[LINK] Google's WiFi bungle

Richard Chirgwin rchirgwin at ozemail.com.au
Thu May 20 07:19:32 AEST 2010


WiFi is covered by both acts and regulations - IANAL but I'm thinking of 
the Radiocommunications Act, plus ACMA regulations specific to WiFi. 
That is, the act gives ACMA the power to regulate the use of the devices.

In my use of "authorised" and "unauthorised", I was thinking more in 
terms of computer crime - ie, unauthorised access to a computer network. 
Various state crimes acts and a commonwealth act cover this. Here, I'm 
simply saying that authorisation refers to the intent of the network 
owner; a network owner's stupidity may mitigate the act of accessing a 
network, but doesn't excuse it.

The broadcasting act isn't relevant to WiFi, but that's the point I was 
pursuing. WiFi is not "legally" a broadcast, regardless of its technical 
behaviour. To treat a WiFi transmission as if it were legally a 
broadcast - ie, anyone is allowed to receive anything and do what they 
will with it - is to get the wrong end of the stick.


Kim Holburn wrote:
> IANAL and I always use the term "broadcast" in the simple technical  
> sense, not in the legal sense so you would have to read my emails in  
> that light.
> I assume when you use the term "authorised" and "unauthorised" you are  
> using that in some legal sense.  Which act does it come from?  ACMA is  
> mostly concerned with spectrum use and transmitter power.  I'm not  
> familiar with the broadcasting act but I can't imagine it is relevant  
> to wifi.  There is an act dealing with wifi?
> On 2010/May/19, at 8:39 PM, Richard Chirgwin wrote:
>> "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
>> station."
>>> 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.
>> RC
>>> craig
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