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Appeals Court Says Using Open WiFi May Be A Crime

from the uh-oh dept

For many years, we've had ongoing debates about whether or not it's ethical or legal to use open WiFi connections. It's one of those debates that never seem to stop. Unfortunately, in a ruling yesterday, the Third Circuit appeals court suggested that merely using an open WiFi network may be a criminal act. This is hugely problematic for a variety of reasons.

The case is mainly about the question of whether or not police need a warrant to track down someone connecting to a neighbor's open WiFi. In fact, on first reading it, I had thought that I'd lump it in with yesterday's big victory for the 4th Amendment in the 11th Circuit, saying that police need to get a warrant for mobile phone location. The main thrust of this new ruling is that police do not need a warrant to use a tool called "MoocherHunter" to track down who is likely using someone else's WiFi. While I'm a big 4th Amendment fan, this ruling actually makes a fair bit of sense on that front, as I'll explain below. But eventually, it runs into serious trouble with some offhand comments towards the end.

In this case, police were trying to track down someone downloading and sharing child pornography via a P2P setup, and were able to track down the IP address. After visiting the residence associated with the IP address, the police quickly realized that no one in the house was the likely person involved with child porn (there was no child porn on the computers, nor the file sharing software with a matching user ID). From there, the police asked the residents to cooperate by installing "MoocherHunter" to try to track down who was actually connecting to their open router. It's worth noting that the police actually had a "lengthy discussion" with federal prosecutors over whether or not a warrant was needed for MoocherHunter first, and they concluded it wasn't needed.

Eventually, the results were narrowed down to the likely culprit, Richard Stanley, and the police then got a warrant to search that guy's apartment, leading him to confess (after first trying to run away). Stanley's computer also contained the child porn. Stanley tried to suppress the evidence, arguing that the use of MoocherHunter required a warrant, not unlike the Kyllo ruling that found that police needed a warrant to use a thermal imaging device from outside someone's house to detect if there was enough heat inside to support probable cause for growing marijuana. The court here notes that while, superficially, these may look similar (a device pointed at someone's residence), the reality is that they were quite different, because Kyllo was about looking inside someone's house to see what they were doing in the privacy of their own home, whereas MoocherHunter was about identifying someone who had reached out of their own home into someone else's space to make use of their WiFi connection.
Critical to Kyllo’s holding, however, was the fact that the defendant sought to confine his activities to the interior of his home. He justifiably relied on the privacy protections of the home to shield these activities from public observation. See Kyllo, 533 U.S. at 34 (characterizing the thermal imaging scan as a “search of the interior of [Kyllo’s] home[],” which it considered to be “the prototypical . . . area of protected privacy”). See 13 also id. at 37 (“In the home, our cases show, all details are intimate details, because the entire area is held safe from prying government eyes.”) (emphasis in original).

