Ironies Never Cease

My mom gave me a copy of a local promotional magazine last night at dinner (with Holly, my sister, and Jennifer, who came over for a couple of days with Pip and me before her Ph.D. program begins — with Margaret’s Ph.D. studies at Duke, Jennifer’s at Union Seminary/NY, and Nate’s plans for advanced study in music, we’re a one-family faculty meeting, or unemployment line, depending on how dire the hiring situation is a few years from now).
Anyway, featured on the cover of N magazine (I can’t find reference to a web site for the print edition, though it gives a URI for its society pages — I don’t know any of the beautiful people I see there), nestled in with stories about why Bush should be re-elected to protect small businesses, on local painters, and on what Livingston Taylor is up to these days, is a story on — wardriving (without using that word). “Wi-fi Hotspots,” the cover announces, and the story narrates the author’s experience of wardriving the eastern end of the island and finding a hundred or so open APs, some of which he names.

N

The author — whom I will not name here, since he’s in grave danger of being identified not only as a felon himself, but as contributing to a crime wave of felonious Net surfing, observes,

In all, we discovered over 100 wireless access points. . . . We checked about half of them, and over 20 were open and accessible. I’ve included several secret hotspots in the sidebar. But not all of them. If I list all of my favorite wireless access points, the owners of those hotspots will get wise and shut them down. And then where will I be?

Well, maybe in federal prison, sir.

So, as I recapitulate the last two days’ events, I’ve been instructed by a uniformed police officer not to use my laptop at all within wireless range of the public library of which I am a card-holding member, at the same time an ultra-glossy tourist magazine promotes leeching the signals from private citizens and only mentions the library’s access point at the very bottom of the sidebar accompanying the article.

(I’ll leave out any questions about editors who let this writer get away with the sentence fragment in the middle of the paragraph, and the notion of printing the location of a “secret hotspot” in 18-point display type in a featured sidebar.)

At the same time, the article begins with a boldface caution: “Although some wi-fi networks are intended for public use, whether freely or with varying fees, unauthorized access to private networks [which is what the article to follow specifrically narrates] might be considered criminal theft akin to stealing signals from cable television connections [that comparison seems to be doing a lot of work in this discourse]. . . .”

So the magazine says, in effect, “Don’t do this — here’s how to do it, and where, and it’s fun and cool.” I feel like that turtle in the old cartoons, who stumbles into some mire of folly, and beseeches his magico-scientific wizard mentor to save him: “Help me, Prof. Lessig!”

One thought on “Ironies Never Cease

  1. AKMA,

    A thought. Have you thought about letting the Visitor’s Bureau know that they’re got a burgeoning publicity problem here? I’ve seen your story linked to all over the net by now. Maybe you could let the visitor’s bureau know that this is the case, and let them help the whole town to sort this out before it become a publicity mess about overzealous Nantucket police power or something.

    Posted by: Nate at August 24, 2004 10:42 AM
    Our little town of Nantucket is known for police officers who enforce non-existant laws. Recently some nude sunbathers who were well within their rights have been chased off of sandy pathways through the dunes under the guise of federal dune protection statutes. I do not fear a trip to the “pen” for penning the article in N magazine. And the sentence fragment police have been kept at bay. So far.

    Grant

    Posted by: Grant Sanders at August 25, 2004 03:22 PM
    Nate, I’m a little abashed by the way this has panned out — not at all as I’d have wished or expected (especially given the cosmopolitan constituency of the island, especially during the summer, especially considering the news to which I linked earlier that someone’s going to try to cover the whgole island with wifi). So just now, I think I’d like to let it rest.

    Grant, I don’t know enough to comment on Nantucket police, save to emphasize that the offier with whom I dealt was quite polite, even if the core issue (to my mind) — that of whether I was even permitted to use an open laptop within range of an 802.11b access point — still seems over-the-top. If you have on-island traction, I’d ask that you pull your authorial weight to let the Atheneum and the Visitors’ Bureau know that this makes an unnecessarily un-welcoming atmosphere. Since I’m unwilling to exacerbate any tensions that might already reflect poorly on my year-rounder relatives, though, I entirely understand if you’re disinclined to pursue the matter.

    Posted by: AKMA at August 27, 2004 09:52 AM
    No surprise that this happened in elistist Nantucket populated by a culture of we know better than you. Do you really think some Kentucky, Wyoming or Oklahoma sheriff would care if you had your laptop open?

    Posted by: libertarian at August 29, 2004 05:38 PM
    Heh.. I think chances are better the officer chased them off for eye protection (his own)rather than dune protection.

    Posted by: WH at September 1, 2004 07:11 AM
    Has anyone thought of actually following up the police officer’s suggestion, and talking to the police chief about the matter?

    Posted by: Chris at September 1, 2004 11:03 AM

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