Filtering Boston's free municipal Wi-Fi net: legal? Web's lawyer not so sure

One of my favorite people -- Danny Weitzner, general counsel to the World Wide Web Consortium -- is chiming in on the news that the City of Boston's free municipal Wi-Fi is selectively filtering access to certain Web destinations like Boing Boing (the technical culprit was later identified). But in a single blog post, Weitzner nails the legality of such filtering as well as how its defeating the purpose of that sort of Internet access in the first place.

One of my favorite people -- Danny Weitzner, general counsel to the World Wide Web Consortium -- is chiming in on the news that the City of Boston's free municipal Wi-Fi is selectively filtering access to certain Web destinations like Boing Boing (the technical culprit was later identified). But in a single blog post, Weitzner nails the legality of such filtering as well as how its defeating the purpose of that sort of Internet access in the first place. Given the Web's role in public discourse, such commentary is befitting of its offical lawyer:

Various people (including David Sheets, a student of mine at MIT, and Seth Finkelstein) have pointed out over the last few days that the ‘free’ municipal WiFi service offered by the City of Boston comes with mandatory content filtering that blocks all kinds of sites which are not even close to illegal nor are they sources of pornography that might be considered harmful to children.....If the City is allowed to do this, then they can block just about anything: Web sites operated by the opposing political party, critiques of the Big Dig, not to mention http://yankees.mlb.com/. One has to ask whether this is really a path that any city would want to open up for itself?....As a constitutional matter, it’s not quite clear whether the government can require government-funded Internet service providers to filter content. In United States v. American Library Association, 539 U.S. 194 (2003), the US Supreme Court decided that the Congress could require libraries receiving federal Internet access subsidies (the e-rate) to filter out porn. However, it’s not clear whether this case applies to the muni Wifi situation.....For what purpose is muni wifi offered? [Isn't] it precisely to create an expanded public forum to increase the flow of information and new web services around the city?

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