In Germany, the government is taking a bold and innovative step by encouraging their citizens to share their private Wifi connections with everyone. The country is keen to catch up with rival countries and make digitization of the population a universal goal.
According to a recent report published by Der Spiegel, the Economy Ministry is looking to overturn a law that is seen to be detrimental to the digital progress of the country.
Currently, it is German law that the owner of a Wifi network is liable for any material accessed over the connection, potentially leading to prosecution if a guest user downloads illicit material. For example, if someone were to illegally download music files on their laptop whilst connected to a Wifi hotspot in a café, the provider of the Wifi network would be liable for prosecution under copyright laws. Even if the café owner has no knowledge of what their customers are downloading, they are still held responsible.
Due to these laws, many small businesses are very wary of making their Wifi networks available to the general public. In a recent Government survey, it was found that 59 percent of German businesses do not offer a Wifi hotspot to their customers due to fear of prosecution.
As a result, Germany finds itself far behind other first-world countries in the bid to make public internet access widely available to all. In South Korea, there are 37.35 Wifi public hotspots available per 10,000 people. By comparison, in Germany, this is just 1.87 hotspots per 10,000.
Despite the lack of public access, Germans on average own three devices that have Wifi capability, over twice the worldwide average for electronic device ownership.
In 2016 the German government attempted to protect Wifi network providers from the liability for copyright infringement if their users were to break the law. However, due to the wording of the legislation, copyright lawyers were able to continue to threaten public providers with legal action.
The latest draft of the law seeks to close any further loopholes following a ruling in September by the European Court of Justice that stated Wifi providers could not be held accountable for their guest’s online activity.
Der Spiegel further reports that the Economy Ministry hopes the new amendment will bring them a large step closer towards a fundamental aim of their national digital policy, by providing free public Wifi access to all Germans.