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Wired asks, Why isn’t wireless available everywhere?

In a public business I’m involved with, we used to provide free wifi. The cost to do so was low, the risk to our properly isolated network was minimal and our customers really appreciated it – no question about it.

Initially, it seemed like a great idea. A really great idea. And as long as you kept your eyes on the ground and didn’t look too hard at what was going on around you, it kept looking good.

We weren’t completely asleep at the wheel, though. News stories began to come to our attention. Some new, some that had been out there for a while.

One where the wifi spot owner was prosecuted for files downloaded by someone parked outside. Some poor wifi spot provider got a child porn prosecution out of that one.

There were stories where people were prosecuted for using open wifi nets to get a net connection and just surf, this was bewilderingly described as “theft of service”, even in light of the fact that the spot was wide open.

Then various ISPs started getting into limits of what you could do with your connection via terms of service and so forth. They didn’t want anyone but you using it, regardless of the fact that you had paid for the bandwidth anyway.

Then the government declared, in obvious and direct contradiction to the fourth amendment, that they could monitor anything and everything that anyone sent over the Internet – email, files, chat, whatever, without the need for probable cause or a warrant.

So yeah, we locked the hotspot down. Encrypted it, incorporated a whitelisted proxy server that would only allow access to sites that were directly useful to us, closed FTP and Telnet and SSH and more. While still technically “there”, it was basically useless to anyone outside by the time we were done. Assuming they could get on at all. Wasn’t much fun for us, either. No more BoingBoing or Neatorama during coffee breaks. No more LOLcats or Failblog. No more Digg, IMs, or you-tubing,

We didn’t want to do it. And I mean *really*… the meetings we had about this were pretty fired up. But the risks –– all from government action –– simply rose to, and then well past, an unacceptable level. And no one could come up with a suggestion that insulated us from the obvious pitfalls.

Today – IMHO – anyone who runs an open WiFi spot is risking themselves, and perhaps significantly… there’s no way to know what traffic you’re enabling.

On the other side of the issue, the problem is driven by hysteria about terrorism, and the usual easy political targets of “save the children” and “decency”, whatever the heck that’s supposed to mean. The ignorant pound the pulpits while the average citizen goes about unaware that their freedoms are steadily eroding.

I don’t think the generation that is currently in power has the moral fiber, ironically enough, to see that liberty and freedom are more important than any particular group’s inclination to lock down the Internet or monitor your communications. Maybe today’s kids can do better when they get in power, but frankly, I doubt it. I think this nation has entirely lost sight of the importance of liberty, and I don’t think the political system does anything other than maintain the status quo for those in power, while they busily arrange things to suit them… constitution and principles of liberty be damned.