German Wi-Fi laws similar to CALEA in U.S.

I just read Glenn Fleishman’s article on a recent ruling by the German court, Bundesgerichsthof (the highest civil & criminal court).  Aparently, back in 2006, a user downloaded a song, illegally, from a 3rd party operated Wi-Fi Hotspot and the case has been in the courts ever since.  Of course, this is illegal copyright infringement.  That begs the question, who exactly is responsible: the 3rd party doing the illegal downloading or the owner of the unsecured Wi-Fi network on which the downloading has taken place?  Interesting, huh?  Many would be quick to say “well, obviously the person doing the illegal Wi-Fi downloading is the only one who is liable – they are the ones committing the crime”. While that is partially true – it’s not entirely true (in Germany or the U.S., for that matter – the latter of which I will get to below).  In the recent ruling by the Bundesgerichsthof German Wi-Fi network owners are required to protect their Wi-Fi networks or face a small fine.  Now the encryption doesn’t have to be fancy, because as Fleishman said in his article: “even WEP, though it’s easily broken, would qualify because then the third party would have to break into the network (a fairly severe crime in Germany since 2007), making the access point’s owner not liable.”

We haven’t addressed CALEA in awhile – so here it goes: How does this bring about the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA)?  Well, for starters, many Wi-Fi Hotspot operators are not aware of their government responsibility when operating a Wi-Fi hotspot.  Simply, and for the technologically faint-of-heart, the CALEA act requires that goverment agencies have access to tapping your phone (*yikes*, right?). Well, enter the digital age. In 2004, those agencies began to realize that traditional phone tapping methods were more difficult, expensive and sometimes not even possible with digital communications. In 2005, the government began to include “communications that pass over the internet” as subject to tapping  (Don’t worry, this IS going somewhere).  So if someone is utilizing your Wi-Fi network for illegal activity OR the FBI needs to obtain information on that individual – guess who has the responsibility of getting that information for the FBI?  The Wi-Fi Network operator.  That’s right.

Many Wi-Fi network operators are not aware of this fact, they do not even know what CALEA Compliance is, or that it applies to a Wi-Fi Network.  Many would state “if someone is doing something illegal on my network – that is their faulty” – which is true, but it is also the responsibility of the network operator to be able to provide information about that 3rd party.  Interesting, isn’t it.  At Spot On Networks, we are fully CALEA compliant – that is to say, we operate your network and are in fully compliance with the government’s standards for being able to provide them with any information that they may need, if that instance were to arise.  Our networks are fully secure and we would stress that it is of utmost importance that a Wi-Fi network operator (especially one that is currently deploying their own unsecured network in a building, hotel, cafe, etc) be aware what CALEA is and what their Wi-Fi network responsibilities are.


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