If you're trying to log on to WiFi near Iowa State University, you may notice a network pop up with an appallingly racist name: "Hang that N-----!" Understandably, police have received many complaints about the network, but there's sadly nothing they can do. According to the local police chief, whoever created the offensive title has a right to do so under the First Amendment.
The WiFi network can be seen by "people living along Welch Avenue, near Campustown, or in the Friley Residence Hall off of Lincoln Way," according to USA Today. Police Commander Geoff Huff says his hands are tied:
Could a WiFi name be hate speech? https://t.co/cwxR4odh5H— Matthew Keck (@Matthew Keck)1533673647.0
Many have asked, if police aren't able to shut the network down, whether they can at least inform the public as to who is engaging in such racist rhetoric. The police are just as powerless as before, according to Huff:
Obviously, they don't care who they are offending. We would have to get a subpoena or search warrant, and we can't legally do that because there isn't any reason to.
One can make a legit argument that “Hang that N....r” is a death threat in this context. A call to incite riot and… https://t.co/FQlf6QBoar— Hasan Kwame Jeffries (@Hasan Kwame Jeffries)1533645664.0
@Argus911 It may be illegal because it asks for killing a black person.— Stereotypical Arab Guy (@Stereotypical Arab Guy)1533585214.0
This is totally unacceptable @AmesPolice https://t.co/Xh9d7tDdGr— Heart of Iowa DSA 🌹 (@Heart of Iowa DSA 🌹)1533608546.0
Mark Stringer, executive director of the ACLU of Iowa, agreed in a written statement:
Government, including police, can't dictate what people may or may not name their Wi-Fi networks — even when those names are deeply offensive. It's clearly a free speech issue.
Glad to see the wifi at Iowa State is still trash— Kaylee Massman (@Kaylee Massman)1503327361.0
He went on:
If there is no suspicion that a crime has been committed, it would be unreasonable for police to hunt down the person who set up the Wi-Fi network for the express purpose of identifying that person to another member of the public.
If there was concern about the WiFi owner's intent to break the law, things might be different. In Autumn of 2017, the FBI tracked a WiFi account that they knew to be associated with online death threats concerning students at Howard University. The perpetrator is now spending 33 months in prison.
@USATODAY They could fairly easily end this by going after the person's ISP. Hate speech and/or harassment is agai… https://t.co/vNzPokAjkn— Techno Gaijin (@Techno Gaijin)1533625643.0
Iowa State University's code of conduct prohibits "discriminatory and harassing behavior," but not knowing the identity of the perpetrator stops them from taking any action. The campus IT department can trace the location of the signal (somewhere off-campus), but not its creator.
@USATODAY "Unfortunately, it’s not illegal to be a giant a--hole,” Ames police Cmdr. Geoff Huff said. Love plain spoken authorities!— Jon Wieneke (Win-ĕ-key) (@Jon Wieneke (Win-ĕ-key))1533624124.0
Concerns over the racist WiFi title arrive at the same time that Iowa State is attempting to tamp down racist activity at the university. A spring survey found that a full third of students had considered leaving because "they felt like they didn't belong."
@USATODAY Routers can be racists too? Mind blown, bro!— Franklin Justice (@Franklin Justice)1533623788.0
In 2016, university officials scrambled to remove posters from all around campus which read:
In 1950, America was 90 percent white. It is now only 60 percent white. Will you become a minority in your own country?
White students, you are not alone. Be proud of your heritage."
Iowa State Is latest campus with racist posters https://t.co/4J4VLTb73i #IowaStateUniversity https://t.co/YiuuAsKRIH— Inside Higher Ed (@Inside Higher Ed)1477746905.0
Iowa State University students, faculty say racist posters upsetting but not surprising https://t.co/hvC4ZywWkn— BlackInformant (@BlackInformant)1478080909.0
In an effort to improve their image, Iowa State University will continue to try and determine the source of the racist WiFi and shut it down if the creator is found to be a student who must follow the school's code of conduct.