I just read an interesting article that I found on slashdot about wireless internet access. Wireless has become so popular now, you can just about find it anywhere, and many places offer it for free as an incentive to hang out and buy their coffee. This guy in Florida though was arrested for using it outside someone's house, and charged with a third degree felony for unauthorized access to a computer network.

The ethics and social consequences of new technology are very interesting to me, and while there has been a lot written on the subject, normal people don't think about it much. I turned on a wireless laptop at my house the other day, and I can pick up five wireless networks, including mine. Three require passwords, and two don't. Would it be wrong to use one of those that is not password-protected? They are not password protected for one of two likely reasons: the owners don't know how to do it or they don't care if other people use it. I think it would be wrong to use it and disrupt their service by downloading large files, but what about just a little browsing or blog reading? An arguement against using it is that it is like stealing cable, but this is a bit different.

Another topic of ethical debate is the duplication of copy written material, like downloading music. No one would say that using iTunes is wrong, you are paying for the music, but what about downloading music that others have. I think this is like stealing. What about copying a friend's CD that is no longer published? What about making a backup copy for yourself? That's allowed by fair use, but can you loan out the backup or original?

Another issue I ran into recently was copying DVDs. Yes, I think it's wrong to download movies or copy DVDs that you rent. Who wouldn't? Are you allowed to make a backup copy? DVDs you buy are encrypted, and you have to decrypt them to play them on your computer. Is it okay to break the encryption to make a backup copy? What about removing the region code so you can play Slovak movies on your US player? Normally you can't, for the sole reason that Hollywood doesn't want you to.

As technology gets better, these questions will only get more difficult and hopefully more prevelent. Record companies are now successfully lobbying to pass all kinds of laws to try and gain control over their works like they used to have. The trouble is that many of these laws are making legitimate copying and use illegal.


** said...

once you grow up and find out that putting that trusty casset tape(yes, thats how old i am) into the tape recorder... and recording friday night's music mix off the radio is illegal, you question things. i have to come to the practice of not copying cd's. yeah, i burn what i download(itunes, etc.).

i figure if it's wrong in the law, it's wrong. we need to follow the law that God has allowed ot be set up. now, if the anti-recording thing goes against God, hey lets go and burn a million copies of the metallica's last album(Lars Ulrich...ack!). so, i figure right at this moment, im staying away.