California Taking Steps To Outlaw WiFi Piggybacking?

from the pointless dept

The California legislature has passed a law requiring the manufacturers of WiFi products to put warning labels reminding users to password-protect their networks, and the state’s governor is expected to sign it. While the bill doesn’t outlaw piggybacking — the practice of simply using an available, open access point — some are wondering if this is the first step towards making it illegal, since it notes “there is disagreement as to whether it is legal for someone to use another person’s WiFi connection to browse the Internet if the owner of the WiFi connection has not put a password on it”. Securing on open access point isn’t too difficult, and the Wi-Fi Alliance is introducing a new program to make the use of Wireless Protected Access even easier to implement — so if someone doesn’t want people to access their network, it’s not too hard to keep them from doing so. There’s little ethical concern about using an open access point, and a lack of security is typically understood to represent tacit approval that it’s okay. There have been a few cases of people being arrested or prosecuted for using open WiFi, but the legality of it seems somewhat clear, particularly if the network is being accessed from public property or if the radio waves from one person’s AP have traveled over to someone else’s property. It’s unclear, though, why California politicians see the need for a law here — if people want don’t want others accessing their WiFi, they have plenty of options with which to lock down their network, they don’t need special legal protection. Furthermore, if piggybacking is outlawed, where would it leave people who actually want to share their WiFi, whether it’s just an individual, or a business? Things get awfully messy there. If I want to share a network connection over WiFi, how do I communicate to others that I approve of them using my network? Physical signs aren’t a perfect solution by any means. Overblown security fears shouldn’t prevent people who want to share their WiFi from doing so; for those who don’t plenty of means exist to limit access without inventing another crime, let alone one that would be ridiculously hard to enforce.

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 “California Taking Steps To Outlaw WiFi Piggybacking?”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Here’s another fun twist, if you have an open access point, do you have any liability for any of the activities conducted using your access point.

Here’s another twist: If you have an open pay phone, do you have any liability for any of the activities conducted using your pay phone?

claire rand says:

Re: Re:

i think this is going to be the point. if you *don’t* secure your wifi it will be taken as a sign of two things.

1, you don’t want to, i.e. its a deliberate choice not to since its ‘easy to do’ and ‘youve been told how’ etc, thus it will make it *much* harder to say using someone elses open wifi is illegal.

2, you *will* be held accountable for what happens via your wifi, since you have had an oppertunity to take control.

as i see it wifi represents a huge ‘security hole’ for law enforcement, and totally coincidentally monitoring of internet traffic. since it leads to a dead end, you know the comms when to wifi hub ‘x’, but now have no clue where it went afterwards, which makes tracking peoples access that little bit harder and we all know how people in authority like to be able to monitor things.

i’m actually suprised in a way wifi doesn’t require a ‘license to operate’ effectivly meaning only compaines can use it, and making it easier to sue someone when something you don’t like goes through it etc.

I await the uk version of this with baited breath.

Ron (profile) says:


Look underneath this and I’ll bet you find the fascist (new word of the day) RIAA or MPAA backing it. They have been shot down several times when they were not able to prove that downloading via an IP address accessed via an open access point really was done by the person to whom the address was assigned. By making it illegal to share IP addresses the goons have a one to one, address to person, relationship to ease the road to prosecution.

Chris says:

How is this binding?

“The California legislature has passed a law requiring the manufacturers of WiFi products to put warning labels…”

So far it seems everyone has glanced over this first line where the keyword “manufacturers” comes into play. They aren’t saying that businesses or the home user actualy have to secure their AP’s but that whoever makes the router has to warn the customer that they SHOULD. Seeing as everythings made oversees or in Mexico, how can the California legislature enforce anything they put into effect other than refusing business licences to companies operating within their jurisdiction?

Like most California laws they’re completely unessecary and just supporting one more lawyers income.

brian.aspx says:


If someone wanted to share their connection they could change their SSID to something like “FREE USE” or something like that. That way people would know its meant to be open. I think if an access point is open you should have the right to use it. Its not like you have to hire a security consultant to lock it down for you. Give my grandmother a manual and she’ll figure it out in a few minutes.

