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
    Le Blue Dude, 15 Nov 2007 @ 5:20pm

    Ahem

    It is... not right to take advantage of a service for which you have not paid. Unless someone else who paid for the service gives it to you.

    However: It's one thing to have an internet connection, which you are paying for, then to go elsewhere, and take advantage of someone's wireless to browse the internet while you are in the elsewhere area. I'm sure almost everyone agrees that there is little wrong with this. It's like being at a friend's and getting a drink from their tap.

    It's an entirely different matter to not purchases an internet connection, and to only use your neighbor's. This is more like tapping their pipes for free water.

    And it's a third thing to p2p or width hog over someone else's wireless. This is like tapping their pipes for the amount of water needed to run a waterpark

    And its a fourth thing to kiddy-porn over someone else's wireless. This is like tapping their water, and then using said water to dump toxic waste, letting them get blamed for the waste emissions.

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