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
    Will Schanille, 15 Nov 2007 @ 4:59pm

    Missed point:

    In the US, there are almost no ISPs that have bandwidth caps, not even dial-ups. Well, no bandwidth caps, WITHIN REASON. I'm sure the few folks who got their service revoked were using unreasonably large amounts of bandwidth. Therefore, there is no legal, or even moral, reason to NOT use an open WiFi connection.

    BUT

    In the UK, at least according to someone who lives/claims to live there, there are bandwidth caps. Therefore, the internet is no longer just there. It's a utility. If there are usage limits, it IS the same as stealing electricity, water, cable, what ever. An open AP (or however the term is used) is no longer an excuse. The only issue at this point is, was there implied permission beyond "It was open!"? If not, it IS the same as "taking the apples out of the barrel next to my porch". You can see the apples from the sidewalk, but that doesn't mean you can have one. Even if you can reach them from where you're standing and not go into my yard, they aren't yours. But if there's an SSID like David's up there, it's fair game.

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