When considering technology and its implications, there are a number of ethical issues in wireless networks that arise. Even though some American jurisdictions have made it unlawful to access wifi without permission, there are wide discrepancies between what one can and cannot do.
For a time, people filched cable. A major movie was even produced on this premise. While streaming movies and television shows illegally are rampant, people are now more likely to attempt stealing internet access than cable TV, whether from a neighbor or by physically driving around until an unsecured network is discovered. What individuals do while on these wireless networks varies as widely as the legality of their actions.
The Ethical Issues of Attorneys and Wireless Networks
Attorneys’ relationship with technology in general and wireless networks more specifically is equal to, if not more complicated than, that of the general public. Attorneys are ethically bound to adhere to best practices in their dealings with wireless networks, especially when communicating with clients and protecting their personal information. Attorneys also have to ensure that they accurately represent and/or litigate their clients’ activities vis-a-vis wifi as well. With the constantly changing technological landscape, maintaining standards involving ethical issues in wireless networks is no easy task.
The legal and ethical issues and implications themselves are broad. Whose responsibility is it to establish and maintain the security of wireless networks? Should that rest on the shoulders of the internet service providers, hardware manufacturers, or the private end-users? Is there something that local authorities can do to assist with this as well?
Nicole Houston and colleagues present it this way: “Just because my neighbor leaves his hot tub open and the gate unlocked does not mean I have the right the walk into his backyard and go for a dip.” This example may sound humorous, but the principle is precisely the same when it comes to wireless networks and personal data stored and shared across them. Of course, there is an essential distinction that must be made between taking or using physical property without authorization and that of gaining access to someone’s wireless network without their permission, but both of these are basically a form of purloining or unlawful entry and pertain directly to ethical issues in wireless networks.
Keep in mind, this little matter of unsanctioned access is only one issue. There are countless others, like net neutrality (a hot button issue in recent months and years), or the near-constant use of mobile devices, which are by and large always connected to a wireless network. In 2011 (nearly a decade ago at this point), Forbes asked these questions: “Why is this worrisome? What is it about mobile devices that trigger myriad ethical duties?” They go on to quote the journal Security Week’s answer to that very inquiry: “Mobile devices in most circumstances are the antithesis of control. And thus the antithesis of security.”
The Control of Security and the Security of Control
It is these two principles on which so many of the ethical issues in wireless networks arise and hinge: security and control. The law should work to provide safeguards for the public as they engage with wireless networks at all times of the day and night, for personal and professional purposes. At the same time, attorneys have the obligation to both understand the legal aspects of control and security and implement them to the best of their ability in their own dealings.
On this, the state of California is ahead of many. At the time of the Forbes article, “The California Formal Opinion [set] forth six factors that attorneys ‘must’ evaluate before ‘using a particular technology in the course of representing a client.’” That is good news indeed because the ethics of wireless networks is also largely speaking a practical matter. California’s committee recognized that functional and sensible efforts like the use of a secure firewall, complex passwords for accounts, and, perhaps above all, the encryption of data, can do much to prevent the unauthorized seizure and transmission of personal and private data.
Attorneys are employing wireless technologies and mobile devices more and more as an integral part of their workflow, connecting with potential and actual clients, other attorneys, members of the court, and others. There is an unfathomable amount of data being produced, generated, collected, or stored on wireless devices and others that are connected to wireless networks. The ethical implications can seem just as endless.
As Lorman puts it, “Today, lawyers are now under an ethical duty to understand and utilize various technologies which aid in the representation of clients. With this duty comes challenges in the execution, from what to store and where, how to access it from in and out of the office, to how to deal with inevitable missteps or errors.” This goes for their office’s implementation of wireless networks on the one hand, and the utilization of wireless networks by their clients on the other, in which understanding the complex and ever-changing technological terrain is pivotal.
Whether attorneys are dealing with ethical issues in wireless networks on their own behalf or that of their clients, there is much to consider and no one answer to the multitude of questions that this particular area of concern can generate. Given the breadth and depth of the matter in question, it is vital for lawyers to gain a wider understanding of what is at stake and how to act ethically for themselves, their clients, and the integrity of the judicial system more generally.