Palo Alto Online  |  PC Magazine  |  PC Pro  |  Gizmodo  |  Mac Newsworld  |  GigaOM  |  Playfuls

RIAA Drops Open WiFi Case – Virgin v. Marson

Text of Order to Dismiss (Jan 24, 2006)

In an earlier post I had noted that an open WiFi connection could act as an affirmative defense against the RIAA's IP-centric lawsuit tactics because anyone could have been using a defendant's open (ie: non-encrypted) WiFi connection to download P2P content. It appears the RIAA dropped a case on that exact basis back on January 24, 2006.

Sources: Recording Industry v. The People | | P2P-Weblog | P2PNet | Techdirt 1 | Techdirt 2 | ars technica | Register | Neoseeker

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Dale's Update [Aug 4, 2006): The original reports about this case mentioned that Ms. Marson had an open WiFi and that was the basis of the dismissal. The later reports, see for instance the ars technica report, are now saying that Ms. Marson a cheerleader teacher that had hundreds of girls come to her house, anyone of which could have used her computer to download music. Some reports (eg: the register) say both defenses were used. The net result, however, still seems to be the same. When you can show evidence that someone other than the IP address owner/user had access to Internet connectivity through that IP address, that may very well be an affirmative defense – as would be the case with a computer with open WiFi. While ars technica is quite right that no judgment has yet turned on this point, it seems to me evidence of an open WiFi would be at least as compelling a defense. And who knows, the RIAA may already have dropped open-WiFi defense cases without disclosing this to the public.

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Another WiFi Arrest – this time in Vancouver Washington

Alexander Eric Smith was arrested after a three-month stretch where he periodically parked in front of a coffee shop off-and-on with a laptop and used its wireless Internet connection.

ars technica | Engadget | San Francisco Chronicle | techsearch | EETimes | |

Dale’s Comment: Still another arrest for another victimless crime. See my comments to a similar story on March 23, 2006. In this particular case, if the coffee shop wanted to ensure against external users, then they should have used password access control. Otherwise, if people make their wireless access available without protection, passers-by should be entitled to use it.

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Westchester County NY Law Requires Some Businesses to Secure Their WiFi Networks

Text of Westchester's Public Internet Protection Act

To avoid identity theft, businesses operating in Westchester County New York will soon need to turn on certain security settings for their WiFi networks if they are used to access financial information for their customers. The law stipulates that businesses must take "minimum security measures" that "include, but are not limited to: (a) installing a network firewall; (b) changing the system’s default SSID (network name); or (c) disabling SSID broadcasting." Other businesses operating open WiFi networks will be required to post signs to warn their customers about the perils of surfing unprotected networks. Penalties range from a warning on first offense to a $500 fine on third offense.

Sources: ars technica | San Jose Mercury News | Mid-Hudson News | WestChester County Press Release | Government Technology | Send2Press

Dale's Comment 1: This is a terrific pioneering county law. Unfortunately, one issue that jumps out when reviewing the "minimum security measures" requirements of the law, is that it does NOT explicitly require businesses that use WiFi transmission technologies to encrypt such transmissions with basic WPA, or other secure, encryption technologies typically built into all modern routers/firewalls when, for example, laptops wirelessly transfer information within, to or from an otherwise secured network. (Note: WEP encryption is not secure) While the act’s non-exclusive definition of “minimal security measures” may impute this as an obligation, the definition (and therefore the act) doesn't make it crystal clear to county businesses that there is a legal obligation to use encryption technologies when wirelessly transmitting personal information. This, in my opinion, is a significant impediment to achiving the county’s otherwise laudable goal. So, while this act should, if followed, protect personal information stored within a wired network situated behind a firewall, from external hackers, it doesn'’t explicitly protect information transmitted wirelessly throughout that network or to/from external computers accessing the network while such information is being transmitted.

Dale's Comment 2: In an e-mail exchange with a country representative, it was pointed out that the county may not have the right to legislate in the area of over-the-air transmissions in light of the federal preemption doctrine. Whether or not the FCC regulations can pre-empt local legislation mandating encryption of personal information over a 300 foot WiFi transmission is an interesting, if unclear, point. If anyone reading this has an answer or thoughts in this regard, please e-mail me.

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Illinois WiFi ‘Freeloader’ fined US$250

An Illinois man plead guilty this week to remotely accessing another computer system without the owner’s approval and was handed one year of court supervision and a US$250 fine. David Kauchak was spotted using his laptop inside of his parked car in the middle of the night by a police officer this past January. The officer discovered that Kauchak was using an unprotected wireless access point belonging to a not-for-profit agency to access the Internet and cited him.

Sources: ars technica | Network World | Yahoo! News | The Register | Networking Pipeline | Rockford Register Star | TechSearch | RealTechNews

Dale’s Comment: This is crazy! These laws are intended to keep people from maliciously using/attacking someone’s computer, not to prevent casual, harmless Internet access. I have long argued that not only should this be encouraged, but WiFi/router manufactures should specifically design their products so that users can safely allocate a user-selectable portion of their WiFi bandwidth (ideally, via an external switch or software slider tool) for third party anonymous Internet connections. This should be done in a way that protects the router-owner from unauthorized access to their internal computer systems/networks. If this were to happen, significant, universal and free roaming Internet connectivity could follow. If someone is genuinely hacking or causing mischief, throw the book at him. If he’s just surfing the net or catching up on e-mail, let him alone!

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Paramount Sues Man for Piracy – But Can’t Find any Evidence

Paramount traces an eDonkey user to a specified IP Address but searches of the user's computers reveal no evidence of piracy. Man claims anyone could have used his unsecured wireless connection to use eDonkey.

Sources: Channel 5 Cincinnati | P2PNet

Note: While this story highlights the potential perils of leaving a WiFi Router open for use by neighbours, leaving an Internet connected WiFi router open to public use may set up an affirmative defence to piracy allegations.

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Related P2P Legal Discovery Posts:

‘Stealing’ Your Neighbor’s Net

The spread of wireless is opening lots of opportunity to log on for free, but experts urge caution. Is it wrong? Illegal? Should it be? Check out the CNN and Dvorak articles below for insight into the topic.

Sources: CNN Money | John C. Dvorak

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Florida Man Charged with Felony for Accessing Third-party WiFi

Benjamin Smith III was arrested and charged with unauthorized access to a computer network, a third-degree felony in the state of Florida. It’s not clear, however, whether Smith was attempting to access a computer on the network or just browsing the web and checking e-mail.

Sources: ars technica | eWeek | St. Petersburg Times | | TechWhack News | Network World | | PC World

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