18. May 2016 VARIA

Hotspot operators are liable for their users …

… this is what the so-called liability for interference sees it. Until now.
Just as we are creating the new edition of Wave and the interview with the Chemnitz Freifunkern has just started, Union and SPD surprisingly decided to completely overturn the interference liability for WLAN operators discussed in the following interview. The long-discussed introductory page for free WLANs is also no longer included in the current draft law.

The FREIFUNK community should be very pleased. We took the huge involvement in the interactive network, the steadily increasing number of participants and even the award of a peace prize as an opportunity to present Freifunk in more detail. We went to the organizers in Harz, Franconia and Chemnitz and had the project, the enthusiasm and the technical implementation explained to us.

Wir stellen vor: der Freifunk Chemnitz e.V.

Freifunk Chemnitz eV are network-savvy people who have been setting up an open and anonymous WiFi in Chemnitz, Central Saxony (e.g. Augustusburg, Frankenberg, Flöha), Erzgebirge (e.g. Annaberg-Buchholz, Seiffen, Zschopau) or Zwickau in their free time since 2011. Anyone can simply use it and surf over it or share it with their neighbors – it is open and free for everyone. In order to continuously expand the network, everyone can join in and “open” their own Freifunk node or simply advertise at their favorite café.

VARIA: The Chemnitz Peace Prize has been awarded every year since 2002 to honor peacemaking cultural and political impulses. What did you receive the award for? What connects the Freifunk with a peaceful Chemnitz / Saxony?

Steffen Förster: We received the award as part of our collaboration with various initial reception facilities for arriving refugees. With the help of our network, the people in the facilities could easily use the Internet and thus establish contact with their family members. In our eyes, the Internet as the greatest source of information is a necessity that should be freely accessible to everyone.

VARIA: What is the Chemnitzer Freifunk actually and what were your motives for founding the Freifunk Chemnitz? Please introduce yourself.

Steffen Förster: As the third largest city in Saxony, it was of course high time to found your own community. After all, Freifunk is available throughout Germany and in Chemnitz, too, the need for free Internet access was and is high. We not only create individual hotspots but also build a large mesh network that is operated independently and decentrally. This means that the individual routers are connected to each other via WLAN and can distribute the network traffic among each other. This decentralization also protects individual connections from failure and thus guarantees the free exchange of information

VARIA: The number of public WiFi hotspots is increasing only slowly in Germany and Germany is lagging far behind in an international comparison. What do you think is the cause of this?

Steffen Förster: The answer is simple and is called interference liability. This means that in the event of misuse, it is not the user but the connection owner who can be held liable. So if someone makes his internet connection available to the public and a criminal offense is committed through it, the culprit is not the culprit, but the responsibility lies solely with the operator of the internet connection. The law on liability for interference only applies in Germany, which is why free internet access and WiFi hotspots are much more widespread in other countries.

VARIA: The dissemination of broadband Internet access and its availability have the highest priority according to the statements of the federal government. What effects does this have on the expansion and community of the free wireless network?

Steffen Förster: The federal government is calling for something that Freifunk eV has been trying to achieve on its own for over 10 years. The development of digital wasteland is now gaining momentum thanks to political programs and current debates. We also benefit from this, because Freifunk is able to help shape this goal. Some municipalities are already working with us here and prefer a citizen-owned initiative to a large corporation like Telekom. The state and federal funding programs are also explicitly aimed at sustainable and more economical solutions. With Freifunk, smaller towns and villages in particular have the opportunity to achieve this project together with their residents, instead of becoming dependent on an established provider with a market monopoly.

VARIA: What exactly is the legal uncertainty in the operation of public WLANs at the moment and does the issue of “liability for interference” play a role for Freifunk?

This decentralization also protects individual connections from failure and thus guarantees the free exchange of information.

Steffen Förster: The aforementioned interference liability is indeed a major problem for public WLANs. The fear of being held responsible for the actions of others on the Internet is great. Nevertheless, we have found a way to overcome this hurdle. The entire data traffic of the router is routed to our Freifunk servers via a VPN tunnel. This means that the individual node operator can no longer be determined.

VARIA: Do operators of public hotspots or Freifunk hotspots have to report to the Federal Network Agency?

Steffen Förster: The operation of a public WLAN infrastructure is always notifiable if the operator is commercially active. However, this also applies if he is working to break even. Freifunk Chemnitz eV is therefore registered as an ISP with the Federal Network Agency. This regulation does not apply to users who set up a router at home and thus join the free wireless network.

