[LINK] Google's WiFi bungle

David Vaile d.vaile at unsw.edu.au
Tue May 18 18:56:15 AEST 2010

> Date: Tue, 18 May 2010 17:38:08 +1000
> From: Stephen Wilson <swilson at lockstep.com.au>
> Subject: Re: [LINK] Google's WiFi bungle
> This is a classic case of the worlds of privacy and technology being
> totally blind to one another.  Craig's world view doesn't recognise
> privacy principles, and typical privacy policy wonks don't know how IT
> works.

It's also a bit of fantasizing and loose thinking from the techno-determinists.

1. Whatever is technically possible is not necessarily expected, ethical, moral or legal. Generally what you are allowed to do is related to your motives, the circumstances, what others expect, and the consequences.

For example: you are physically able shoot anyone nearby with a loaded gun you happen possess, even if you are licenced to use it in certain circumstances. That is the grossest misuse, and pretty universally deprecated crime of murder or the like. 

2. If this happened to be undetectable at the time (for instance, an experimental silent X-ray gun you just invented which later caused harm to your victims), the fact that they were unaware and did not protest at the time does not change anything much, except the practicalities of discovery.

Eg in civilised society, everyone is expected to restrain themselves from causing harm or interfering with the rights of others, even if they can do something, even if they can get away with it.

So just because this stuff is out there, regardless of Privacy Act or other law, does not mean you can do with it as you see fit.

3. WiFi is licenced under Radiocommunications (Low Interference Potential Devices) Class Licence 2000 under sections 132 and 135 of the Radiocommunications Act 1992. The whole point is that it is deliberately of very limited range. It is not broadcasting in the broader sense. It is Narrowcasting with the Broadcasting Services Act meaning, intended to be limited, not open to all, aimed at particular people or a particular place, not everyone.

This means it is perfectly reasonable for people to think its intended use is not for everyone, but for themselves. Google's use potentially does not fit this expectation.

4. You used to need an engineering degree to operate networks and wireless links. They are now a bit easier, but for ordinary people it is not reasonable to expect them to keep up with developments in encryption, network security, range varations etc etc. The technology is constantly changing, and probably needs to be made easier to install as the user intends, namely just for local people. It is the equivalent of a complicated lock - just because someone accidentally leaves the door open, this is not an open invitation to burgle their house or listen in to private communications from the door.


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