Federal judge: open WiFi doesn't make you liable for your neighbors' misdeeds

A Federal judge in Illinois has once again rebuffed a copyright troll's request for easy court orders to allow him to connect IP addresses with people. The judge said that open wireless networks and other factors make the connection between IP addresses and defendants difficult, and that making it easy to connect people and IPs would invite extortionate legal claims.

After the recent raids against people whose open wireless networks had been used by their neighbors to download child pornography, many people advised that this was evidence that leaving your wireless network open would make you potentially liable for the misdeeds of people who happened to use it.

But as this case shows, judges can be savvier than that (and they should be, too). Good law shouldn't punish people for being neighborly.

Baker then went on to cite a recent mistaken child porn raid, where an IP address was turned into a name--but the named person hadn't committed the crime. "The list of IP addresses attached to VPR's complaint suggests, in at least some instances, a similar disconnect between IP subscriber and copyright infringer... The infringer might be the subscriber, someone in the subscriber's household, a visitor with her laptop, a neighbor, or someone parked on the street at any given moment."

After botched child porn raid, judge sees the light on IP addresses


  1. AWESOME! Let’s hear it for smart judges!

    We closed our open wireless network after discovering our neighbor’s kid was using a lot of our bandwidth to download music, but as my husband said, “We don’t need some nutcase threatening the President and having the Secret Service breaking down *our* door.”

    1. The problem with secured WiFi is, when someone cracks it and *then* uses it for threatening the President or downloading child porn, you have even less on your side.

      Limiting MAC addresses helps, but isn’t foolproof (particularly if you have devices that aren’t always online). It would be nice if wireless routers had a built-in way to force connections to an HTTPS login page on first connection, but as far as I can tell that kind of thing needs to be rolled together from scratch if you want it.

        1. I’m a network admin. It’s part of my job to worry about these things on at least some level.

          Do I sit around and worry about it? No. However, I am well aware of how easy it is to break WiFi encryption, and TFA shows that there is a non-zero chance of having someone make use of your WiFi access for things that will create a lot of problems and no easy way to prove innocence.

          Does an article like this *not* make you think, even for a moment, about how little there is you could use to defend yourself in a situation like this?

          1. Ya see, that’s the general problem with requiring people to prove their innocence – they end up living in fear of a tyrannical State and the Police.

            Where I’m from, the prosecution needs to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt….I guess that may be different now Stateside, eh? At least when it comes to the internet.

          2. “Where I’m from, the prosecution needs to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt…”

            You really think that this is all you have to worry about in, say, a child porn accusation? That’s so cute. I hope you’re never involved in one of these kinds of cases.

            Considering that it’s news-worthy for a judge to realize that an open WiFi point could introduce uncertainty into an accusation, I personally hope that I won’t ever end up in a situation where my only defense is “reasonable doubt”. I’m not gonna lock myself in a room in fear of it, but I’ll still think about it from time to time. YMMV, of course.

            travtastic: Here, I’ll say it again, all by itself, so you don’t miss it this time:

            “Do I sit around and worry about it? No.”

            Kindly stop acting as though I’m advocating that everyone rip the antennas off of any wireless network equipment they have. Thank you.

          3. You need proof to convict, but merely “evidence” to get a warrant for your arrest, and/or break down your door and raid your home. And as far as reporters/neighbors/future employees are concerned, that counts just as much.

            And @Major Variola (ret): No, I don’t think you would. A SWAT team breaking down your door is not itself illegal, even if you are not convicted. Nor are you legally entitled to any compensation for the effects of having your name dragged through the mud during a trial. What, exactly, do you think you would sue for?

          4. I concern myself with reasonable chances. All possibilities are non-zero. Someone could very easily, you know, walk up and shoot me in the head. I still go outside. I don’t wear a bullet-proof visor around, I just go out.

