Legal Considerations for Public WiFi



There are some legal issues to think about when allowing the public to access the internet from your ISP connection. These depend upon your country or state's jurisdiction so this can only be an overview of the different and potentially conflicting consideratons. It is however seldom a good idea to simply allow the public unmanaged access to your internet connection without using a Hotspot software solution such as UseMyNet or other specialists provide.


Discouraging illegal downloading of copyright material

A major Hotspot provider in the UK reported that a UK pub owner was supposedly "fined" £8,000 because a user unlawfully downloaded copyrighted material over their open Wi-Fi hotspot. However the Hotspot provider declined to back the report up with case details and Legal opinion commenting on the report suggests it appeared an unlikely legal decision given UK law. Never the less avoiding the issues surrounding "copyright theft" by public users is a good reason not to allow unmanaged general public access without data limits, demonstrating that the hotspot owner is acting responsibly and so the oneous of responsibility is placed firmly with the end user/illegal downloader and not the Hotpsot owner.


Discouraging / detecting serious criminal activity.

Authorities worldwide track illegal activities by tracing suspicious internet traffic back through the Internet Service Provider to subscribers of the internet connection used. In some jurisdictions regulations require businesses that allow public access to their internet connection to retain records to help authorities trace offenders.


Application of such regulations varies greatly by country so we are unable to give definative advice. Misinformation by some Hotspot system providers does little to help but by using a manged Hotspot solution such as UseMyNet you ensure you are not giving irresponsibly unfettered access to your connection.


In Europe the Data Retention EEC directive 2006 covers this issue and implementation varies for different EU member states. In the UK, for example, the regulations only apply after the Secretary of State has given notice to an indivdual business and even then will only oblige the business to keep records of data "generated or processed" by the business. This implies there would be no requirement to record data that isn't already being processed - so no requirement to obtain user IDs unless they are already being captured for some other purpose such as via card payments for example.


UseMyNet current versions for all models (accept the Linksys WRT54GL) can retain, and email for archiving purposes, user session login start and end times to help with legal compliance if necessary. Your Internet Service Provider will maintain records of websites visited from your location as it deems necessary under the law. UseMyNet do not believe it is appropriate, or required, for a small Hotspot provider to also try to record that information.


Data Privacy Considerations

The general pricipal of Data Privacy laws is that personal and private information concerning indivdual persons and their activities should not be systematically and unecessarily recorded and stored and where it is necessary, it should be kept secure and is often required to be retained within the specific legal jurisdiction.


These principals mean overzealous recording of Hotspot user data is inappropriate and a potential risk, just as allowing completely unfettered internet access is a potential risk at the other extreme. A sensible balance is required.




Legal Blog - Francis Davey - pub fined - evaluation of laws comming into force



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