Stanley can make no such claim. Stanley made no effort to confine his conduct to the interior of his home. In fact, his conduct—sharing child pornography with other Internet users via a stranger’s Internet connection—was deliberately projected outside of his home, as it required interactions with persons and objects beyond the threshold of his residence. In effect, Stanley opened his window and extended an invisible, virtual arm across the street to the Neighbor’s router so that he could exploit his Internet connection. In so doing, Stanley deliberately ventured beyond the privacy protections of the home, and thus, beyond the safe harbor provided by Kyllo....
The court further emphasizes that since MoocherHunter only revealed the path, but not the content, Stanley has even less privacy interest. That all makes some amount of sense. The court then has an interesting discussion about the third party doctrine, and whether or not Smith v. Maryland applies to Stanley's signals. In this case, it concludes it does not. And while the reasoning is a bit convoluted, this seems important:
Were we to hold that Stanley exposed his “signal” under Smith by transmitting it to a third-party router, we might open a veritable Pandora’s Box of Internet-related privacy concerns. The Internet, by its very nature, requires all users to transmit their signals to third parties. Even a person who subscribes to a lawful, legitimate Internet connection necessarily transmits her signal to a modem and/or servers owned by third parties. This signal carries with it an abundance of detailed, private information about that user’s Internet activity. A holding that an Internet user discloses her “signal” every time it is routed through third-party equipment could, without adequate qualification, unintentionally provide the government unfettered access to this mass of private information without requiring its agents to obtain a warrant. We doubt the wisdom of such a sweeping ruling, and in any event, find it unnecessary to embrace its reasoning.
That's a very good ruling. But, then, suddenly, the ruling goes off the rails, saying that merely connecting to the open WiFi itself may have been a criminal act:
The presence of Stanley’s signal was likely illegal. A large number of states, including Pennsylvania, have criminalized unauthorized access to a computer network. A number of states have also passed statutes penalizing theft of services, which often explicitly include telephone, cable, or computer services. We need not decide here whether these statutes apply to wireless mooching, but the dubious legality of Stanley’s conduct bolsters our conclusion that society would be unwilling to recognize his privacy interests as “reasonable.”
Yikes. While the court acknowledges in a footnote that this issue is somewhat contested, it's incredibly problematic in general. Just the idea that this is unauthorized access is a big problem, because it's not unauthorized. The neighbors left their WiFi open, and thus, by default, it is sending out signals that effectively say "welcome, feel free to connect to this network." It is authorized by the very nature of the setup of the network. Thus, it's quite questionable to argue that this is either unauthorized access or "theft of services." The court doesn't even seem to consider this. And while this part is not central to the overall ruling, it is still quite troubling to have that on the record in an appeals court ruling.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Michael, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 8:08am

    the police quickly realized that no one in the house was the likely person involved with child porn

    Holy s***! The police actually looked to determine if the people in the house were actually guilty? I would have expected this story to end right here with something like:

    "SWAT broke down the door, killed three children with flash grenades, shot and killed 2 adults, and took one adult into custody after he was treated for 3 gunshot wounds. And all computers were accidentally destroyed during the raid but they KNOW they had child porn on them so it is ok."

     

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    Michael, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 8:16am

    was deliberately projected outside of his home

    This seems dubious. Unless he placed equipment outside of his home, he simply intercepted a signal that was in his home. If you expand on the argument that connecting to an open Wi-Fi router outside of his physical house, does that not mean you lose your expectation of privacy connecting to a cellular signal? What if the signal is on a wire rather than through the air?

    While this is a situation in which it is good they caught the guy, it seems like they may have created a mess doing so.

     

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    Kalvan (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 8:18am

    To quote Wayne, Asshole say what?

    What is someone saying when they leave their wifi unsecured? Here are a few possibilities off the top of my head.

    Are they saying, "Come all ye yearning to wifi free"?

    Are they saying, "It's unlocked because I couldn't figure out how to secure the damn thing"?

    Are they saying, "We're doing some dodgy stuff here and we want plausible denyability later, yeah, it was a jerk in the next apartment hijacking my wifi, not me, that downloaded the movies. Really!"

    Is the question comparable to an unlocked door on a house? And where would the law fall if someone walked into a house and claimed it wasn't breaking and entering because the door wasn't locked? Not being a lawyer, I'm really asking

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 8:18am

    I agree that the police don't need a warrant to trace the whereabouts of an open wifi or even an encrypted wifi so long as it's location can be traced from public property.

    A wifi signal is simply radiation being transmitted from some location. If those signals had been transmitted in the visual light spectrum someone could see them and see where that light is coming from. Just like if they had been turning on a flashlight. The only difference here is that this radiation is being transmitted in a spectra that you can't see with your eyes but you can 'see' and decipher it with the right equipment.

    In fact I'm against laws that prohibit scanners from 'snooping' on cordless phones. If those cordless phones are broadcasting everywhere and the neighbor can pick up the signal then that's not the neighbor's fault. It's the fault of the user or phone manufacturer for not encrypting the signal. Then again I suppose government would prefer to simply ban civilian cordless phone eavesdropping equipment to discourage companies from encrypting the signal so that police can more easily eavesdrop on conversations without a warrant.

