Is Using Your Neighbor's WiFi A Crime? Is Leaving Your's Unsecured?

from the calm-down-people... dept

Now that WiFi in the home is incredibly popular (to the point that completely non-technical folks are picking up access points at Wal-mart), the new legal questions are starting to come up – and it sounds like people are confusing the issues. Last month, we wrote about the very sick individual who was arrested in Canada for (a) driving the wrong way down a one way street (b) driving without any pants on (c) using a laptop while driving (d) using that laptop to download child porn (e) which he accessed via a free WiFi connection. Clearly, the guy deserved to be arrested, but what shocks me is that all anyone can talk about is the fact that he was using a free WiFi network, and how the owner of that WiFi network should be punished – and not any of the things the sick guy was doing himself. Say what? Talk about missing the point. There are perfectly legitimate reasons to leave your WiFi access point open to the public (assuming your ISP’s terms of service allow it), and yet everyone is focused on why wireless access point owners need to make their systems more secure. Over at Always-On they’re running a story about a similar situation where a neighbor’s kid got onto his wireless network and proceeded to wipe the guy’s hard drive clean. Instead of pressing charges, the guy had the kid show him how to protect his network. That’s the wrong thing. He should have shown him how to protect his computer. It’s completely possible to open up your WiFi network, without letting anyone else who gets on the network to access your computers. Again, this is a case where people are confusing the open network (which is legal) with the actual crime (wiping the hard drive). Even the excellent folks over at Broadband Reports are telling people they could be held responsible for not securing their networks. That shouldn’t be the case. If you have a legal open network, then you are a service provider and as an open service provider who has no control over what goes over your network should not be responsible for any crimes that are committed over it.

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Is Using Your Neighbor's WiFi A Crime? Is Leaving Your's Unsecured?”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
NFGman (user link) says:

How can you comment...

How can you really comment on something like this? The opinion expressed is simple common sense, but the press (and it seems the slobbering masses they lead) lack this sense. How can anything be done? It seems as futile to me as arguing the sky is blue in the fase of fervent believers in a green sky. I get exasperated just thinking about it. Everyone I know understands the issues when I get anywhere near them, I reckon that’s all any of us can do: Educate the people you know.

Aaron says:


I don’t see where the Broadband Reports blurb mentions anything like that….seems to simply be asking a question.

It is kind of a hazy issue. Of course people shouldn’t be held responsible for downloading MP3’s if it was someone else doing it over a poorly secured network.

However do people have the right to sue others for “hacking” into their networks when the door was wide open?

Mike (profile) says:

Re: well

Yeah, the BBR article wasn’t as bad as I thought on a second read through. I changed the text of my post to read “could” instead of “should”. Thanks for pointing that out.

However, on your other question, I don’t think it’s that complicated. If you do something illegal on the network then you should be suable. However, if someone is just pointing out that your network is not secure, but you didn’t actually do anything, you shouldn’t be sued.

Anonymous Coward says:

What about knowing sharers

I’ve got a co-worker who knowingly shares his cable bandwidth with more than a dozen neighbors, who pay him a monthly fee for a portion of a service he isn’t allowed to resell. I’ve warned him he could be in deep sh*t, but I still wonder just how deep it will be if and when some issue like this comes to a head on his wireless “network”.

Anonymous Coward says:

No Subject Given

In regards to the 2nd anecdoctal reference about the guy who got his hard drive erased (I knew a guy who knew a guy)… I disagree with the “he should have shown him how to protect his computer” statement: It really should be up to the individual, and in a less technically oriented person’s case, its better to make the stand of security more blanketed, and at the frontier.

People may have “legitimate” reasons to have open bandwidth, but the average home user should probably NOT be doing it.

acb (user link) says:

"a big boy done it and ran away!"

Imagine that, when the paedophile was accessing a wireless hotspot, the RCMP (or respective police agency) were doing a sweep on online paedophiles, monitoring internet traffic to certain sites, and caught traffic going to the home-owner’s network from several child-porn sites. The next day, the RCMP kick the home owner’s door down and arrest him for downloading child pornography (or online fraud, or threatening the President, or whatever). Would the home owner have much luck explaining to a court that it wasn’t him but some unknown stranger accessing their network from outside?

I suspect that it will become law that the person who operates the access point is liable for all accesses from it (especially in the post-9/11 climate), and that someone, at some stage, will be gaoled for an anonymous stranger’s crimes committed through their access point.

Zulummar says:

Re: Re:

Actually, if they (or their lawyer, or both) were smart, they’d have a very good chance. Mainly by demanding that the computer be analyzed, and if necessary, the hard drive run through high end data recovery / magnetic detection recovery to prove the files were NOT downloaded, viewed, cached, made, etc. on his machine, and by checking the logs of the AP (which most DECENT APs have at the very least connection logging on by default) to show that someone was indeed accessing the network at that time. Even without the first, simply by showing the logs of connections and that someone else was accessing the AP at that time, and could have been the one responsible, you’ve given more than enough doubt to avoid a conviction.

However, I do agree (although I think it’s freakin’ messed up) with you that there will be a law holding wireless network owners liable, or at least requiring that they log not only connection attempts, but also moderate activity logging (such as URLs visited, etc), and take reasonable measures to prevent people from using their networks in illegal ways.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...