For years, whenever the press has written one of their fear-mongering stories about open WiFi, they almost always include some tidbit about how if someone uses your network to do something illegal, you can be arrested for it. It's one of the popular open WiFi horror stories -- but is it true? Well, of course, you can be arrested, but it's unlikely that there would be any legal grounds for the arrest. The latest debate on this issue comes from a tech writer at the Houston Chronicle who is taking Tim Lee to task for an op-ed piece Tim wrote in the New York Times about open WiFi. The Chronicle writer says Tim is missing the real security issue, about how the RIAA can go after you if someone downloads music on your open WiFi. While it is true that they can go after you, there are valid legal defenses for this -- as has been discussed for years. If you are legally sharing your WiFi, then you are a service provider, and under current laws you are not liable for what others do with the service. That's what it says in the Communications Decency Act, and it clearly applies here. In fact, we've even heard stories of people purposely leaving their WiFi open for this very reason -- as it gives them a legal defense should the industry ever come after them. Of course, it's worth noting two things. First, the entertainment industry likes to pretend this defense doesn't exist, even though it's pretty clear in the law -- and they could convince some judges to ignore it. Second, none of this takes into account whether or not your service provider allows you to share your connection via WiFi -- as most do not. However, that doesn't take away from the defense that you aren't responsible for what others do with your connection. You may be investigated for it -- but the use of your network does not automatically make you guilty, and there's a very reasonable defense against it.
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