     

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    SickFRS (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 8:23am

    I don't see why the court didn't see it both ways... that the signal he connected to was being broadcast outside the confines of the home and therefore wasn't protected by "unauthorized access". Now if the home was in the middle of a 100 acre farm and the guy trespassed to get access then, sure, it's unauthorized but he was able to access an open signal in his own home. So while they were legally able to to track his signal on those grounds it's likely that he was legal in connecting to a signal based on the same grounds. While I may not enter your open door and take your cash, I believe it's within my rights to keep your cash it if you throw it through my window into my living room. Glad the guy got caught.

     

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    Gwiz (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 8:27am

    Re: To quote Wayne, Asshole say what?

    What is someone saying when they leave their wifi unsecured? Here are a few possibilities off the top of my head.

    Regardless of the motivation behind leaving the WiFi open, the signal itself is saying "I'm open, come on and connect to me". A lot of devices will automatically connect to unsecured WiFi all by themselves.


    Is the question comparable to an unlocked door on a house?

    In my opinion, no. More like your neighbor's kid tossing his football over the fence into your yard and you pick it up to toss around with your kid for awhile. No trespass of real property has occurred in either case.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 8:27am

    Re:

    its location *

     

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    mr. sim (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 8:30am

    how did this ever go to court?

    the police more than likely had the permission of the homeowner who paid for the wifi. a criminal should never be allowed to claim evidence was improperly collected from OTHER PEOPLES PROPERTY. if someone breaks into my home and the police investigates finding fingerprints which eventually find the thief. the thief has no right to contest the arrest on the grounds that taking his fingerprints from my home violated his rights.

    the criminal should have never had a leg to stand on simply because the wifi was not his and therefore he didn't have the legal right to deny the police to run the "moocherhunter" software. if you access other peoples wifi or home without permission and leave behind evidence they can use against you then expect that it WILL BE USED AGAINST YOU.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 8:31am

    Is this a big screw you to Comcast? (Oh please oh please oh please) Would it now be illegal for anyone to connect to subscriber's routers that Comcast makes open WiFi connections now by default?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 8:33am

    Re: To quote Wayne, Asshole say what?

    Perhaps if the name of the Wifi said "open wifi" or "guest Wifi" (which might just be intended for visitors and not neighbors) or "free wifi" it might indicate that this wifi is intended for everyone to use?

     

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    PaulT (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 8:35am

    Re: To quote Wayne, Asshole say what?

    "Are they saying, "It's unlocked because I couldn't figure out how to secure the damn thing"?"

    Virtually all routers supplied by ISPs have some kind of default password on them, even if it's just a WEP key. Someone who knows enough to replace that router themselves will most likely know enough about them to secure them. So, this is increasingly unlikely, and increases the likelihood that access is intended to be allowed (for whatever reason).

    "Is the question comparable to an unlocked door on a house?"

    No. You can't tell if a door is unlocked until you try it, at which point you're probably already trespassing. Unless the door is wide open, you certainly couldn't tell from the other side of the street (where a wifi signal may be transmitting).

    An open wifi is more akin to an open door, with a sign above it saying "come on in". Even that's a horribly inaccurate analogy (for example, many systems will automatically connect to an open wifi point whether you ask them to or not).

    "where would the law fall"

    That's the real question. Just because reality says that accessing an open wifi point is both morally and technically fine, that doesn't mean that some tech-clueless lawyers/judges/etc. won't interpret facts and apply the law incorrectly.

     

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    Oblate (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 8:37am

    Well, clearly not an authorized connection

    > Just the idea that this is unauthorized access is a big problem, because it's not unauthorized.

