An IP address is not a person

‘Skooky840′ is a good neighbour; he or she doesn’t lock their WiFi. When my Internet connection is out, I hop on theirs until I get things sorted. I’m not sure why they don’t protect their signal with a password. Maybe they can’t figure out how to. Maybe they can’t be bothered. Or maybe, like some folks I know, Skooky840 leaves their signal open to be polite, as a courtesy to neighbours like me. As long as we don’t abuse it and run up their bills, hey- why not? I’d love to thank Skooky840 for making my life a little easier and our street a little friendlier, but I don’t know who they are. A WiFi signal, like the Internet Protocol (IP) address associated with it, is not a person.

Try telling the cops that. If I were to abuse my neighbour’s politeness and/or carelessness (and if I were a criminal and/or creep) then this might happen: Skooky840 might be swarmed by a SWAT team in their own home because a predator hijacked their hospitality.

When a crime is committed online, tracking it to an IP address is a good place for police to start their investigation, much like how tracking a gun to the person who registered it is a good and obvious way to embark on a murder investigation. But it’s just a start. One Internet connection might be shared by different people who might live in different homes. If the signal is not password protected, any stranger walking or driving by could potentially have committed the online crime. If I were intent on committing a crime online, that’s probably how I’d do it. Alternatively, if I were the least bit afraid of being accused of a crime linked to my own connection, I might choose to remove password protection in order to gain plausible deniability—if my WiFi is open to the world, I guess it could have been anyone!  Of course, even if I use a password, it still could have been anyone—millions of computers are infected with botnets that allow third parties from any part of the world to access the Internet through someone else’s IP address, often without the host’s knowledge.

Of course, the Internet is still relatively new, and there are plenty of dumb criminals out there who won’t take any of these easily available precautions to cover their tracks. Track a child porn download to its IP address, and there’s a good chance that the perpetrator will be physically nearby. But for how long? And as criminals become more technically savvy, will the police, laws and courts evolve as well?

At some point, seizing the computer of someone because they’ve had access to an implicated IP address will be sloppy policing, and a violation of privacy to boot.




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An IP address is not a person

  1. Go on Google and search : HADOPI.

  2. In the old days, we called taking something that we didn't pay for "stealing", whether or not the neighbour's door was locked. Crazy, huh?

    • The difference is lack of scarcity. If I steal money, a scare resource from you, I have more money and you have less. If I walk into your unlocked house and take your television, I have another television, and you don't. That's not right. Bandwidth, contrary to what the oligopoly would tell you (no conflict of interest there, eh?) doesn't suffer from the same problem. As long as you aren't competing for the same bandwidth at the exact same time, if I used some of your bandwidth, it doesn't take anything away from you. You don't lose. There is no scarcity in that resource, therefore people don't care about other people stealing it, or more likely in this scenario, people are happy GIVING IT AWAY for free to their neighbors. It's more like a neighbor lending another a hand than a neighbor stealing from their house.

      FYI, if this user knew how to set up the name for his router, he probably knew he is making it open and available to everyone. I believe the only time one is really "stealing" internet from someone is if you see a router with it's default name (eg. Linksys, Netgear, etc), because obviously then the user is a tech neophyte who plugged it in, said "hey! It works!" and stopped configuring, without fully understanding that he is exposing his internet connection to the neighborhood for all to use.

  3. My ISP only allows for a few IP addresses, and since I have an xbox360, PS3, pc, laptop, smartphone, kindle, girlfriend’s laptop, all competing for the limited amount of IPaddresses, it screws up my router and I have to reset it. It’s too much of a pain to set up my security every time.

    • Ummm…. Sounds like you are doing it wrong. And your router really sucks.
      You should be able to have a gajillion internal IP addresses. You have one public IP as far as your ISP is concerned.

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