Thetoe says:

RE:How is this binding

“Seeing as everythings made oversees or in Mexico, how can the California legislature enforce anything they put into effect other than refusing business licences to companies operating within their jurisdiction?

California can withhold import licenses from those that are non compliant with their state law. It goes on everyday, from California EPA laws to how LCD monitors are disposed of.

ConceptJunkie (profile) says:

Good idea... stupid law

I think the manufacturers have been very negligent in providing products that are completely insecure by default and not making it clear that this could be a problem.

I know everybody wants stuff to “just work”, but in any given residential section you can find as many as a dozen unsecured wireless networks… and I’m betting that 95% of those users have no idea what they are allowing, especially when their local networks and/or machines are also unsecured (I’ve seen that before).

However, like most things, this shouldn’t be solved by a law because laws are usually poorly thought-out, overly broadly written and invariably have unintended consequences even if they do accomplish what they are created for, and that’s not even a given.

I used to use the metaphor or “Is it OK to fill up a bucket if your neighbor leaves his hose running in the street?” A more accurate metaphor would be “Is it OK to fill up a bucket if your neighbor leaves his hose running _in your kitchen sink_?”

Anonymous Coward says:

This is yet another shining example of a law that should never exist. The technology to secure wireless access points has ALWAYS been around, in one form or another. People are just too stupid or ignorant to use it. Furthermore, any person with an ounce of common sense knows that piggybacking on somebody else’s private wireless network is wrong. We don’t need a stupid law to tell us that. Besides that, I believe there’s already a law in place that has to do with accessing one’s private network and/or PC without permission. Why do we need new laws for issues already covered by existing laws? More is not always better, especially when it comes to the government being in control of our lives.

G-Man says:

wi-fi responsibility

Ignorance does not give you a free ticket above the law. If you have a neighbor who likes to partake in outlawed internet activity (gambling, kiddie porn, etc.) then you are providing that portal if your wi-fi is not secure. There is no grey area when it comes to that.

Where is this kiddie-porn freak getting his media? Let’s track that IP address – once they find out its your router – you are involved! Can you imagine having the cops show up to drag you away only to find out months later that it was your neighbor who was stealing access to your wi-fi — and 20 minutes after you were carted off in the paddy wagon – they ditched their NIC and left the state!

G-Man says:

Re: Re: wi-fi responsibility

Try re-reading my first reply to the post – then imagine that the first thing the e-cops find is your IP address – time and time again surfing kiddie porn sites…chatting with “teens”. Of course they come after you first. How would anyone ever figure it was “someone else” until the investigation – the scouring of the hard drive – the questioning…the distraught family?

its not worth it. not saying ultimately the person sharing would be guilty – but they are providing the resource for the law being broken. do i believe they should be guilty? – no – generally because most of the public is ignorant when it comes to the out of the box wireless solution. hook it up…I’m in!!!

Hah – and to one of the “anonymous cowards” who announces the big discovery that mac addresses can be spoofed – thanks for your endless wisdom. I would estimate less than 1 % of computer users knows about MAC address spoofing…much less what it is. That is actually an interesting subject – but is for another conversation.

As far as the law – its weak. They just stick a tag on the router/ap like the tag on the hair dryer or tag on the bedroom pillow. the big square that used to be around your “55” on american made cars (check me on that – i know it was on some of them!) – the warning is there – but it is weak. this is just a CYA law. this is to prevent some Joe Schmoe from getting hacked/shared/etc and then trying to sue the manufacturer – unfortunately, another common American trait.

I say lay off the lawmakers on this one – except for the fact that it is keeping their minds off of more important issues. …and if they can make the companies include software/better instructions on how to secure a wireless network, that takes a bit of a chunk from some of the clients that IT Pros provide services for in their businesses. just a thought. i don’t live in CA. Even if they did, I am not sure it would bother me nearly as much as some of these people who have posted.

