Austin Police Planned... Then Postponed Wardriving Plans In An Attempt To Shutdown Open WiFi

from the um,-but-it's-legal dept

Jonathan Rumion alerted us to a plan by the Austin, Texas police department to conduct a massive war drive around the city, looking for open WiFi networks, with the plan to try to find the owners, and tell them to lock up their WiFi networks. We've heard of similar campaigns in the past. Rumion was reasonably concerned about this effort -- and whether it was because of him asking questions, or other reasons, it looks like the Austin police have postponed this effort for the time being.

Either way, it raises lots of questions. Having an open WiFi network is not against the law, so should the police really be going around telling people to lock up their WiFi? It's also not at all clear how they're figuring out who actually owns the open WiFi networks. Rumion was also concerned about what the police might do with the data they collect, though I don't think that should be an issue -- that data is public. Still, it does seem like a questionable effort against something that remains perfectly legal.

Filed Under: austin, open wifi, wifi, wireless

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  1. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 27 Sep 2011 @ 11:13am


    The analogy seems pretty weak.

    In the first place, it's plainly obvious whether or not your garage door is open. A cop can notice it in the routine course of his duties and out of the goodness of his heart warn you. Not so with wifi -- you have to have equipment and be driving around looking for them. Given that educating people about network security is not anywhere close to being in a cop's job description, it seems like ahuge misallocation of resources that could be better applies elsewhere.

    I assume that the cops don't have a dedicated team of people looking for open garage doors, and if they did, I would have an objection to that for the same reason.

    Second, with the garage doors they are proactively preventing property crime. What crime are they proactively protecting you from with the wifi? I can't think of any, except maybe identify theft -- and WPA is weak protection against a criminal who wants to gather your CC numbers and such anyway.

    Also, it's unnecessary. As a commenter earlier pointed out, wifi routers come presecured nowadays.

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