VARIA: What exactly is the responsibility of the operator of a Freifunk hotspot or are there risks that an operator should be aware of?

Steffen Förster: The operator is only responsible for the physical operation of the device – ie the installation site should be appropriately safe so that no router or antennae crashes. In addition, electricity and, if necessary, internet access must of course be provided.

VARIA: You mentioned routing via VPN earlier. How exactly can you imagine the implementation of the routing via the tunnel?

Steffen Förster: All traffic is transported through our VPN – this is a kind of invisible cable to our servers. There we take care of the further distribution of the data packages so that the users have access to the Internet. For this we have several DHCP and DNS servers in use, which are networked with each other with GRE and BGP. The routers themselves use the tunnel software fastd or l2tp to connect to our infrastructure.

VARIA: Away from the legal aspects, how big is your network? How many hotspots / supporters do you have?

Steffen Förster: There are currently 280 nodes in the entire city of Chemnitz and in some areas on the outskirts of the city. With around 150 supporters, we form a community that is impressive. This is also supported by our access numbers, which are currently up to 600 users at the same time.

VARIA: Which technology should be used for a Freifunk hotspot?

Steffen Förster: No fancy technology is required for use. All you need is an OpenWRT-capable router. This should have at least 4 MB Flash and 16 MB RAM. Our own firmware is flashed on this device. The software – GLUON – is developed in cooperation with many free radio operators from all over Germany.

VARIA: Who will install the software on the system? Does this mean that the device loses its warranty?

Steffen Förster: Many future users will receive a preconfigured device from us. The operator only needs to connect the router to his existing Internet connection or to an existing Freifunk router in his vicinity. Those with an affinity for technology can also flash the firmware on the router themselves. The original firmware of the device can be reinstalled at any time and the hardware guarantee does not expire.

VARIA: How fast are the connections? What bandwidth can the “guest” expect? Does this limit your connection?

Steffen Förster: The surfing speed is usually between 5 and 50 Mbit / s – depending on the existing Internet connection and router model. Our software only allows the operator to make a certain part of his bandwidth available. This means that there is always enough capacity left over for the home network.

VARIA: Can you monitor the use of the Freifunk hotspot, ie what exactly is being used? Do you advertise?

Steffen Förster: There is no interference with the existing data stream, just as there is no data retention. The user moves completely anonymously. There are only anonymous usage statistics per router. This is only used to evaluate the traffic.

VARIA: Who is liable if a user of their own hotspot is harmed by using it, e.g. by a virus or system crash or the like?

Steffen Förster: The free wireless routers already have a certain basic level of protection through our VPN. However, as with all other hotspots, the responsibility lies with the user. For example, we always recommend using SSL encryption for online banking or similar applications. Often, however, this is already the case by default. The traffic in the WLAN itself cannot be protected technically, since it is free and open access without a password.

VARIA: As a brief conclusion: Why should you provide a Freifunk hotspot?

Steffen Förster: Finally, let me answer this question with a small example. Everyone in a good restaurant is happy about the “greeting from the kitchen”. This service can also be transferred to digital offers. Regardless of whether it is a restaurant or a home at home – barrier-free access to the Internet is a fundamental right these days and ensures satisfied customers and friends alike.

Many thanks to the Freifunk team for answering our questions!
( Interview and photo: Michael Großfrei )

The video by Philipp Seefeldt from Freifunk Berlin (see above) shows that Freifunk is about more than just surfing. Freifunker want to promote the networking of people and organizations and thus create added value for culture and education. But these networks also offer technical advantages:

  • regionally restricted content (PlayList, YouTube, Zattoo, etc.)
  • modern infrastructure (IPv6, roaming, peering into other networks, e.g. dn42)
  • Anonymity and legal security

Legal security is created through the use of VPN software on the nodes. This ensures that all connections can only be traced back to Freifunk.
Anonymity is guaranteed by the lack of logging within the Freifunk network and by a Tor proxy. Within the network, every known website can also be sent separately via tor be called.

A current overview of WiFi in Chemnitz can be found here:

Donation account:
Freifunk Chemnitz eV
Account number: 1017306299
Bank code: 12030000
IBAN: DE30120300001017306299
Deutsche Kreditbank Berlin
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