Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick




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 News.com 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. identicon
    Flamsmark, 9 Jul 2005 @ 1:42pm

    Permission not Given?

    Law describes the crime of which he is accused as something along the lines of accessing an electronic network or system without permission to access said network or system.

    Its a good thing that he was given permission to access the network then. His computer sent a standard TCP/IP message to the access point requesting a DHCP lease on a dynamic IP address. His computer said 'can I access this network?' The access point responded by giving his computer the credentials neccessary to access the network. That would be an unequivocable 'yes, you may access this network, and here are your logon details.' The owner of the access point decided to set up an automated system to give people premission to access the network [an unencrypted network which will use a DHCP server to assign IP addresses automatically].

    Would the guy still be guilty [note: 'guilty', not 'been caught'] if he drove by with a laptop on and it automatically connected because both systems were using 802.11g and TCP/IP?

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