Wi-fi owner gets fined for not sticking a password on it

17 May 2010

stupid wi-fi metaphorAre you a German citizen? Well, I've been downloading entire back catalogues via your Wi-Fi connection and you're to blame.

Of course, I haven't because I don't live in Germany, but alas, the latter part of what I said is oddly true. Y'see, if your Wi-Fi isn't password protected, then German courts have ruled that you are partly responsible for illegal downloading.

Germany's top criminal court ruled that internet users need to secure their private wireless connections by password to prevent unauthorized people from using their Web access to illegally download stuff.

What is worse is that they can also be fined up to €100 if a third party helps themselves to your unprotected WLAN connection.

"Private users are obligated to check whether their wireless connection is adequately secured to the danger of unauthorized third parties abusing it to commit copyright violation," the court said.

However, you're not solely responsible. The court limited the decision, ruling that users could not be expected to constantly update their wireless connection's security. Basically, you're only required to protect your internet access by setting up a password when you first install it.

Spokeswoman Carola Elbrecht told the German news agency DAPD it made sense that users should install protection for their wireless connection and that at the same time it was fair of the court not to expect constant technical updates by private users.

The ruling came after a musician sued an internet user whose wireless connection was used to illegally download a song which ended up being offered on a file sharing network (how did they get the info to find out which connection was doing the specific download?).

The user proved that he was on holiday at the time the song was downloaded via his wireless connection, yet the court ruled he was responsible to a degree for failing to protect his connection from abuse by third parties.

This seems like a very strange ruling indeed. Could we be seeing a similar ruling coming into play in the UK?


