I read an interesting entry on the Wall Street Journal Law Blog this morning that may very well pertain to your delegates and staff at meetings and events. A federal court in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, has ruled that "the government can track you to your location, sans search warrant, using free anti-moocher software."
Here's what happened: The police used a program called Moocherhunter to track down a man they suspected of downloading child pornography. See, an Internet subscriber doesn't really have any expectation of privacy as far as his or her IP address or any information provided to an Internet provider. Police got a search warrant and searched his house, but it was clean. Police figured the culprit must be a neighbor who was logging onto the Internet using the original suspect's account.
So they used Moocherhunter again along with some other technology and tracked the signal to a Mr. Richard Stanley across the street. They obtained a search warrant for his home, and he was indicted in November 2011 for possession of child pornography, according to the blog. Now, Mr. Stanley argued that police needed a warrant to even use Moocherhunter.
Not so fast, says the federal court.
“An internet subscriber does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in his IP address or the information he provides to his Internet Service Provider, such as Comcast, in order to legally establish an internet connection, and likewise, a person connecting to another person’s wireless router does not have an expectation of privacy in that connection,” U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti wrote in her decision.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out, and what effect it will have on our attendees when they connect to wireless services at meetings and in hotels. As Orin Kerr, a Fourth Amendment expert and law professor at the George Washington University, rightly points out in the Wall Street Journal blog: “'When you’re connecting to the wireless network, you’re broadcasting a signal, even though you might not know it.' The question then, he said, is whether people enjoy privacy in signals they don’t knowingly disclose. ... 'Do you assume the user knows how computers work or not?'”
I'll keep you posted. Meanwhile, check out our future of meetings research, which lists privacy (or lack there of) as one of the definitive trends that will affect the way meetings are held in the future.