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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
    BTR1701, 16 Nov 2007 @ 3:15am

    Re: Re: More flawed thinking, I see...

    > > Having your front door open, with the
    > > screen door propped open too, doesn't
    > > mean somebody can walk into your house
    > > uninvited.

    > Try it sometime. Leave your doors all open
    > and if someone wanders in just try to call
    > the police and report a crime. The only one
    > to be arrested will be you.

    As a cop myself, let me be the first to tell you that you're wrong. Homeowners can indeed leave their windows and doors open/unlocked and still validly report any unauthorized entry into their home as a crime-- specifically breaking and entering. The "breaking" part is commonly misunderstood as breaking a physical lock or window but that's not what it is. Under the law, it's illegal to break the close (or threshold) of someone's home without their permission. So even if the door is wide open, an intruder still breaks the close when they enter contrary to the homeowner's wishes.

    Bottom line, it's no defense to a breaking and entering charge to say, "Well, the windows were already open." And the police certainly aren't going to turn around and arrest the homeowner for calling the cops when she finds some strange man climbing through her window just because it was a nice day and she left it open to catch a breeze.

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