Open wireless networks have served as a successful defense strategy for several alleged filesharers, as it is often impossible for content owners to prove that the person they accuse, has actually distributed the files they claim they did. Unfortunately, for the customers of the UK ISP Karoo, running open WiFi might also get them disconnected – even if it’s unintentional.
Open wireless networks can be found on every street corner. Some people leave their network open, simply because they are clueless about how to secure it. Others don’t mind that others use their network to access the Internet, or use a router that enables them to share Internet access safely with others.
In copyright infringement cases, having an unsecured wireless router creates plausible deniability. In recent months, we have seen several cases where accused filesharers have successfully argued that someone else may have used their WiFi to share copyrighted material. Because anyone could have accessed the network, it is impossible to prove that the defendant was the one who shared files illegally.
Not all ISPs are happy with customers who have open WiFi, however, and some even threaten to disconnect those who do. In the September 2008 terms and conditions of UK ISP Karoo, we read (pdf):
“We shall be entitled to terminate the Service immediately if We discover that you have permitted (whether knowingly or not) a third party (or third parties) to access the Service using a wireless connection over Your Communications Line.”
Should an ISP be entitled to demand this? Karoo leaves its customers no choice, and simply forbids them to leave their network unsecured, or use a FON router, despite the fact that this will be practically impossible for them to enforce. Not only that, people who have no idea about router security are now wide open to summary disconnection by this ISP. UK lawyers Davenport Lyons are actively encouraging that service providers of various types enforce their own terms and conditions against copyright infringers, so if you’re with Karoo and get a complaint, you can forget about 3 strikes. Even if you did nothing illegal, it’s one strike and you’re out.
Some would argue that having an open wireless network is the right thing to do. Earlier this year, security expert Bruce Schneier wrote an extensive essay on why it’s a good thing. Some of his key arguments were that it is basic kindness, and that the risk of running into abusers is extremely low. Also, when someone abuses the open WiFi to do something illegal, it is easy to defend yourself.
Schneier’s post led to a flood of responses, and most of them agreed with the security expert. Of course, there are pro’s and con’s to having an unsecured network, and whether it really is a wise choice can be debated. But, disconnecting your users simply because they, knowingly or not, have an open wireless network is a bit too strict for our taste. Nevertheless, Karoo thinks otherwise.
Karoo didn’t respond to our requests for comment.