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Business

Wireless users may be shut off if sharing copyrighted files

Internet services have created explosive growth in distribution of copyright materials. Some people are distributing it and don't even know it, some argue. The reaction, regardless whether a consumer knows it or not, is to push for extensive reform.
Written by Doug Hanchard, Contributor on

Internet services have created explosive growth in distribution of copyright materials. Some people are distributing it and don't even know it, some argue. Reaction, regardless whether a consumer knows it or not, is to push for extensive reform and new enforcement capabilities to prevent further erosion and  protect their content. The U.K. government responded (Oct. 28) with proposed enforcement options for OFCom to use at its discretion. Among them is the ability to shut off a user's wireless WiFi service if user is found to be transmitting internet traffic such as file transfer of copyright material. Singling out wireless access to the internet is just the start.

Just exactly how the government plans to detect, prove and enforce such action is raising more than a few eyebrows. According to one service provider in the U.K. Talk Talk, the implications are staggering , suggesting that up to 7.2 million wireless users could be disconnected if found to be an access point via WiFi that is acting as a middle gateway to file transfers of copyright content. They have created a website to sound the alarm. Our own Zack Whittaker talks about how U.K. universities are reacting.

The Department of Business Innovation & Skills (BIS) has published its plans on stopping illegal downloads and file transfers of copyright protected material. There will be significant challenges in its implementation given the current proposal.  What it really boils down is money and who's going to pay for policing the service provider's network and its customers. Worldwide this is an area where every ISP is trying to pass the responsibility onto every other group but themselves.

Internet service providers suggest that it's not their fault nor is it fair that users should be shut off because their wireless access device is not secured is an interesting, if curious defense against regulatory oversight and enforcement.  The service provider should be ensuring that all its customers are protected when connected to their network and thus; why are so many WiFi access points vulnerable in the first place? Intelligence agencies in the U.K. have come out against this legislation enabling it easier to monitor security threats.

One reason is that consumers usually buy their own WiFi products and the devices are left in default mode from the manufacturers.  But that shouldn't be the crux of the argument or debate about illegal downloading and file transfers. Talk Talk of the U.K. counters that it is, since it's not their responsibility to track a customer's behavior when using the Internet. To a fair degree that is a reasonable point. It's no more a car dealer's responsibility that consumers leave their automobile's doors unlocked and still have to protect the contents inside.  The problem is that the contents in this case are illegal and thus should have never been in possession of the Internet user in the first place. The open wireless security problem is simply the red herring.  The bigger issue that this will boil down to will be enforcement and inspection of where an ISP's users are going on the Internet. Both sides are simply in the opening gambit of where the true regulations will wind up and who will be paying for the infrastructure.

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