    Did the owners of the apartment authorize him to connect? If not, then it is clearly an unauthorized connection. Analogy: If I leave my hose connected in my yard, is it ok for my neighbor to drag it into their house to fill their fish tank? Almost every house has electric plugs somewhere on the outside- is it acceptable for anyone to roll up and plug in to them? Clearly not. Just because it's there doesn't mean it's there for anyone to use. These are obvious cases of unauthorized use.

    Now I don't think that means a felony was committed (IANAL so I'm not sure how theft of services statutes would apply) but I don't see how you can make the claim that it was an authorized connection. Open WiFi may allow such a connection, but that is different from someone authorizing a connection.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 8:38am

    Re: To quote Wayne, Asshole say what?

    I leave an unsecured (but somewhat limited) open WiFi channel at my home. What I am trying to say is "come all yearning to Wifi free".


    "And where would the law fall if someone walked into a house and claimed it wasn't breaking and entering because the door wasn't locked?"

    If the door had to be opened to enter, then it's "breaking" whether that door was locked or not.

    WiFi is a bit different in its social context. Not so long ago, it was understood that when you encountered an open WiFi channel, it was because the owner intentionally left it that way so that anyone could use it. The shift to that no longer being true is deeply regrettable.

    What I want to know is what to do about it to ensure that people know that they have my permission to use my open WiFi. I guess I have to set up a weak captured portal system so that the first time a device connects, they'll get a web page explaining that they have such permission. That sucks.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 8:38am

    > The neighbors left their WiFi open, and thus, by default, it is sending out signals that effectively say "welcome, feel free to connect to this network." It is authorized by the very nature of the setup of the network.

    This is a dangerous line of reasoning. Let's take it to its logical conclusion:

    The other day, I pulled up to my office parking lot, and the car parked next to me was a Mercedes with the doors unlocked and the keys sitting out in the open. Does very nature of the car's owner's setup effectively say, "Welcome, feel free to steal my car."

    Similarly, if a neighbor uses a weak WPA password, they are protecting their network with WPA, but the very nature of choosing a weak password effectively says, "Welcome, feel free to connect to this network."

    You're basically saying if the wireless network can be easily connected to, then it should be fair game for anyone to use.

     

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    W Klink (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 8:40am

    Just get a warrant...

    I can't understand why they decided to skip the warrant. They thought about it and they had the time. It doesn't seem likely that a warrant would be denied. And if a warrant WAS denied, then the same court that denied the warrant would have likely been more inclined to have required one. On the other hand, if they DID get a warrant, much of this delay would have been gone and there would be less risk of the defendant getting off. What's the down side with getting a warrant? Why, when they have an abundance of probable cause, do police still try to skip this step?

     

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    Trevor, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 8:40am

    Question

    Up until the whole "connecting to open wifi is a crime" part of the ruling, I thought the Court was on a somewhat reasonable path.

    In this case, the Cops didn't set up a mobile free wifi stingray style thing and track everyone connected to it, they asked a private citizen if they could monitor his internet router, and he agreed.

    In essence, they weren't searching Stanley's home, but rather got permission to search the owner of the wifi's home. In that search, the discovered evidence of Stanley's involvement.

    I would equate this situation to something like:
    Police are investigating mail fraud. They go to the address, but realize the owners are not involved. After asking for permission and receiving it, they monitor mail as it is delivered but do not open anything, and discover mail being re routed to another person through that address. Further investigation revealed that other person was likely involved, and a warrant was obtained.

    It seems like the Police actually tried to do it right this time. They could have avoided this whole headache of an Appeal had they just set up some mobile hotspot and not told him, or something. That seems to be the norm now.

    /my 2 cents

     

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    PRMan, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 8:40am

    Re:

    You forgot the dog...

     

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    PRMan, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 8:41am

    Re:

    How about the much easier: The owners of the Wifi consented to a search of their property.

     

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    PRMan, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 8:43am

    Re: To quote Wayne, Asshole say what?

    Technical people will say, "There is no difference between the three."

