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Is criminalising someone for NOT password-protecting their WiFi so wrong?

By on May 14, 2010
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Of course it bloody is.

Berlin’s top criminal court yesterday passed this chilling wifi password judgement:

“Private users are obligated to check whether their wireless connection is adequately secured to the danger of unauthorized third parties abusing it to commit copyright violation”

Words fail me at how wrong this is. It means that a cafe or a consumer which leaves their WiFi connection open for their friends, their customers, even for the good of society is guilty if anyone infringes any intellectual property over that connection. The fine may only be €100, but that is entirely beside the point.

It means that a WiFi connection does not benefit from the “common carrier” protection that ISPs and and telecoms companies use to prevent being prosecuted for aiding and abetting any crime that was organised by phone or email.

It puts an onus on the owner of the WiFi connection to police what happens over it.

That’s like holding a telco responsible for a terrorist attack because it was arranged by phone. Or a pub landlord responsible for a fight because it started on his premises. Or a car manufacturer responsible for a bank robbery because their car was used as a getaway vehicle.

Help me out here: I want to get the clearest, most apt analogy for how stupid this rule to use again and again with politicians and regulators in the UK to stop this kind of woolly thinking affecting judgments based on the Digital Economy Act.

So please post your suggestions below.

Thanks for helping.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve:
  • MEE

    You're absolutely wrong–government has zero right to tell people how to structure their Internet access. Who cares if this makes it easier to violate copyright? One concern is meaningless next to the other.

  • I'm playing devil's advocate to some degree here (as usual), but I'd point out that the quote specifically says 'private users', which would rule out cafes etc.

    Once you do rule out businesses, the law surely becomes more palatable (note I'm not suggesting it IS palatable)? Presumably the defence is analogous to the argument for keeping euthanasia illegal: while the act of euthanasia itself isn't any great crime, the loop holes it can open up in the legal system and its ability to prosecute for murder make it a law worth holding onto.

    If this law isn't in place it becomes a lot easier for people to get away with file sharing.

    I'm not 100% up to speed with my legal mumbo jumbo, but wasn't some kind of internet act passed in the UK recently along similar lines? Mrs Smith's teenage daughter's downloading the latest Take That album and the entire family can be prosecuted and their internet cut off?

  • Reminds me of a quote in Iron Man 2: “This isn't Canada, you can't expect to leave your frontdoor unlocked!” Or something like that.:)

    I see both a violation of user rights and a much required incentive to educate people on using technology – and I say this as someone who uses open WiFi connections when in Germany to save roaming charges on my phone!