Marriott wants FCC cover for attacks on guests' WiFi devices

27 November 2014 by Steve Blum
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It’s interference, but it’s for your own good.

Lobbyists for Marriott and the hotel industry are asking for permission to use technological attacks to shut down personal WiFi hotspots and other devices on their properties (h/t to the Baller-Herbst list for the pointer). All in the name of security, of course. These are public spirited companies that would never do something so crass just to protect the profits generated from selling Internet access to guests.

As explained by Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth’s ComLawBlog, Marriott combats competing WiFi signals and what it considers misuse of its own network with digital counterattacks…

To address these various problems, Marriott and its friends commonly deploy sophisticated and expensive Wi-Fi network management systems that search for unauthorized or excessive uses of a network. When such uses are detected, the systems send codes disabling them. The signals technically don’t “interfere” with guest Wi-Fi signals – that is, they don’t “jam” any radio signals, which would obviously be illegal. Instead, they simply send management commands that keep unwanted systems from accessing the venue’s own system.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the disabling management commands also keep the unwanted private systems from functioning independently, even if those systems don’t try to interconnect with or slow down the venue’s system.

Marriott and the industry’s lobbying front, the American Hospitality and Lodging Association, want FCC blessing to control unlicensed spectrum within the bounds of their own property. Purely to protect the public, of course.

The FCC has already fined Marriott $600,000 for its particular brand of WiFi aggression. The petition under consideration would create a loophole big enough to resume the offensive. The deadline for comments is 19 December 2014.