John William Nelson (website, papers, Lex Technologiae blog) is an American attorney and was, in 2008-9, a postgraduate student and associate tutor at the UEA Law School. Since returning to the US, he has continued to write about law and technology, and most recently, his Lex Technologiae blog turns to a subject very close to my heart, that of open wifi. I last wrote in detail about this in a 2009 paper in SCRIPTed, but if anything, the issue has become more prominent since as a result of legislative and judicial developments. John’s post (read it here) is triggered by a short piece in Wired, but he goes further and argues that the problem is the lack of a clear interpretation of the US legislation (the CFAA) and the use of a wifi-related charge in place of or to add to other criminal charges; this makes it harder to test the hard cases. If you’re interested in the Australian situation, there’s a lovely paper by Carter and Makin available here.
Meanwhile, one of the big issues in the UK was the treatment of small-scale wireless networks under the Digital Economy Act (i.e. whether running an access point made you an ISP) – which, of course, isn’t about the wifi user but the wifi provider, but does have an impact on the availability and viability of open wifi. That hasn’t been resolved yet by any means, despite some intriguing (and inconclusive) comments in Ofcom’s 2010 consultation on its initial obligations code). Continuing the theme of different measures affecting the wireless world, the last fortnight has seen good coverage of a battle (read the for and against as reproduced by Ars Technica) in North Carolina on that old favourite, municipal wifi. I’m not sure ‘wifi law’ is any clearer than it was two years ago, and indeed the popularity of smartphones (aka portable wifi detecting and joining devices!) and that always-mentioned cloud thing cannot but make the questions more significant.