I try to chronicle whats happening where soceity and technology collide. And indeed often it is a collision with technology being used in ways that no one anticipated. One such story is Wardriver Charged with Theft listed on the right hand column where a wardriving Toronto man is charged with communications theft.
For those who don't know or are unfamiliar with the use of wireless networks, a wardriver is someone who uses his laptop and a wireless network card and drives around looking for open wireless connections to gain Internet access. Now it's not necessary for anyone to provide an open connection. Extra ports may be closed and there are many security packages available for networks. Since any activity that is done on the network is ascribed to the owner of the network, we'd all think that responsibility for maintaining network security relies with the owner.
Early on, most wardrivers were techies - young men or women with tchnical talents and little income who used this free access to exchange email and talk in online chat rooms. So it seemed to be rather a game of cat and mouse between home owners and the young tech crowd that was harmless at most. In fact the major reason for closing such ports to the world was for the safety of the home owner against the prankish actions of a few hackers.
Today things are changing. Wardriving is being used differently today and it is not all harmless. First came the those who would use the free connection to download music files in an attempt to fly below the radar of the RIAA and their penchant to sue the world in a useless attempt to perpetuate their outmoded business model. The RIAA and the Internet as a whole would infer that any downloads made from a home with a wireless network would be the responsibility of the network owner. So these downloaders discovered a way of cloaking their activity that of course can be used by any one who doesn't want others to know of their activities.
And now the plot darkens. The Toronto man identified in the article was a child porn collector. And it turns out that the child porn users as a group have found this hole in the security of the average home network and have started using it as a way to keep the authorities off their trail.
And, of course, the authorities response is to declare the activity illegal and write another charge into the book befre throwing it at the pedophile. This is stressing on a number of points.
We like to see people take responsibility for themselves. People who leave an open connection to the Internet through their wireless network are essentially providing an attractive nuisance. Youths who log onto those networks are likeothers who might take a swim in someone else's backyard. Its wrong, they shouldn't do it - but in our society if someone drowns in your pool, whether they are there legally or not, it is the responsibility of the pool owner to keep out unwanted swimmers and dangerous activities.
We are concerned that the authorities will take the easy way out and criminalize wardriving while failing to insist that those who have the responsibility close their networks. If the taking of Internet service is criminal then those freely making that offer must share the responsibility.
We are also concerned that the public will overreact now that one of the blackest dwellers of soceity's shadows has taken up its use. Lets us remember that mere possession of child porn is criminal in this society. And I know authorities and the public itself have a tendancy to pile on to be sure that the evil is held down. However in our court system bad circumstances tend to lead to bad law which is then misused in other circumstances.
It is also easy for authorities to change focus from pursuing those who break the tenants of society to those who break the laws. Abolition of Child Porn is a basic tenant of Society. We make laws to control it. The reason that we have laws is to support those tenants. We want law enforcement to pursue those that break the tenants using the laws we have given them. But it is easier for them just to chase lawbreakers.
And when we have authoriities focusing on enforcing bad laws, we wind up with the worst of all worlds.