Local Governments Eye Wifi Monitoring

Today's Herald runs a big scare story on how pedophiles use wifi (sort of like they use telephones, cameras and cars, isn't it?), Wi-Fi helps child porn exchanges thrive.

Along side it is a somewhat more balanced story, Local governments try to balance security, privacy. There are a few interesting quotes, including these:

As the Internet becomes a more common way of accessing medical records, political activity and financial transactions, groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation argue that government utilities have no business peeking into their residents' records.

“It's tremendously important that we don't capture or record what websites people are going to,” said Michael Froomkin, a University of Miami law professor and member of both the foundation's advisory board and Alvarez's steering committee.

Stored personal information can be used in a variety of intrusive ways, he said, whether illegally snatched by an unscrupulous employee or legally sold to marketers seeking to target their ads.

Miami Beach hopes to launch wireless service later this year, which — unlike the county's project — will be free to residents and visitors. Software will watch for suspicious activity and track where users are located but not which websites they visit.

“If any such monitoring reveals criminal activity, that could be turned over to authorities, but this is not like Big Brother,” said Miami Beach spokeswoman Nannette Rodriguez.

What is “suspicious activity” and how is it divorced from where you go on the web? And exactly how is that not like Big Brother? Ms. Rodriguez doesn't explain. If it's volume of use — e.g. high volume email that looks like spammning — I could understand it, although even here there are hard issues: for example, without peeking at the content how do you distinguish a phishing scammer from a person running a political campaign?

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One Response to Local Governments Eye Wifi Monitoring

  1. eszter says:

    Agreed, I don’t see how they could know about the nature of the activity if they are not tracking Web sites and content. I wonder if the reporters pushed on this and just didn’t get a response or if it was an oversight on their part not to have followed up about this.

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