    Lawyers and judges will say, "There is an absolute difference between the three."

    It comes down to "mens rea" which looks at the same actions with different motivations to do evil or not.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 8:44am

    Re:

    I was wondering about this exact thing. The cops had permission from the "provider" (the owner of the WiFi). This would be a classic, and correct, application of the Third Party doctrine.

    Personally, I would never have given permission to run police-supplied software on my systems. It would also have been unnecessary, as my servers keep logs of all accesses (MAC address of devices, the IP address I assigned them, where they connected to, and when). The cops could get those records by providing a subpoena.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 8:45am

    Re: Well, clearly not an authorized connection

    Historically (and this generally remains true), the very fact that owner chose to leave the WiFi open is the permission to use it.

     

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    PRMan, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 8:46am

    Re: Just get a warrant...

    Paperwork. Cops (and everyone else) hate it.

     

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  23.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 8:48am

    Re:

    I don't think either of those analogies work. There is no history of social norms being that leaving keys in the car constitutes permission for anyone to use that car. There is a history of such a social norm with unsecured WiFi.

    As to using a weak password, I would argue that the very fact of using a password (or any access control) at all, regardless of its strength, clearly indicates that only people in possession of the password are authorized to use the connection.

     

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    Berenerd (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 8:50am

    Re: Re:

    Thats what I was thinking. The owners allowed access to their wireless access, but, even windows warns you that the data you are transmitting over the unsecured network is vulnerable to people seeing what you are doing.

     

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    Gwiz (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 8:59am

    Re:

    The other day, I pulled up to my office parking lot, and the car parked next to me was a Mercedes with the doors unlocked and the keys sitting out in the open. Does very nature of the car's owner's setup effectively say, "Welcome, feel free to steal my car."

    Nope, but if you want your analogy to be close to an open WiFi setup then the Mercedes would also have a sign on the windshield that says: "The owner of this car gives permission for anyone to test drive it". The very nature of open WiFi gives this explicit permission by broadcasting it's existence to every device within range.


    Similarly, if a neighbor uses a weak WPA password, they are protecting their network with WPA, but the very nature of choosing a weak password effectively says, "Welcome, feel free to connect to this network."

    Nope, the existence of a password, no matter how weak, denies permission and therefore it wouldn't be an open WiFi connection, which is what we are talking about here. Breaking or guessing the password to gain access is unauthorized access, not open access.


    You're basically saying if the wireless network can be easily connected to, then it should be fair game for anyone to use.

    Nope, we are talking about open WiFi, not ease of access. Permission to use is implied by the fact that it's not secured.

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 9:00am

    Re: Re: To quote Wayne, Asshole say what?

    Well now a days I think most new routers come with encrypted wifi by default. Everywhere I look almost every wifi is encrypted unless someone or some company deliberately created an open wifi for their customers. But just a few years ago I remember the reverse was true, almost every wifi was unencrypted and you can get an Internet connection from your neighbors who probably had no clue they were sharing their Internet connection with those around them. So things have changed a lot.

     

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    Berenerd (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 9:06am

    Re: Re: Well, clearly not an authorized connection

    Where I do agree with this to a point, there is still the understanding that an open connection is not a secure connection and you take the responsibility yourself when connecting to an open connection to encrypt your "tunnel" through it because by nature, its insecure. This means, the person with the open WiFi has the right to police their Wifi as they see fit, even if it means letting the police onto it with a specific intention. The police used that to get a warrant to search the house. They didn't use that and say "OH LOOK ITS THAT GUY!" without getting proper evidence. Though with lack of how they got the search warrant the first time I do not know so I can't comment.

     

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    Gwiz (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 9:09am

    Re: Well, clearly not an authorized connection

    Did the owners of the apartment authorize him to connect? If not, then it is clearly an unauthorized connection. Analogy: If I leave my hose connected in my yard, is it ok for my neighbor to drag it into their house to fill their fish tank? Almost every house has electric plugs somewhere on the outside- is it acceptable for anyone to roll up and plug in to them? Clearly not. Just because it's there doesn't mean it's there for anyone to use. These are obvious cases of unauthorized use.