TOPICS:   Technology   Gadgets


  • Fatal E.
    Interesting. If you have an unsecured connection then you deserve to be fined. Of course WEP is easily crackable, so who's fault would it be if you got hacked?
  • Alexis
    So this means joyriders could sue you if they injured themselves after nicking your car if you didn't lock it? Crock of shi*t. Won't happen in the UK.
  • blackbox2342
    Well it's crazy, as Alexis said about the joyriders, it's very true. I bet the musician who sued him is a right a**hole.
  • Adebisi
    Does this mean B&Q are responsible for the death and subsequent burial of my wife for the axe and spade I bought off them?
  • Brian's U.
    Alexis, I wouldn't be so quick to say that. The UK is full of crazy shit like this. A guy doing 143mph and not getting banned.
  • Mike H.
    Yes, because setting a password is going to stop those who can hack into your wireless bradcast whilst sat in their mums Fiesta outside your house eating a Greggs sausage roll innit? Oh it isn't? Right...
  • 3dtv
    "Won’t happen in the UK.". You absolutely sure about that? The UK is one of the craziest places for ridiculous laws like this.
  • Klingelton
    damn nazis.
  • David
    Topp v. London Country Bus (South West) [1993] CA isn't quite the rebuttal to that that you think. A bus was left unattended at a changeover point for nine hours (rather than the usual 8 minutes), it was stolen by somebody, who then crashed it into a cyclist, killing her. The claim against the bus company failed, but on the basis that the action of the third party, viz. the thief was one that broke the chain of causation. This contrasts with an equally correct approach, which was posited by Lord Mackay in the earlier case of Smith v. Littlewoods, which essentially looks at how reasonable it was for the defendant to take precautions against such an occurrence. Currently, this view is frequently favoured by the courts, and it is eminently possible that such a case would be decided the opposite way today. So, yes, it is possible in the UK, not least because in such a case the test of reasonable foreseeability would be easily satisfied.
  • G
    “Won’t happen in the UK.” I'm afraid it's already here and it's worse than in Germany. Under the Digital Economy Bill that was recently passed through parliament the internet account owner is responsible for anything downloaded whether it is secured or not. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezxe3idN5pU I hate this country.
  • The B.
    Does anyone else have to change their Wireless channel every few weeks because of an inability to connect properly, I'm starting to find it very frustrating, and frankly if your wireless isn't secure then you deserve everything you get, it should be locked down by mac address too.
  • Aaron
    "and frankly if your wireless isn’t secure then you deserve everything you get" - Dont be an ass, many people would have no clue how to setup security settings on their router. Particularly the older generation, if it doesnt say it in the router manual (and in many cases the only help it gives you is 'select the encryption method you want', which means nothing to alot of people) then people know how to do it
  • Pies
    Shouldn't have left your router on while being on holiday then, idiot.
  • raptorcigs b.
    musicians and movie makers will soon get more money from suing downloaders------ discus
  • BobF
    Its all about the difference between "unsecure" and "insecure". Unsecure means you didnt secure it at all, Insecure is you having chosen a poor security scheme. Therefore, if someone hacks your WEP key, or WPA for that matter, its not your fault. Its very simple to fix, all Wifi routers should come preconfigured with wifi disabled, meaning you have to turn it on yourself. And regarding the "thief stealing a car" analogy, whilst you probably wouldnt be liable as long as you reported it stolen, if the accident was as a result of the car not being road worthy, then theres a good chance you would.
  • Pizza_D_Action
    Is it only me that thinks this is fair cop....? If you are password protected and get hacked then its not really your fault, but if you are stupid enough not to even set a password then you deserve a fine for your stupidity.
  • parpparp
    "Unsecure means you didnt secure it at all, Insecure is you having chosen a poor security scheme." No, "insecure" means you still wet the bed.
  • Jizzlingtons
    What about the right to allow people to use your internet connection? I know people who deliberatley leave their connection unsecure in the hope that others will do the same and you can end up with wireless available to anyone anywhere. Perhaps a stupid thing to do, but surely is their right to do so. For another analogy...I have a right to lend my kitchen knives to anyone I feel like it, doesn't mean that I'd get sent down if someone was to subsequently kill someone with said knives.
  • Nobby
    @Jizz yes, you have the right to allow others to use your connection. But you are responsible for it, so anything they do, you are responsible. It is the same with couriering stuff from abroad when you fly home. It is nice of you to offer to bring packages back for other people. Who is responsible if they contain drugs?
  • Fatal E.
    If people don't know how to set WiFi up then they shouldn't have it. Simple.
  • Jizzlingtons
    @ Nobby. I would point out that drug trafficking is very much a crime in itself, whether you are doing it knowingly or not - thereby in carrying drugs across the border, you are actively commiting a crime. Whereas sharing your internet connection is a different kettle of fish...if I share the internet connection, regardless of who abuses it, I am not actively commiting a crime. It's getting into the stage where if you lend anything to anyone you are responsible for their actions - thats just plain wrong. If I lend my laptop to someone, should I get put on the sex offenders register if they download kiddie porn?
  • Alexis
    I think a lot of this is the assumption that everybody who uses a network only does it to commit copyright theft. Imagine a cafe with wi-fi who changes its network key every day. Is it reasonable to assume that everybody would use the network for illegal activity? Or is it generally accepted that 99% of people are innocently using the web? The use of a network by others is a service. Surely the digital economy bill would punish the innocent if others use the network. Car hirers are generally not liable for fines. A cafe being pursued through the courts because of the actions of their customers is akin to Hertz having to pay every parking fine incurred by their customers.
  • Nobby
    @Jizz Whereas sharing your internet connection is a different kettle of fish…if I share the internet connection, regardless of who abuses it, I am not actively commiting a crime. If it becomes law, then you are committing a crime.
  • Wonky H.
    I once asked a German girl if she knew what a badger was? Hadn't a clue.
  • Paris
    This can now happen in England ... thanks to the Digital Economy Bill written by Record Companies which was rushed through before parliment was resolved, means that all Wi-Fi hotspots have been declared “public communications services”, which means the owner of the free Wi-Fi hotspot will be held responsible for the misuse of the connection.

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