Liability Risks For Businesses That Provide Free Wi-Fi to Customers

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What have companies done to increase business?

In an increasingly online world, many companies throughout the country have enticed clients into doing business by offering free internet access.

For example, coffee shops, automotive repair centers, and restaurants have all considered it economically advantageous to offer clients access to the internet as a means of getting them to purchase goods. This setup has benefitted both businesses, who don’t mind paying for the internet if it means an increase in traffic to their stores, and consumers, who now can access the internet for free in a variety of different stores. However, with new changes in regulations affecting the internet, businesses might implement stronger security controls over their internet networks.

Why has providing internet access to clients caused problems for businesses?

On July 6, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) announced their plan to cut down on piracy over the internet. Through an agreement with internet service providers like AT&T and Verizon, suspected internet pirates will be sent a sequence of five messages which encourage the suspects to cease and desist suspicious conduct. If illegal conduct continues, internet service providers have agreed to slow internet speeds, or even remove a person’s access from the internet unless change occurs.

Given the risky nature of downloading illegal content over the internet, internet pirates have incentive to use the free internet access provided to them by numerous companies courting their business. By doing so, pirates can more easily evade punishments internet service providers, the RIAA and the MPAA wish to impose. Businesses however, can suffer fines up to $150,000 if they are found vicarious or contributing to illegal content being downloaded through their internet connections.

What can businesses do to protect themselves?

Since businesses are liable if they find out about illegal downloads taking place through their business and do nothing to stop those downloads, businesses should immediately report suspicious activities conducted over through their internet connections. Other actions such as posting signs, and verbally indicating to clients disapproval for illegal downloading could deter individuals from questionable activities. Businesses can also use password protection technology to deter unwanted individuals from secretly using a company’s internet access without that company’s consent.

Other options such as censoring internet access to sites suspected of illegal piracy could further bolster businesses ability to combat internet piracy on over their own networks. Though none of these protections are perfect, perhaps they can help the RIAA and the MPAA prevent internet piracy while allowing businesses to avoid the serious legal consequences possible if individuals download illegally through their networks.

Canada Lawful Access Bill and Internet Spying

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canada lawful access bill

Will the Canada Lawful Access bill hurt online privacy?

What does the Canada Lawful Access bill propose to do?

Canada’s Conservative political party asserted that it wants to pass a Canada Lawful Access bill, which it claims will crack down on crime. For almost 10 years, there have been failed attempts to pass such a bill but this time there’s a good chance of enacting it into law.

If adopted, the Canada Lawful Access bill would require internet service providers (ISPs) to invest in technologies which would make the real time observation of users’ internet communications possible. Further, ‘Lawful Access’ would mandate internet service providers to provide data to law enforcement officials, regardless of whether or not a warrant was attained, if law enforcement officials claim that a threat to security necessitates their oversight of the internet.

Though intended to decrease criminals’ ability to communicate with one another, many Canadians worry the Canada Lawful Access bill would both give law enforcement a dangerous power with little oversight, and that the cost of developing technologies to monitor users would cost internet service providers a good deal of money.

What are the civil rights concerns about the Canada Lawful Access bill?

Privacy rights activists complain that the Canada Lawful Access bill would have dangerous results if actually implemented into law. For example, the Canadian government would be able to view internet dialogues with basically no restraint whatsoever. Since the law would not require law enforcement officials to get a warrant before searching the personal data of private individuals, many worry the government would take advantage of the information and a subsequent diminishing of individual privacy would result.

Those in favor of the legislation claim the price of safety from criminals warrants individuals to tolerate occasional intrusions into their personal privacy, but many still disagree. Some Canadian privacy rights advocates contend that no crimes have evaded justice yet because of law enforcement officials’ lack of ability to access private internet communications. Of course, it’s difficult to support or rebut such a contention without evidence.

What are the financial concerns about the Canada Lawful Access bill?

