Anonymity and the Internet
Anonymice on Anonymity Wendy.Seltzer.org (“Musings of a techie lawyer”) deflates the New York Times‘ breathless Saturday (March 19) piece about the menace posed by anonymous access to Wi-Fi networks (“Growth of Wireless Internet Opens New Path for Thieves” by Seth Schiesel). Wi-Fi pirates around the nation are using unsecured hotspots to issue anonymous death threats, download child pornography, and commit credit card fraud, Schiesel writes. Then he plays the terrorist card.
But unsecured wireless networks are nonetheless being looked at by the authorities as a potential tool for furtive activities of many sorts, including terrorism. Two federal law enforcement officials said on condition of anonymity that while they were not aware of specific cases, they believed that sophisticated terrorists might also be starting to exploit unsecured Wi-Fi connections.
Never mind the pod of qualifiers swimming through in those two sentences—”being looked at”; “potential tool”; “not aware of specific cases”; “might”—look at the sourcing. “Two federal law enforcement officials said on condition of anonymity. …” Seltzer points out the deep-dish irony of the Times citing anonymous sources about the imagined threats posed by anonymous Wi-Fi networks. Anonymous sources of unsubstantiated information, good. Anonymous Wi-Fi networks, bad.
This is the post from wendy.seltzer.org:
The New York Times runs an article in which law enforcement officials lament, somewhat breathlessly, that open wifi connections can be used, anonymously, by wrongdoers. The piece omits any mention of the benefits of these open wireless connections—no-hassle connectivity anywhere the “default” community network is operating, and anonymous browsing and publication for those doing good, too.
Without a hint of irony, however:
Two federal law enforcement officials said on condition of anonymity that while they were not aware of specific cases, they believed that sophisticated terrorists might also be starting to exploit unsecured Wi-Fi connections.
Yes, even law enforcement needs anonymity sometimes.
Open WiFi networks are a good thing. Yes, they allow bad guys to do bad things. But so do automobiles, telephones, and just about everything else you can think of. I like it when I find an open wireless network that I can use. I like it when my friends keep their home wireless network open so I can use it.
Scare stories like the New York Times one don’t help any.
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