Sniffing data packets on a network is usually considered an unethical practice. Packet sniffing can be done to steal information, to alter the communication between two channels and cause disinformation, or to simply gather intel. Now, a court in U.S. has ruled that sniffing performed on open Wi-Fi networks is legal.
This essentially means that if any company, individual or governmental organization monitor open Wi-Fi networks, this wouldn’t count as wiretapping.
The verdict was given by a court in Illinois as a result of a preliminary appeal filed by Innovatio IP Ventures. Innovatio is yet another company which seems to be seeking profits on the basis of certain patents which lie very close to the realm of public use. The company has accused “hotels, coffee shops, restaurants, supermarkets” for infringing 17 of its patents simply by offering Wi-Fi service to the public. Clearly, the claim borders on the ridiculous.
Yet it has been able to secure a preliminary injunction related to this. The injunctions mean that Innovatio can now monitor packet-switching on different public Wi-Fi networks and use it to determine whether or not its patents are being infringed. If it finds any infringements, it plans to present this as an evidence in the court.
The verdict of the judge read, “With a packet capture adapter and the software, along with a basic laptop computer, any member of the general public within range of an unencrypted Wi-Fi network can begin intercepting communications sent on that network. Many Wi-Fi networks provided by commercial establishments (such as coffee shops and restaurants) are unencrypted, and open to such interference from anyone with the right equipment. In light of the ease of “sniffing” Wi-Fi networks, the court concludes that the communications sent on an unencrypted Wi-Fi network are readily available to the general public.”
Source: Google Scholar