Small businesses providing Wi-Fi to their patrons, holiday rental hosts and home owners or their tenants could face serious charges if people use their internet connection to access illegal content.

Managed access to the internet is emerging as a crucial issue toward 2021, as authorities crack down on people who access illegal internet content, such as child pornography sites and streaming sites that trade in copyright protected material.

People innocently providing internet access to customers or tenants could find the police at their door and copping serious charges if it’s shown the internet service they are responsible for has been used for highly illegal activity.

Here at EAGLEGATE Lawyers we warn clients that sex perverts, terrorist cells, drug runners and others are using Wi-Fi and home internet services as a cover to download or distribute highly illegal content. They are also using other networks to download movies from torrent sites to try to evade detection.

John Whyte, of Sydney company Rocketstreem which provides managed secure access to the Internet for clients, says the issue’s made worse when a person whose Wi-Fi is used without their knowledge to do something bad, is then implicated when the authorities crack down.

It can be an expensive fight for them to clear their name.

We believe that if internet use is not monitored properly, and used for nefarious means, the host may be blamed and unable to prove it was not them that used the internet at that time.

Mr Whyte’s business specialises in structured systems to closely monitor internet access and the Founder and Managing Director of Rocketstreem says cafes, restaurants and holiday rentals such as AirBNB and even those managed by real estate agents are especially vulnerable to having their Net connection misused.

The issue’s been growing for years. It was graphically illustrated 12 years ago when Qantas had to defend the adequacy of its internet filters after a man accessed child pornography in its Melbourne Airport lounge.

In court the man pleaded guilty to viewing 76 child pornography files over a 40-minute period in the Qantas lounge, some of the images were of children as young as six years.

John Whyte says airports and shopping centres providing Wi-Fi services have robust filters now and log user access, but the problem is amplified for holiday rentals such as Air BNB hosts due to the number of different people that stay at the property and either used the wi fi during the stay, or could come back and use it later.

The challenge that needs to be addressed is having good records of usage. And knowing which devices were active on the network at what date/time.

If you provide internet services they should only be temporary access for guests and once their stay is over their access can be revoked.

Typical home Wi-Fi devices do not provide this level of control, therefore a more technical solution is required with ongoing support to keep them up to date.

He says the cost of doing nothing could kill a business.

If the police rock up to your door they will likely seize all devices from the network for forensic analysis. In the case of a business that could leave you without your laptops / desktops / servers, Mr Whyte says.

We say just to get a criminal law lawyer to give you advice on defence to a charge would be at least $5,000 – Up front in the trust account.

We’re telling commercial clients and really anyone who has internet service they allow others to use that they can’t rely on a user’s promise to use the internet for legal purposes.

In that regard the Net is like a key to your home- you are careful who you give a key to avoid thieves or worse. Regard your free wi fi service for customers or tenants as your front door key – the same security is needed.