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March 22, 2006

Tim Lee, WiFi security, DMCA, etc.

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Tim Lee from the new Show-Me Institute, and a blogger at the TechLiberation Front, has just authored a new paper for Cato trashing the DMCA, but perhaps more interesting is the frankly irresponsible op/ed he published in the New York Times suggesting that everyone should open up their WiFi access points and allow public access, since the security risks are grossly overstated, according to Tim.

Tim is dead wrong about this, and when someone so irresponsibly advocates something, it makes you question to what degree you should trust his judgment on other things, like the DMCA.

Let me tell you a little story.

Sometime last year here in the IPI offices I fired up my wireless laptop to access our wireless network here at IPI. I noticed that a shiny new wireless network had just come online somewhere in our office building.

If it were set up securely and properly to not broadcast its SSID, I would never have been able to see it.

Anyway, I was intrigued. All it took was a double-click and I was in their network. And I do mean IN their network.

I could browse every computer. I was intrigued.

All it took was a series of double-clicks and I was looking at their hard drives. I could see every directory, every file, on every computer. I went into the My Documents folder on one of the machines and opened up a Word document where the person had written a very personal letter to a family member. I was reading it.

I could see a printer attached to the network, so I wrote them a little note explaining that their shiny new wireless network was open to the world, and I printed it out on THEIR printer.

Can you imagine how unnerved they must have been when they saw that some phantom from some unknown location in the building was able to print something out on their printer?

Anyway, within 5 minutes the network had gone off-line. A couple of hours later as I exited the building to go to lunch, I saw a Geeks on Wheels car parked in the parking lot, and I had a pretty good idea why they were in the building.

Now, I was wrong to browse someone else's network, but if a fairly ethical and responsible guy like me could succumb to the curiosity and do it, what would someone else do?

Tim Lee, you are dead wrong. There are enormous security risks to leaving a wireless network insecure, you have given terrible advice to untold thousands of people, and from now on you will be the guy who in the New York Times  told everyone it was okay to leave their networks insecure.

Bad move.

Tim is attempting to explain and clarify the security issues in a continuing series of blogs at TechLiberationFront, but you are responsible to get things right when you write an op/ed for the New York Times. You don't get to mislead in an op/ed where hundreds of thousands of people read you, and then clarify what you really meant in a blog where, um, perhaps a few hundred people may read your explanation and clarification.
But beyond that, Tim is openly advocating theft. In this blog post, Tim acknowledges that if you free-ride on someone else's wifi connection, "you're stealing from the ISP." Yet, he advocates it and defends it.

So is it any surprise that a guy who advocates theft from ISPs also thinks the DMCA is unnecessary and harmful?

A review of Tim's blog postings at TechLiberationFront reveal him to be very much within that strain of libertarianism that is skeptical of intellectual property. So, again, no surprise that he doesn't like the DMCA, a law that is notable for the degree to which it has successfully withstood legal challenges. So the DMCA is "good law," at least with regard to its technical integrity. And it's also good law if you agree with its intentions and its results, which I do.

Looks like I disagree with Tim on many things, with the exception of this one blog entry, which I thought was very intelligent.

Anyway, I hope Tim enjoys his new credibility with all his respectable friends in the anti-IP community.

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