Germany To Fine Users For Unsecured WLANs

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

In a effort to clamp down on illegal filesharing, Internet users in Germany are facing financial penalties if they do not password-protect their wireless networks

The dangers of not securing your wireless LAN (WLAN) was highlighted today after the top criminal court in Germany opted to fine Internet users who do not secure their wireless networks, in the ongoing fight against illegal file-sharing.

German Common Sense

In the UK, the previous Labour administration opted to identify illegal file-sharers via their IP addresses and then prosecute them under the terms of the Digital Economy Act, which was rushed through Parliament in early April. Despite widespread opposition, the Act allows copyright owners to cut off file-sharers from the Internet.

However, in Germany they seem to have opted to target those Internet users who allow people to piggy back on their unsecured wireless LANs, in order to illegally download data.

According to the Associated Press, the ruling in the Karlsruhe-based court means that German users who fail to secure their wireless LANs could face a relatively modest fine of up to 100 euros (£85), if a third party takes advantage of their unprotected WLAN connection to illegally download music or other files.

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

This is unlike in the UK, where in a famous case a publican was fined £8,000 when someone used his network to download data. The German court instead opted for a common sense approach, after it stopped short of holding the user responsible for the illegal content that the third party downloads.

However, there is no word on what exactly constitutes securing your wireless LAN, especially as most WEP keys are relatively easy to break using freely available tools from the Internet.

The German court has also sensibly realised that most people do not constantly update their security settings on their network, and so it ruled that users could not be expected to constantly update their wireless connection’s security.

The German ruling is that users need only set up a password when they first install their wireless LAN.

Away On Holiday

A spokeswoman for the Germany national consumer protection agency said that the court’s ruling was balanced.

Carola Elbrecht told the German news agency DAPD it made sense that users should install protection for their wireless connection, and that at the same time it was fair of the court not to expect constant technical updates by private users.

The history behind this court case is that an unidentified musician sued an Internet user whose wireless connection was used to illegally download a song, which was subsequently offered on an online file-sharing network.

Unfortunately for the musician, the user was able to prove that he was on holiday when the song was downloaded via his WLAN. However the German court still ruled he was responsible to a degree for failing to protect his connection from abuse by third parties, and thus he was slapped with a fine of €100, instead of thousands.

According to Bitkom, the German Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media, approximately 26 million homes in Germany have wireless Internet access.

Read also :