We’ve all heard the term “plausible deniability” before, usually used in reference to some political official not being told something important so he can deny any knowledge of it should it become public. It was made popular during the Iran-Contra scandal and has been fodder for both real-life and cinematic purposes ever since, but most of us have probably never considered how we might make use of it.
Micah Joel over at Salon.com has, though. Specifically in regards to protecting himself from the threat of lawsuits from the RIAA and MPAA related to file sharing. Seems Micah recently shut off his wireless router’s WEP encryption, disabled its MAC address filtering and made sure the SSID was being broadcast. In other words, he opened his wireless router up to anyone who happens by with a wireless device and a desire to make use of it. All for the sole purpose of providing himself with a form of plausible deniability should he ever be slapped with a lawsuit.
In mid-April, Comcast sent letters to some of its subscribers claiming that their IP addresses had been used to download copyrighted movies. Since Comcast is not likely to improve customer satisfaction and retention with this strategy, it’s probable the letter was a result of pressure from the Motion Picture Association of America or one of its members. And to Comcast’s credit, it stopped short of direct accusation; instead it gives users an out. Says the letter, “If you believe in good faith that the allegedly infringing works have been removed or blocked by mistake or misidentification, then you may send a counter notification to Comcast.”
That’s good enough for me. I’ve already composed my reply in case I receive one of these letters someday. “Dear Comcast, I am so sorry. I had no idea that copyrighted works were being downloaded via my IP address; I have a wireless router at home and it’s possible that someone may have been using my connection at the time. I will do my best to secure this notoriously vulnerable technology, but I can make no guarantee that hackers will not exploit my network in the future.”
If it ever comes down to a lawsuit, who can be certain that I was the offender? And can the victim of hacking be held responsible for the hacker’s crimes? If that were the case, we’d all be liable for the Blaster worm’s denial of service attacks against Microsoft last year.
The man has a point. I can recall reading about one man avoiding prosecution for child porn by claiming the files on his computer were the result of a virus so it’s not like this isn’t an untested strategy. There are already plenty of people leaving their wireless unsecured simply because they think they should share their connection as a public service to their neighbors, but this is the first time someone has suggested doing so as a means of protecting yourself from lawsuits.
I’m not sure I’ll be unsecuring my connection anytime soon, but it will be interesting to see what happens if it ever gets tested in an actual case.