Illegal, unlikely to work and just plain dumb: Readers respond to Micah Joel's "Safe and Insecure." Plus a response from the author.

By Salon Staff

Published May 20, 2004 7:30PM (EDT)

[Read the story.]

One can only marvel at the level of stupidity displayed in this article. Mr. Joel is skirting close to advocating perjury if he were ever sued for acts committed on his network. Admitting that he intentionally left a network open when he knew fully well how to secure it would hardly be accepted in court as a defense, so to successfully defend himself he would have to falsely claim ignorance of the proper methods of securing a wireless network. If Mr. Joel's service is hijacked and used to transmit and receive child porn, how will he possibly be able to defend himself if he admits to intentionally making his network available to criminals (not to mention the question of how he will face himself in the mirror the next day)? If Mr. Joel intentionally left a loaded gun lying on his doorstep for anyone to use and someone were murdered with it, any court would lock him up as an accessory.

Further, intentionally opening his wireless network and thereby sharing his Internet service with any and all blatantly violates the Terms Of Service contract with Comcast as well as the vast majority of other ISPs.

It is quite surprising to me that Salon would publish such a load of manure, especially when it could easily lead unsuspecting readers to follow Joel's footsteps directly into a TOS violation and possible interruption of Internet service as a result, or at worst could possibly land them in court with nothing more than a vaporous and thoroughly inexcusable argument for a defense. Shame on the author and shame on Salon.

-- Chris Dahler

Micah Joel has my applause! With one simple gesture, he has rejected paranoia, embraced security through obscurity, and pointed a clear finger at which risk he sees as greater: the Inquisition of copyright hawks, not the casual annoyance of potentially having his spare bandwidth co-opted.

This is an act of confidence, and it's a confidence I share. Confidence that I know what my computer is doing, and can catch anything too suspicious; confidence that the software I use is sufficiently stable to minimize the possibility of damage or disruption.

Today, I do not run virus monitoring software (though I scan individual files from questionable sources), and I do not use a firewall; and in a decade of active Internet use, all just as "insecure," I have never had a virus. I simply avoid obvious security holes (e.g. Outlook), pay attention to file types, never run a program I haven't identified (or a program I have identified but don't want, e.g. Gator), and religiously keep my operating system patched.

Could some uber-worm take me out? Probably. But according to recent security releases, I might not have been safe running BlackIce and Norton two weeks ago, either. Stop worrying. Love the bomb.

-- Lief Clennon

When Mr. Joel explains his reasons for providing an open wireless access point he focuses entirely on the issue of copyright abuse and how he feels this configuration will "protect" him from the MPAA, RIAA, etc.

However, I would suggest that the FBI won't take that excuse too seriously if someone is downloading child pornography using your IP address and open access point.

-- Jeremy Siegel

Micah Joel wants his own Internet traffic to be mixed up with the traffic of folks who surreptitiously use his unsecured wireless bandwidth. This he calls privacy. The only example he gives of this "privacy" is a defense against accusations of intellectual property theft. He'll masquerade as a victim among millions who don't know better. He'll claim anything less than absolute security is zero security. He calls this "good faith," but his article sounds more like a bug-chaser's delusional rationale for unsafe sex. Note to prosecutors: Micah Joel knows better.

-- Pete Gontier

I've often wondered what would happen if we took the same approach to immigration, drugs and all the other things we fight so hard to keep out of our lives, and let real freedom reign. I'm sure someone can tell me. But I just think our worlds would be somewhat better if we let some things go.

Micah ... good start with the home network. I love it.

Power on.

-- Rebecca Emond

In his short essay, Micah Joel says that he has elected to leave his home Wi-Fi network unsecured for the sake of "privacy" (although it seems that he meant to say, but misspelled the word, "piracy"). In the event he receives a notification from Comcast that his IP address has been used to download illegal copies of music, movies, etc., he states:

"I've already composed my reply in case I receive one of these letters someday. "Dear Comcast, I am so sorry. I had no idea that copyrighted works were being downloaded via my IP address; I have a wireless router at home and it's possible that someone may have been using my connection at the time. ... ."

I am not a systems engineer like Mr. Joel; nonetheless, when the person from whom I'm renting a room with kitchen privileges obtained and installed Comcast cable broadband service we investigated the possibility of attaching a (wireless) router so that I could use it, too. However, Comcast made clear that the connection was to be used by only one computer. Setting up a network to allow two or more computers to use the same broadband connection requires a different type of Comcast "account" and also requires renting and using a router that they provide. I am not a lawyer, but I would recommend that Mr. Joel read his service agreement with Comcast very, very carefully. If he connects a wireless router to the "cable modem," or otherwise enables two or more computers to use the connection, then he might be subject to civil and perhaps criminal penalties, i.e., unless he has the corresponding account with Comcast that permits him to do that.

-- Ocie Hudson

"I'm simply choosing not to secure it." Mr. Joel has the tech cred, but he lacks any legal cred. The legal ramifications of the above sentence are a hefty set of fines for other persons' bad acts. Unfortunately, choosing not to prevent a tortious act has the same consequence as causing the tortious act itself. The author has notice that his bandwidth is being used to violate copyrights, knows how to remedy the problem, and has chosen not to. Anyone who thinks that course of conduct will prevent liability from attaching for copyright infringement will find him or herself on the wrong end of a large fine.

What are my creds? I'm a New York litigation attorney specializing in, of all things, personal injury. I wouldn't be surprised if tort theories, especially premises liability theories, worm their way into RIAA/MPAA litigation, especially given the rise of wireless.

-- Matthew Baron

I'm both surprised and amazed that my little Op-Ed piece has kicked up so much controversy. Many of the responses I've received take issue with the various technical and legal flaws in this argument, but miss the point. I suppose, caught up in the spirit of writing a specious proposal, I didn't make my thesis clear enough; the discussion I'd hoped to provoke was this:

How do you distinguish between intent and ignorance?

We all get indignant when we hear about someone's grandmother being rounded up in the latest wave of music industry lawsuits, but where is the line between her responsibility to secure her network and that of anyone else? Should a network administrator be considered "more guilty" even if his home network was compromised too? What is considered a "good faith" effort to protect your computer or network, and how can it be different for different people? Should there be standards for "responsible computing," and how would they possibly be enforced?

Furthermore, what alternative strategies are there for defending against the guilty-until-a-settlement-is-reached music industry lawsuits? Until more of these cases reach the courts, we won't know what's a viable defense and what's not, but in the meantime, it doesn't hurt to brainstorm. I suggested "Security through Obscurity," but there must be other ideas as well. What are they?

Now obviously, having stated my intent, I can't cry ignorance later on; revealing my strategy nullifies it. But for the millions of people who haven't spoken up, it may be worth considering. At the very least, you'll be doing what Open Wireless proponents have been doing for years.

-- Micah Joel

Salon Staff

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