A UK-based cyberlaw blog by Lilian Edwards. Specialising in online privacy and security law, cybercrime, online intermediary law (including eBay and Google law), e-commerce, digital property, filesharing and whatever captures my eye:-) Based at The Law School of Strathclyde University . From January 2011, I will be Professor of E-Governance at Strathclyde University, and my email address will be firstname.lastname@example.org .
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
The Death of Public Wi fi: Grauniad
I decided to write up a user friendly version of the wi fi story for the Grauniad, as you can see here. Many thanks to Francis Davey, inter alia counsel for Theyworkforyou.com, who pointed out the difficulties of the word "agreement" in terms of defining a subscriber and an ISP in the Digital Economy Bill.
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Does the government want to kill off public Wi-Fi, you ask. The answer is that it probably does, because it represents a form of communication over which it has no control -- a concern common to all UK governments.
Citizens' Band radio never got established here in the 1970s partly for this reason. The House of Lords' science and technology committee (or whatever it was then called) thought CB could be a useful adjunct, especially where the emergency services and remote rural areas were concerned, but government ministers dismissed it with claims that it might be used for nefarious purposes. (The same sort of charge which might be made against possession of a pencil and a sheet of paper, of course.)
Labour was in power then as now, and the same concern is evident -- that people are doing things of which the authorities have no oversight. What is the RIP Act, for example, but an attempt to control the use of mobile phones and the internet, by forcing service providers to keep records of their usage and thus sow doubt in the minds of their users about the legitimacy of their activities?
That might sound a bit paranoid. But Labour, and New Labour in particular, has always been pretty contemptuous of civil liberty issues, and its urge to control what people do, "for their own good", routinely trumps any other concerns.
If public Wi-Fi is killed off, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see that followed, a few years later, with a demand for the registration of private (i.e. domestic) Wi-Fi networks on the spurious grounds that the radio frequencies might interfere with other, public services. And if that happens, we could be on the road to a situation akin to that which prevails in Iran and Turkmenistan, or (if we're really lucky) China: government firewalls, blocked sites, centralised registration of computer and telephone equipment, self-censorship by users. All for our own good, of course.
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