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 @ 5:47pm

    Re: Re: Missed point:

    But isn't that the whole point? In the UK, it IS a crime (you can get arrested for it with out the involvement of the one the "crime" was committed against, the router owner). They're picking up guys on the street, surfing the web. With, I might add, apparently no proof that they WERE using a connection without permission. I think most of the outrage at this point is because the idea might spread, but for no reason. There aren't bandwidth caps, so it isn't a utility. I also (naively, I guess) assumed that there wouldn't be any wrongdoing involved in borrowing a connection. In other words, the borrower WOULDN'T be using it as their primary (would somebody really buy a laptop in order to surf the net, but not have their own?), or for file sharing, or kiddie porning it up. That would be basic courtesy, right? lol

    And yes, you CAN sue about anything, but you A: shouldn't unless you can prove REAL damages (lost data, etc.) B: most likely would lose because, face it, an open WiFi connection is at the least perceived to have permission tacked onto it. The issue is, is there or isn't there? Until there is an established etiquette (such as the free_courtesy thing), it has to be established on a case by case basis, which is a really, really bad idea. Way too much room for miscommunication and misunderstanding.

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