Is Wi-Fi Sniffing Wiretapping? The (not so) Supreme Court thinks so. They seem to be looking at this from a … well, I am not sure what point of view they are seeing this from. Surely not a logical point of view, nor a technical one. How about we let someone with a brain look at this question, shall we? Good.
First of all, before we even go into the technical parts of each one, or should I say the differences, one must look at the intent behind the act. When you “wire tap” someone, or in more general term, “tap their phone”, you are specifically singling out someone and then taking measures to specifically monitor that person and their communications. In most cases you must have some type of legal paper or permission before you can do this, although we have seen that, naturally the “Government” can always find ways around that little detail. No one wants to hinder their fun, ‘eh? The point is, in the case of wire tapping, you are specifically choosing someone for some reason, one person or entity that you want to monitor. You then take action to monitor that person. You take specific action to monitor that person or entity and that one only, no one else. You don’t tap the phone at 405 West Chester Street and in the process say “Oh, hell, let’s just tap the whole damn street while we are here!” No, you focus on that one person.
Now, in the case of Wi-Fi sniffing, it is much different. In fact it couldn’t be more different. With Wi-Fi sniffing, you are simply sitting there, or you might be mobile, wandering around “sniffing” (testing the location to see if a Wi-Fi signal happens to be available) to see if something pops up. If it does, if you happen to catch hold of a signal, you take a look and see what you have found, kind of like fishing. Sometimes you get a good one, and sometimes you throw it back.
The point is, that unlike wire tapping, with Wi-Fi sniffing you are not focusing on one specific person or entity. You are not specifically taking measures to monitor any one thing, or any thing for that matter. You are simply catching whatever signals are out there to be caught. If I am sitting at home and I see that there are several Wi-Fi networks around me that I can access, am I wiretapping? Hell no!
It really comes down to the people that are responsible for that Wi-Fi network. If you are responsible you will make that network secure so no one can come along and sniff it, find it, and do anything with it in the first place. Wi-Fi sniffing and wire tapping are two very different things and that the Supreme Court can’t seem to figure that out shows just how out of touch they really are, not just with technology, but with reality as well.