Wireless Piggybacking Is Still Not A Problem

from the victimless-crime dept

For years, we've been pointing out that there's nothing unethical about borrowing an open wireless connection. Unfortunately, the stories on this subject just keep getting more hysterical. The latest example is a story from the UK that dubs the offense "wi-fi tapping" and reports that more than half of computer users have engaged in the practice, which it claims is illegal in the UK. Now, you might think that the fact that a majority of otherwise law-abiding Brits have engaged in piggybacking would be a reason to re-consider the law against it, but instead the story takes the opposite tack, sternly lecturing readers about the need to abstain from borrowing Internet access. Unfortunately, they never get around to explaining what's supposed to be wrong with it. They point out that people sometimes do illegal things with a borrowed wi-fi connection, but that's like saying you should never allow anyone to borrow your car because they might run someone over with it. And they insist that it's not a victimless crime because "A crime is perpetrated against the person who pays for the internet connection." But that's just circular logic. It's quite possible the owner of the network left it open on purpose, and in any event, if the piggybacker is just checking his email or engaging in light web surfing, the bandwidth being consumed is trivial. The "victim" is unlikely to even notice, and he certainly doesn't suffer any serious harm. Of course, there might be legitimate reasons, either security- or bandwidth-related, why someone would want to lock down his or her network. It's certainly worthwhile to educate users about the pros and cons of leaving your network open, and to provide them with directions for locking down their network if they wish to do so. But the police have much more important things to do than harassing people whose only crime is a compulsive need to check their email.

Filed Under: freeloaders, open access, uk, wifi


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  1. identicon
    Stealing is Stealing, 15 Nov 2007 @ 1:42pm

    Flawed thinking

    I leave my front door open and you enter my house, watch my television and read my magazines You didn't 'use' much of the house and, assuming you didn't take any of my stuff, it didn't cost me anything. But my house still isn't yours to borrow just because I was careless. I think the same thinking is at play here.

    The problem is the determining the intent of the owner of the open wireless connection. Was he careless or simply doesn't care who uses his bandwidth? I don't see how you can conclude a 'theft' occurred unless the owner feels his property was misappropriated.

    However, should the owner cry 'thief' I don't see how you can defend using someone's paid services without permission. Theft is theft no matter how trivial the cost.

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