If passed, the Canada Lawful Access bill could also impose a burden on internet service providers and force some smaller internet service providers out of business. The law would require internet service providers to purchase technology to monitor activity on websites accessed by their clients. Many large internet service providers would not be put out of business, but some smaller internet service providers, unable to pay for the new technologies, could suffer.

Perhaps, however, internet service providers that do survive the financial results to follow implementation of the bill would pass the cost of the technology off to consumers. This could result in a de facto tax on the Canadian people who, unbeknownst to them, must pay a higher price for internet services. Intended to cut down on crime, the Canada Lawful Access bill might just suffer a vigorous battle and massive civil disobedience if implemented.

Comcast ISP File Sharing Traffic Discrimination – Should the Government Interfere?

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is investigating charges that Comcast has discriminated against file-sharing traffic on the Internet by restricting the Internet Service Provider’s subscribers sharing of files using peer-to-peer (P2P) and BitTorrent.

The issue really should not be about the ability of an ISP to discriminate between users. I’m actually a proponent of multi-tiered pricing structures controlled by the marketplace instead of regulated by the government. What is at stake is deceptive trade practices, i.e. charging Internet subscribers for services that are not provided because usage is limited behind-the-scenes without full disclosure.

If your cell phone company offered unlimited nights and weekends for a flat monthly rate but secretly impaired your rights to make such calls, you’d be justifiably ticked off because of the misrepresentations that induced you to use that particular company for the unlimited calls. Similarly, an ISP does not have the right to make material misrepresentations as to the nature of the services it provides to its Internet subscribers.

If Comcast is found to have engaged in such practices, unfortunately, the fines and penalties will be passed onto consumers in the form of higher fees in the future. The better route from the beginning would have been to have instituted a multi-tiered system where fees for usage are determined by the bandwidth used with full disclosure of the terms and conditions of the tiered structure.

Is that asking too much? What do you think?

Hushmail – Email Privacy and the Government

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If you think that your Hushmail emails are secure, think again. Despite the PGP encryption, Hushmail, a Canadian company, is apparently cooperating with U.S. law enforcement authorities who want to look at emails.

This raises many interesting legal issues but reinforces the fact that you should never put in email anything that you don’t want third parties to read. Assume the worst will happen. “Three can keep a secret if two of them are dead,” quipped Benjamin Franklin. Consider this when writing your next e-mail. Even if the recipient doesn’t share what you wrote with someone else (and chances are that he will), your Internet Service Provider (ISP) or email provider may be gutting your privacy rights behind your back by giving copies to the government or even someone interested in suing you.

What’s the lesson for your online business?

If you make representations about your products or services, you better stand by those representations. And if your website’s privacy policy states X is true, you should make sure that it is in fact true.

As for Hushmail, it will be interesting to see if the company gets sued.

Hat tip to Iaian Thomson at ITNews for this email privacy story.

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Is Your ISP a Snitch for the MPAA?

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The MPAA wants your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to fight piracy on its behalf. That’s like the auto dealership where you got your car selling you out to the police for speeding. Yes, you the paying client are supposed to go along like a dumb sheep by paying for the privilege of having your ISP work against you.

The point isn’t whether you should be infringing upon a movie copyright or two. That’s a debate for another day.

Instead, the issue is how long will you continue to elect politicians that let groups such as RIAA and MPAA run roughshod over your privacy rights simply because they’ve got the money to bribe Congress, coerce ISPs, sue the average person into oblivion, and even set up fake video sites to entrap you.

People just don’t have the right to take (copyrighted works) at their pleasure.” – Dan Glickman

Really?

Wonder how many piracy hypocrites there are in the entertainment industry? Want to bet Hollywood is filled with industry insiders who will never be sued for pirating a movie or music?

http://youtube.com/watch?v=59UeJmSNx2o

How about a new law that lets you search the homes of celebrities, entertainment industry executives, lobbyists, and politicians who pass stupid laws like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to see how many of them and their families are engaging in piracy?

Never happen. Instead, you’ll just get to wait to see if your ISP becomes your Big Brother who spies upon you for the MPAA’s Glickman and the cretins he represents.

Hat tip to Anne Broache at CNet News.com