It's been many, many years since we first asked the question
of whether or not piggybacking on an open WiFi network was a crime. Since then, we've seen plenty of people arrested
, and wide ranging discussions on the ethics
of WiFi piggybacking -- with various ethicists noting that simply using an open WiFi network doesn't seem unethical, assuming you don't significantly slow down the connection by uploading or downloading large files. However, we still see people falsely referring to it as "theft"
The latest comes in a short column for Time Magazine, where the author admits that he was a WiFi "thief" for many years
in his old apartment. In the article, he claims that it is against the law, noting one of the stories of someone being arrested, while quoting Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 47 of the United States Code, which deals with anybody who "intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access." Well, that sounds good, but there's a big problem with it. If the owner of the WiFi access point left it open, then they have, by default, authorized access to that device. So it can't possibly be a violation of that law.
Of course, there will be those who say that the owners didn't intend for the network to be open -- but that's really besides the point here. The only information a user has is does the network say: "you're welcome here" or not. If it's open, it sends out an invite that specifically says: this network is open, come use it. That's authorization, and using such a network is not "theft" in any sense.