For a long time, one thing that has always solicited gasps from my technological friends is that I run my home wifi connection without any encryption or MAC blocking. It is free for anyone within range to use without my permission and, in most instances, I won’t even be aware it’s happened.

I do this for a number of reasons, partially because I believe in openess and community, but mostly because its something that I would like to see become a common thing. If I’m away from home then typically my net addiction will kick in and I’ll want to check email / blogs. In all honesty, if there’s an open wifi nearby, chances are I’ll use it.

This morning I read an article in The Age (http://www.theage.com.au/news/security/wifi-wronguns-on-rise/2008/06/02/1212258735795.html) that had been syndicated from The Guardian in the UK. This dealt with the legalities of someone coming along and using an open wifi connection for nefarious purposes and there were a couple of things in it that got me a bit worked up. The main offending comment was from Susan Hall, a UK specialist in IT law:

“The prosecution needs only to prove the communication came from a particular system. Once this is achieved the onus is on the individual to prove his or her innocence.”

What I simply don’t understand is how this fits in any way with the trusty old ‘innocent until proven guilty’ ideal. Proving that data travelled through your router should definitely NOT mean that the onus now falls upon me to prove my innocence. That same data probably passed through 10+ different routers before reaching its destination, why is it my router that gets targeted and me that gets hauled along to court facing 10 years for child pornography? Its not even reasonable to argue that my router was the last in the chain as for all anyone knows, someone could’ve bridged my wifi through another device and shared to 10 people over a wired ethernet. This comes down to the fact that I am simply the ‘easiest’ person to point the finger at and 90% of people won’t understand the technical reasons why the logic is rubbish. Really the *only* thing that proves my guilt in a case like this is the data being stored on my systems, and even then it is questionable if I’m running my connection through some form of local caching proxy.
I don’t want to point fingers at authorities for why we are in this position as my emotions would become far too unrestrained (Words like laziness and ignorance might get used), but the fact remains that clearly we need to form of official legislation in this area. In my opinion (And this is a whole other rant), it should not be illegal to use an open wifi connection without permission, the onus should be on the owner to secure it if they do not want others to use it. Of course enacting any laws that ensure the innocence of the home user running open wifi is going to increase the workload on authorities when cases come up, so will no doubt be met with serious opposition from these corners. It is a worrying trend however when the focus of law making becomes making life easier for authorities rather than to protect innocent citizens.

So for now I will continue to run my open wifi. I will lament the utter lack of technological expertise within out legal system and simply hope that this changes sometime soon (Though I won’t hold my breath). I’d love to hear others thoughts on how this should be handled froma legal point of view if anyone wants to leave a comment.