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
    emj, 8 Jul 2005 @ 3:02pm

    How do you tell "public" from "private"?

    What's the difference between someone's unencrypted personal access point and the local coffee shop's offering of free wireless? How can someone tell which is open to the public, and which would be a felony to access? The SSID, when half of them use "linksys"? The physical sign at the coffee shop saying there's free wireless at their location? What about the close-by resident who's access point offers a better signal than the coffee shop's?

    No, you indicate that your AP is private by configuring it to be encrypted. It's just too ambiguous otherwise, especially for non-technical users who just turn on their laptops and use the first network to pop up.

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