On 10 September 2013, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Wifi access point sniffing is protected by the Wiretap Act, thus making Google liable for wiretapping violations. In my personal opinion, there’s a major problem with this ruling.
While I’m not an attorney and don’t purport to be one, I have an interesting preponderance regarding this decision and it has to do with National Security.
Here’s how I arrived at my conclusion:
It’s in the interest of any government like ours to ensure that national security is ensured. The only way I can see that happening is by cross-referencing data from every available source today. Geo-Location information from Google’s technologies regarding Wifi sniffing would be not only incredibly helpful in tracking down nefarious individuals hell-bent on disrupting our security and safety.
Preventing Google from implementing these technologies (which have been incredibly useful to all of us) would not be in the interest of National Security, as they would no longer have access to this data. In fact, it would be crippling. Google’s collection and processing of information for the purpose of offering a life-enhancing service(s) is not only beneficial, but far from nefarious. It has undoubtably helped the interests of National Security in this country on many an occasion I’m sure. It would be foolish to think the NSA or other government entity wouldn’t have utilized the information readily available to it. It’s how you process that information and utilize it that makes it criminal. Google hasn’t broken any laws in my book. They’ve been very open about their data collection practices.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a very big privacy advocate, but the reality is if you want “security”, you’re not going to bridge your computer’s infrastructure to the open airwaves, much less an unlicensed portion of the Wireless Spectrum. In other words, if you wanted security, you’re not going to go out and buy a $40.00 Wireless Router that was made in China. (Hey, I’m Chinese.. I’m allowed to state the obvious.), then bridge your home network to it.
There are a couple of other flaws I see in the logic of the ruling. According to the FCC, any device must accept any and all interference from any devices (read RF transmissions, noise, etc.). The bottom line is, the devices are already receiving the data. It’s the code that is choosing to interpret the data in one way or another. It shouldn’t be illegal to process data the devices are subject to as per an FCC ruling. Google isn’t hacking Wifi passwords. They’re simply interpreting the data that is already there. That’s far from Wiretapping. If the powers that be wanted to truly enforce the Federal Wiretap Act, they should be going after the equipment vendors and setting a clear set of protocols for accessing “secret” information.
The reality is, if you’re broadcasting information or responding to “broadcast” requests that are clearly designed to communicate with equipment, then it’s not Wiretapping, but simply a utilization of the protocol.
It would be akin to going after every manufacturer / purveyor of an IP stack that implements DHCP. The interpretation would be similar.
I’m just pointing out the obvious.
If it really is such an issue, then the wireless discovery protocols need to be updated to accomodate for Access Points / networks that do not wish to be discovered. It wouldn’t be very hard to implement, but it would require a fair bit of thought. Something human beings are more than capable of..
Meh.. Just another rambling, but a pretty valid one in my opinion.