After a German court recently introduced fines for users with unsecured Wi-Fi networks, there are fears that UK users could soon face similar penalities
With the introduction of the Digital Economy Act, UK users may soon face the prospect of a fine if they do not password-protect their Wi-Fi networks.
German Wi-Fi Fines
Last week a German court fined someone 100 euros (£85) after his Wi-Fi network was used to illegally download music. The case came to light after an unidentified musician sued the person whose wireless connection was used to illegally download a song, which was then subsequently offered on an online file-sharing network.
Despite the user proving that he was on holiday at the time when the song was downloaded via his WLAN, the German court still ruled he was responsible for failing to protect his connection from abuse by third parties, and thus he was slapped with a fine of €100 (£86).
The UK Next?
And it seems that the same approach may soon be used in this country as well, according to a legal expert at Sheffield University.
“The German case is an illustration of what could happen here, so it’s a bit of a salutary warning,” said Lilian Edwards, professor of Internet law at the University of Sheffield, in an interview with PCPro. “At the moment there’s no legal requirement to lock down your network – it’s not a crime to leave it open, but it may break the terms and conditions of your ISP, and it could take legal action.”
Meanwhile, the Digital Economy Act has a range of new powers that could spell the end of free public Wi-Fi. Users, for example, could be sent warnings and eventually disconnected from the Internet if they “allow” someone else to download content illegally. The problem arises that the word “allow” is something of a grey area.
“There’s no real definition of what ‘allow’ means and it could be that not setting a password could be taken as ‘allowing’ someone to use your network,” Edwards told PCPro.
Last year, a publican was hit with a £8,000 fine after someone used his Wi-Fi network to download content.
And Google recently announced that it would no longer collect Wi-Fi data after discovering that its Street View cars had unwittingly collected personal information from citizens’ networks.
The search engine had initially said in April that its Street View Cars did not collect data that people share between Wi-Fi networks and computers, although the cars did collect Wi-Fi network names and router addresses. But then Google learned, after conducting a data audit on behalf of the German government, that this was incorrect.
“It’s now clear that we have been mistakenly collecting samples of payload data from open (i.e. non-password-protected) Wi-Fi networks, even though we never used that data in any Google products,” wrote Alan Eustace, senior vice president of engineering and research.