[LINK] Google's WiFi bungle

Richard Chirgwin rchirgwin at ozemail.com.au
Wed May 19 20:39:50 AEST 2010

Craig Sanders wrote:
> [KH has already commented on the terrible misuse of the term
> narrow-casting, and i have nothing useful to add to that so i'll
> comment on other issues]
> On Wed, May 19, 2010 at 05:25:02PM +1000, David Vaile wrote:
>> The law in Australia, as I mentioned, clearly treats WiFi as
>> NARROW-casting, intended for certain specific (intended) users, NOT
>> for everyone. It is thus NOT a 'broadcast' like say a commercial radio
>> station is a 'broadcast', even though they both use electromagnetic
>> waves.
> like any other broadcast, it is "intended" for anyone within reception
> range.

"Broadcast" in the meaning of various Acts doesn't mean "transmits a 
signal someone else can receive". It has specific meanings associated 
with the licensed activities of the operators and their transmitters.

While a WiFi base station "broadcasts" in the sense of "transmits data 
which can be received by an unauthorised third party", this does not 
make it "any broadcast". Moreover, if I set up a base station for my own 
use, it is definitely not "intended for anyone within reception range." 
If I leave the base station unsecured, I am foolish, but that doesn't 
change my intention that the base station is for my use.

As far as the Broadcasting Act and ACMA regulations are concerned, a 
WiFi base station is not a broadcast transmitter.

> given that there are both "open" and "closed" networks operating on
> the same wifi spectra and all interfering with each other to varying
> degrees, it's unreasonable to assume that there's any privacy at all
> when using wifi devices and it's more than unreasonable to criminalise
> anyone listening to what is being broadcast. 
In other words, "I can receive this, therefore I have the right to 
receive it, and I have no obligation to respect the privacy of the base 

> wifi is not a point to point
> link (even wifi connections set up for that purpose aren't actually
> point-to-point), it's an omnidirectional broadcast accessible by anyone
> within range.
> criminalising that would make it illegal to even scan for "open" networks
> that you are allowed to use...
Nobody said "criminalise authorised access". Unauthorised access, 
however, is already criminalised, which is the main reason Google is 
pleading accident. It has nothing to do with what actually happened; 
Google is merely trying to minimise its criminal jeopardy, because it's 
in a Jesus-load of trouble.
> because it's physically impossible to scan
> for those without ALSO detecting any "closed" networks that are in range.
Nobody said detecting the existence of a network was the same as 
sniffing packets traversing the network. One is, as you note, intrinsic 
to WiFi. The other is a criminal act. It's really not that hard to tell 
the difference between saying "There's a network called Kent Street, but 
I want George Street", and logging into George Street; compared, on the 
other hand, to saying "Look! Kent Street is unsecured. That means they 
must *want* us to sniff their packets".

[snipping for brevity]
>> The equivalent of bouncing an infrared beam off house windows to
>> eavesdrop conversations inside.
> absolutely not!
> passively receiving something that is being broadcast is VERY different
> to actively snooping.
Google *was* actively snooping. Its software sought and captured not 
just the SSIDs and MAC addresses, but payload data. Its PRs and legal 
counsel claim accident. But that speaks to the intent of the activity, 
not its nature.

> craig

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