Here Comes The Bigger Debate On The Legality Of Open WiFi Usage

from the this-ought-to-be-pointless dept

Earlier this week, we pointed to the story of a man in Florida being charged as a felon for simply using an open WiFi network. That was based on a locally published news story in Florida, but that story went big yesterday when the Associated Press wrote up an account of it leading to a much bigger discussion (and a few people submitting it here, even though we'd written about it earlier in the week). Most of the new coverage has just rewritten the original story, but has a more detailed question and answer discussing all the legal questions associated with accessing open WiFi, and concluding, basically, that it's an open question. Of course, some people have been having this discussion for years. In the end, the real question is what is being "lost" here. In most cases, absolutely nothing -- which is why it's hard to consider using an open WiFi access point as "theft." In fact, some (though, not many) ISPs consider it a good idea and downright neighborly. The actual laws on the matter are way too vague -- but looking at the reality of the situation should lead people to recognize that this is not theft at all.

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  1. icon
    Mike (profile), 8 Jul 2005 @ 10:21pm

    Re: How do you tell

    But... he wasn't arrested for what he was doing on the network. He was arrested just for using the network. So it's quite different.

    As for your final analogy, that's not correct either. You use the term "steal" which is inaccurate. If something were stolen, it would be missing or lost. There's nothing missing or lost here. No one is harmed.

    The best analogy I've heard so far is that this is, honestly, the same thing as if I had a large spotlight in front of my house, and the light went out into the street. If someone sat in the street and read by my light, is that stealing the light?

    Because, honestly, this *IS* the same thing. The guy who was arrested wasn't on anyone's property. He was sitting in the street. And the WiFi network went beyond the other guy's property, so that it seeped out into the street... where anyone could use it. So, how is that criminal?

    Beyond that, the fact that most computers try to automatically associate with open WiFi networks, you could be a felon twenty times over just by driving through a random neighborhood.

    Doesn't that all seem a little silly?

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