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
    atomatom, 15 Nov 2007 @ 3:41pm

    "WiFi signals don't "turn around" remotely...they simply exist."

    Huh? How does that make any kind of sense? How do you think the wifi router knows to ask the modem for the webpage you want to look at? Through the magical aether or by your computer sending it a signal?

    The router sends out a signal, your computer sends out a signal. When your computer asks the router for a page, the router sends the page. That is your computer sending a signal into my house, to my equipment, telling it what to do. It doesn't "simply exist".

    "Using my light in your backyard will absolutely not impede the light I am receiving in my backyard."

    Well, if there are three lights shining, and one of them turns away to shine somewhere else, that's 33% of the light. In wifi terms, that's 33% of the bandwidth.

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