Privacy SOS

Public wifi is cool, but what are you handing over when you log on?

Public agencies across the country are increasingly adopting open wifi technology to bring internet connectivity to new areas and groups of people. Unfortunately, government agencies don’t often prioritize digital security or privacy when they configure these systems. Too often, like in New York City, ‘free’ access comes in exchange for a steep price: your sensitive information

Here in Massachusetts, the executive agency of Energy and Environmental Affairs has gotten in on the public wifi action. Last week the agency announced a partnership with the Massachusetts-based WrightGrid and the installation of 13 solar-powered device charging and wifi stations in parks across the state. Having just visited one of these parks—where I didn’t get cell service—I can immediately appreciate the value in extending the connected zone to our most beautiful, protected places. At the same time, I’m curious about what was left out of the press release and news stories about the wifi hotspots: details concerning what kind of data the hotspots collect from users, who can access that information, who owns it, and how it can be used. 

So I did what any self-respecting pain in the butt privacy advocate does and filed a public records request to find out. I for one don’t want to use these new hotspots until I have a better sense of exactly how they work, what they might learn about me, and who might have access to that sensitive information. So stay tuned…I’ll update this post when I get documents back from the state. Until then, browse at your own risk.

© 2018 ACLU of Massachusetts.