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Maybe You Shouldn't Use Public Wi-Fi In New York City

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 16/03/2016 Damon Beres
ATHENA IMAGE © Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images ATHENA IMAGE

The New York Civil Liberties Union is disappointed in a new public Wi-Fi service.

LinkNYC provides "super fast, free" Internet connections to people throughout New York City, but as the NYCLU pointed out this week, it also retains the personal data of anyone who connects to the service. Even if you don't live in New York City, the concerns are worth taking to heart as more urban centers roll out Wi-Fi services.

"CityBridge, the company behind the LinkNYC kiosks that have begun replacing phone booths in Manhattan, retains a vast amount of information about users -- often indefinitely -- building a massive database that carries a risk of security breaches and unwarranted NYPD surveillance," the NYCLU said Wednesday in a press release.

The release mentions the recent kerfuffle over Apple's refusal to unlock an iPhone for the FBI. In a sense, the issues are similar: Should innocent people sacrifice privacy for the sake of security? You can imagine the argument. If a would-be terrorist is dumb enough to communicate via public Wi-Fi, shouldn't the police be able to access that information if it helps stop a crime?

Maybe, maybe not. In any case, the situations aren't totally analogous. iPhones are privately owned devices, and Apple contends that the FBI's request would actually create more security risks for consumers. Public Wi-Fi, on the other hand, is just what it sounds like. One might reasonably expect that communications via such networks aren't private.

A representative for LinkNYC did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Huffington Post about the NYCLU's complaints. For now, though, take this as a reminder that "free" doesn't necessarily mean "no strings attached." If you're worried about the government accessing your data, you should refrain from using government-backed Wi-Fi.

Maybe it won't always be this way.

"Internet access is not a choice, it’s a modern-life necessity," Mariko Hirose, senior staff attorney at the NYCLU, said in the press release. "The city’s public Wi-Fi network should set the bar for privacy and security to help ensure that New Yorkers do not have to sacrifice their rights and freedoms to sign online."

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