  2. This is a step in the right direction. What we really need is legislation that explicitly frees folks from culpability for leaving their network open. Providing a service for your neighbours should not lead to automatic guilt for their transgressions.

    1. As you say, a step in the right direction. And a big one.

      Let’s see how long this step is allowed to stand.

  3. Perhaps we may rephrase Orwell for our time’s issues?

    In a time of universal repression, Open Wifi is a revolutionary act.

    Think about that carefully. Ask “Why” there would be such a Pogrom being orchestrated against Open/Anon WiFi. And lest we forget history:


    Do study just what befell Penet, and more importantly, how, let alone why. There’s so many opposing parties -Economically and Ideologically opposed to Free/Open “anything” as to defy enumeration. So invoking Pr0n or whatever is essential to their gamings. It’s often all about Money or Repression more than anything else.

    Penet type services+Anon/Open WiFi=Freedom of Speech incarnate. Yeah, that’s a dangerous concept indeed.

  4. They criminalize because they can. For instance:
    As Nixon aide John Ehrlichman said: ”Look, we understood we couldn’t make it illegal to be young or poor or black in the United States, but we could criminalise their common pleasure. We understood that drugs were not the health problem we were making them out to be, but it was such a perfect issue for the Nixon White House that we couldn’t resist it.” (http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/opinion/jury-in-on-heroin-ban-20090923-g2m5.html)

    Because we can, we should resist every move they make, or we will lose everything.

  5. Ah, so all I need to do is elevate my case to the Federal level!

    I’d rather not have my name dragged through the mud for months in the meantime, though.

  6. While you may not be liable, and you’ll probably get found innocent when someone uses your connection for nefarious purposes, that doesn’t mean that you won’t get your door knocked down by a SWAT team. For more info on what I’m talking about, see (http://yro.slashdot.org/story/11/04/25/1415259/Bizarre-Porn-Raid-Underscores-Wi-Fi-Privacy-Risks). Leave your connection open if you want. I don’t really think it’s worth the risk. Not only don’t I want the SWAT team breaking down my door, I don’t want to have to pay for a lawyer to prove my innocence.

  7. This post is a hundred time better when you live in France, a country where you’re responsible for your own WiFi line.
    Implying that if someone hacks your WiFi and get caught downloading music over the Internet, you’re the one who gets blamed.
    Yup. Frenchies are that stupid.

  8. Ok, Mofo, swat me. I’ll sue you and retire.

    My open net is called dlink.

    I am a cryptographer, could secure myself beyond most of you; but I choose to share.


  9. If people have this much trouble with an open access point, imagine how much trouble you will have if the neighbour breaks your weak wireless encryption…

    1. Anon #11:
      No….no, I think I’ll let YOU “imagine” that instead.

      Have fun!

  10. As much as I would love to open mine up, nothing short of a very specifically-worded law to this effect would make me do it.

    1. I hope terrorists don’t hijack my cell tethering and use it to launch cyberwar. I better add some numbers and letters to my password.

  11. Easier solution, limit the fine for noncommerical file sharing to the lowest retail price it was ever offered at times 2.

    Then you have less lawyers interested in way below $3k paydays by telling people their magic system can prove you did it.

    But then these cases are about punishing perverts, so not alot of coverage of the problems with the cases and the law.

  12. Nice to hear this.

    Here in good old Germany it’s exactly the other way round:

    The Highest Federal Civil Court, the Bundesgerichtshof, did find last summer that open WiFi – does – make you liable for your neighbors’ misdeeds. Sigh.

  13. If you want to share wifi with your neighbours, give them your encryption key. That way you avoid having people doing things on your network which might result in you needing to invest in a new front door but still share with people you trust.

  14. Nice what the judge ruled, but if your network is used for illegal purposes, it still is technically a weapon of a crime and can be seized by law enforcement or subpoenaed as evidence. This potentially includes every device attached to your network.

    So, limit access by MAC address, turn on encryption and turn off broadcasting.

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