Donnie Scott says:

Behind in technology

No wonder other countries are leaving us behind. As long as we continue to not share what will help americans communicate better and learn we will always be behind and loose our edge as in skilled fields. A law to block wifi is destructive and will cause more of a problem and cost people more money to safe guard access. If people would pull together and share to cost and expense for the service all this would go away. Its all about money…

weShare says:

funny we share becase theIP providers like to price too high becase they have the monopoly here …so what we all share so speeds vary but for basic surfin .. its great we all donate $$ to the cause .. for the IP bill and all are happy xcept the over priced providers.. lower prices=more customers..somday they may learn that .. but not likely

Anonymous Coward says:

if it’s open, then you have the right to use it?

so if someone leaves their car parked with the keys in it, it’s not stealing? now granted the owner of the car is an idiot, but it is still considerred theft.

I pay for my bandwitdh, and i expcet what i pay for. i dont need some freeloader trying to steal mine. so what do i do? i lock it up. If i wanted to open it up, i would do so, and allow people.

Myself says:

The universal SSID for open access

…you mean like

Seriously, it wouldn’t be bad if these same stickers instructed people “If you wish to advertise your network for open access, put “OpenAccess” somewhere in your SSID” or something like that.

Currently, anyone taking that view will have to dig up their own ideas for what constitutes a clear marking in the SSID that access is, indeed, allowed.

Paul says:

More bad analogies!

“so if someone leaves their car parked with the keys in it, it’s not stealing? now granted the owner of the car is an idiot, but it is still considerred theft. “

It is more like if someone’s nice big screen TV is viewable from their front yard window and you just sit there watching it through their window. If they really cared about privacy they could close their blinds or relocate the TV.

However this is only 80% accurate since bandwidth is a limited resource.

Here’s another half-assed analogy for you:
Using someone’s wireless would be like using their hose. Their house might have a water meter or they might pay a flat rate (cost per gb xfer vs unlimited xfer per month), however they only get a certain ammount of water pressure (bandwidth speed) so when you use their hose you are making their faucets and sprinklers etc less powerful, and they don’t have full access to their water.
Some people might not mind a random jogger comming up and getting a drink from their hose, just as they might not mind a lost traveler looking up mapquest briefly.

Anonymous Coward says:

a sticker is worthless… in the phishing days of aol there were still stupid ass people who would give you their credit card without question even after they put the “never give your personal information out to anyone, aol will never contact you through im” … if people are that stupid, do you think they’re going to take heed to a sticker that says they should secure their wireless router?

David (user link) says:

Law and buddies

Law: you have to know who is accessing what from which physical address. Some of you say that this is essential to be able to prosecute abusers of internet access (kiddie porn etc). Q: what about city wide wifi (municipal networks) then?

Buddies: The buddies of the state are business, this means the ISP’s who don’t want to see their revenue impacted because some of us are sharing our expensive pipes, everyon shared is one lost. This also means the Telco’s who at some point, if not now, will start to feel the pinch of VoIP (Skype et al) so they want to ride the cash cow a bit longer and would love the squash the proliferation of free (in this case) WiFi (that’s what Net Neutrality is all about).

At the end of the day politicians will always go where the campaign funds come from won’t they??

G-Man says:

wi-fi responsibility

Are you indicating that all people are going to automatically come up with the “my MAC address was spoofed” claim? I doubt it. As I stated before – a small percentage of the population even knows about this.

I still think you are taking the MAC address spoofing into a conversation it does not belong in right now. After all – if you do not share your wi-fi connection – you won’t have to worry about your MAC address being spoofed now will you?

David says:

License for Wifi?

Claire raises an interesting point, maybe there should be some layer that allows individuals to get out of the 2.4 GHz public (read unlicensed) spectrum. But would the individual really want to get involved in an auction for a frequency when the structures are already in place to add a level of security should the law actually go through.

G-Man says:

re: Hacker? LINKSYS = Free wifi

Mike – good point – but again, most of the public does not understand how to break that encryption – no matter how easy it may be for you and me.

Also – I am curious about anyone’s take on “reverse hacking” – being set up – neighbor opens up a “LINKSYS” SSID and you surf and use the free resource. This, of course, is another discussion about a very small percentage of wifi users and their actual abilities – but it is one reason why I keep my laptop connected only to networks I know.

Sounds like we have a ton of freeloaders here. “Take advantage of your neighbor as long as you can.” I guess that is the new American way, eh?

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...