Open wireless access: 'Outlawed' by British Government

New legislation could outlaw open wireless access on university campuses in a bid to reduce the risk of copyright infrigement,

In an obscene move, the British Government's upcoming legislation, the Digital Economy Bill, a key part of law which will reduce abuse of Internet access such as illegal peer-to-peer networking and copyright infringement, may force public wireless access points out of use.

The proposed law, according to CrunchGear, would essentially impose "impossibly high levels of copyright protection by libraries and small businesses" which would make wireless access points useless by providing open and unrestricted access to the web.

Universities and libraries would not be exempt from providing open wireless access says, meaning even educational institutions could face the same penalties for copyright infringement to those of those committing the offence.

But universities in my experience attempt to pass the buck.

A friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, received an official warning from the university they attend from their IT department, warning them that their IT account will be monitored and restricted as a result of a notice by a major movie production company in the United States - alleging that this student had used the university network to illegally download a movie over the peer-to-peer network.

The university responded by acting in this way to prevent it from facing any legal action and essentially passing the blame - almost rightfully - to the student. Though all UK university wireless networks are required to log on by your university email address and password, some argue that these wireless networks are not open and are restricted to only account holding students and staff.

The government released a factsheet which stated that universities may be forced to act as an ISP to its students, even though they share the same Internet backbone to every other educational institute in the UK, JANET. But it also included a set of recommendations which to the average student nowadays would be seen as absurd, such as:

  • No downloads allowed on library computers.
  • Allowing IT services to accurately detect time, date and place of infringement and allow the blocking of users and staff to "monitor traffic and downloads".
  • Libraries will have a filter system which can block certain sites where necessary.
  • Implementation of, and need for acceptance of a conditions of use policy which enforces users to accept before use.

Also according to this paper, "a fairly typical university currently receives between one complaint a week to one a day from copyright owners", stating that copyright infringement in universities is an endemic issue.

The bill is confusing, ever developing and hugely controversial, bringing in a lot of criticism from peer and pressure groups. While universities may not be exempt from this bill making these areas a "safe haven" for copyright infringers, unrestricted access to resources and academic freedom is absolutely paramount.

These restrictions could have a major negative knock-on effect to students and will criminalise the first offender and create an atmosphere of fear, almost.