May 27, 2010

Still no ‘safe harbour’ in sight for wireless technologies in Europe

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Berlin, May 27th 2010 — Following a recent high court judgement in Germany wireless networks are becoming a legal concern for consumers running open WiFi hotspots. Lawyers and lobby organisations are sending automated cease and desist letters to consumers who have an “insecure” WiFi access point, accusing them of helping unauthorized file sharing by offering open WiFi internet connections.

“The campaign against WiFi open access is misguided. You may also use a phone to issue a bomb threat, but that does not seem a valid argument for banning public phone booths”, argues René Mages, vice president of the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII).

A year and a half ago the European Parliament urged the European Commission to examine measures to provide a ‘safer harbour’ for wireless technology. Specifically, a wireless spectrum resolution called upon the Commission to:

  • “…propose steps to reduce legal liabilities in the context of wireless mesh network provision”.

“So far European Commissioner Neelie Kroes has simply ignored this request from the European Parliament and sits the problem out while consumers lose confidence.”, explains Mages.

The campaign against open WiFi generates fear and uncertainty that consumers and also entrepreneurs react to. “Technology adoption is stifled by such ‘unsafe harbour’ policies in Europe. Consequently, commercial wireless services fail to take off and generate jobs. In Asia, we are moving forward without overburdening interference from the content industry”, says Mario Behling from the Freifunk.net mesh initiative who recently relocated his business to Vietnam. Behling adds anecdotal evidence: “My Vietnamese fiancée was puzzled when she visited Brussels: Wireless access in public areas like central squares, parks, airports or train stations is limping way behind.”

Links

BGH press release on BGH Az. I ZR 121/08 (German)
http://juris.bundesgerichtshof.de/cgi-bin/rechtsprechung/document.py?Gericht=bgh&Art=pm&Datum=2010&Sort=3&nr=51934&pos=0&anz=101

Reto Mantz reflections on BGH Az. I ZR 121/08 (German)
http://www.retosphere.de/offenenetze/2010/05/13/gedanken-zu-den-auswirkungen-des-bgh-urteils-zur-sicherung-von-wlans-bgh-urt-v-12-5-2010-i-zr-12108/

European Parliament resolution 24 Sept 2008:
“Common approach to the use of the spectrum released by the digital switchover”
http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=TA&language=EN&reference=P6-TA-2008-0451

Freifunk.net wireless technology group
http://freifunk.net/

Contact

FFII Office Berlin
Malmöer Str. 6
D-10439 Berlin
Fon: +49-30-41722597
Fax Service: +49-721-509663769
Email: office (at) ffii.org
http://www.ffii.org/

About FFII

The FFII is a not-for-profit association, dedicated to the development of information goods for the public benefit, based on copyright, free competition, and open standards. More than 1,000 members, 3,500 companies and 100,000 supporters have entrusted the FFII to act as their voice in public policy questions concerning exclusion rights in data processing.