hitting a hot button...
every once in awhile I write an article that hits the hot button. Last year I wrote one about the Patriot Act and Confidentiality, how to balance your wanting to help with a terrorism investigation but needing to protect yourself against privacy lawsuits. That one won an important Gold Award from the business editors trade association.
I ranted about the trials and tribulations of traveling overseas and spotty access, as well as having to carry four devices to do what one should be able to do. I still get mail about that one.
But this one, on unauthorized access of unsecured wifi networks and the law, has topped all the others.
The origin of this article is far more intersting than the article itself. I really was sitting with one of my teenangels (teenangels.org) at a coffee shop in Washington, DC. Interestingly enough, I was waiting for someone from the MPAA to discuss our upcoming anti-movie-piracy educational camapaign at wiredsafety.org.
(There is something ironic about meeting on an anti-piracy campaign we are designing while technically pirating someone's wifi access :-))
The conversation took place as I have recounted it in the article. But I was intent on explaining that while it is probably wrong, it is probably not illegal. I know that this shouldn't make a difference for someone who devotes her entire life to helping kids become better cybercitizens and more ethical users of technology. But I really do have problems being unconnected, and receive 1000 e-mails every day I have to respond to, so offline time makes it impossible to handle. And, as most of you may understand...I just want to be connected, as long and as often as possible.
So, I do what the kids do when they download music illegally, I access open wifi networks because I want to get online, it's free and because I can.
I wrote the article, explained our conversation and that it wasn't ethical. And then didn't get a chance to submit it to my editor for a couple months. As I finally got it done and sent it off to my editor at information week magazine, I received a heads up from my son that Drudge has just reported the prosecution of someone from Florida for war-driving. (All prior cases involved some other type of criminal activity.)
oh!oh! I hate when that happens. I reviewed my legal analysis, and decided that I was probably still right, but hedged my bets by citing the case. The article ran two weeks later and the world exploded.
I have been getting e-mails and phone calls from NPR and other national news outlets about this article and my thoughts about open access of wireless networks.
My webmaster e-mailed me telling me that she had thought securing home networks was wimpy, and hadn't thought about the risks of someone using her IP address to do something illegal.
So, while I haven't had much time to do some original writing on my own main blog recently, I'll start adding information about the law on this and personal experience. It is obviously important to my readers.
Just remember...I hate this as muich as you do. I want to be online every moment from everywhere too. I think we are all entitled to the inalienable right to surf 24/7. But a judge somewhere may not agree.
So, unless you can find a judge just as obssessed with the Internet as we are...be careful and buys stock in national wi-fi access companies. I expect their stock to rapidly increase in value.
The Privacy Lawyer