July 02, 2010

Law Enforcement "Controls Access" to New Minneapolis Public Wi-Fi Network

Greetings. With much fanfare in mid-June, Minneapolis announced the activation of a free public Wi-Fi network, with 117 outdoor hotspots, "for use by residents and visitors alike."

Just one problem. At the apparently explicit "request" of law enforcement, you can't access the current system without first creating an account using a credit card!

We're told that, "[The] log-in process was requested by law enforcement officials because being able to log on to the Web anonymously presents security concerns."

One long-time expert on municipal wireless noted to me that the CEO of U.S. Internet (the firm operating Minneapolis' Wi-Fi system) claimed that federal law requires such a procedure. Say what? I've heard of no such law. Various public Wi-Fi systems require no log-in at all, and use of credit cards is normally restricted to systems that actually charge for access.

However, in Minneapolis, it appears to be "no credit card, no Wi-Fi" -- but if someone establishes an account in your name using a stolen credit card and then proceeds to do something nasty -- your hassle (or worse).

What's apparently going on in Minneapolis is a combination of the desire to enable the tracking of as much Internet activity as possible, and the time-honored tactic of CYA.

As I've noted in Why the New Federal "Trusted Internet Identity" Proposal is Such a Very Bad Idea and related essays, open access to the Internet is now under fire from a variety of government entities who want to be able to find out as much as possible about everything you do on the Internet, all of the time.

Efforts to predicate public Internet access on verifiable and easily trackable identification as a matter of course, should be strenuously resisted by all Internet users who care about their ability to routinely communicate as they choose without the threat of real-time or retrospective surveillance of their activities -- in an ever expanding circle of dubiously justified circumstances.


Posted by Lauren at July 2, 2010 11:15 AM | Permalink
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