    Yes, but more importantly, both of those examples have to have someone trespass onto your property to engage in them. Not so with WiFi, you are transmitting that signal into your neighbor's house. Kind of more like turning on your hose and tossing it over the fence into your neighbor's yard. If my neighbor did that, then I would naturally assume it's permission to water my garden with his hose.

     

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  29.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 9:20am

    Re: To quote Wayne, Asshole say what?

    openwireless.org

     

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    Derek (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 9:31am

    Trespassing

    "The neighbors left their WiFi open, and thus, by default, it is sending out signals that effectively say "welcome, feel free to connect to this network."

    Can I ask a hopefully relevant question: If my neighbors decide to play ball on my yard, does it make a difference whether I have a fence up? I see this as similar - an open WiFi is like an unfenced yard. But that doesn't generally (to me) mean that any passerby can sit down and have a picnic. Or does it (legally speaking)?

     

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    Jay Lahto (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 9:32am

    Make Comcast Last?

    So, does this mean that all of Comcast's Xfinity WiFi customers are now committing a crime if they connect to another subscriber's WiFi through their Comcast provided equipment?
    Guess I'd better turn myself in; I connected to a neighbor's Xfinity AP (I don't know who)with my android phone using my Xfinity ID just to see if it worked.
    I hope they have internet access in the big house.

     

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    Coyne Tibbets (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 9:33am

    Agree with the court

    Actually, I agree with the court in this case.

    Let's put it into a different context. Suppose one of my next door neighbors is sneaking in through my doggie door to make international phone calls.

    The police ask me to cooperate in catching the neighbor; to allow them to wait in my kitchen. I'm certainly entitled to give them that access: It is my house after all. I should have the right to not cooperate with the police; but the moocher has no right to insist that I not cooperate.

    So it seems to me that someone who "enters" my house to borrow my WiFi has no grounds for complaint if I assist the police in finding out who they are. My WiFi, my choice.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 9:41am

    Re: Re:

    please... not the DOG!!!

     

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    Gwiz (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 9:43am

    Re: Agree with the court

    Let's put it into a different context. Suppose one of my next door neighbors is sneaking in through my doggie door to make international phone calls.

    Incorrect analogy. With open WiFi it's more like you running your phone line and placing an extension into your neighbors' house that they make international calls with. Remember, your WiFi signal doesn't stop at your property line, you are transmitting into their house all the time. There is no trespassing of your physical property when someone connects to your open WiFi signal from within their own house.

     

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    rapnel, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 9:45am

    Using open wifi is not a crime. I don't care if any law implies otherwise.

    Likewise, providing open wifi is a service and I would always encourage it and I do provide it.

    Gosh, that's a tiny bit like using a common handheld radio isn't it? "We're you authorized to use that channel?" Wat?

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 9:47am

    Re: Trespassing

    A fence doesn't make a difference in your case. But that's the wrong analogy -- using open WiFi is not trespassing in any sense, it's using a service. Your analogy would be better if someone was accessing your computers through your WiFi, but that's not what's being discussed here.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 9:50am

    Re: Agree with the court

    Wow... apples and oranges comparison.

    One does not have to physically enter a house to gain access to WiFi. Entering a home without permission to make an international call or not should be considered illegal entry whether the door is wide open or barred shut. And is a greater crime than the call being placed.

    If you leave your WiFi open then it should be the equivalent of putting your property out onto the curb for others to freely take. You cannot expect people to know if you are offering Free WiFi or not if it is unprotected.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 9:52am

    The court did not say it was illegal. It acknowlaged that some states make it illegal.
    No one has challenged those laws, and in this case that was not challenged. A court is not going to invalidate a law when it is not asked to.

     

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    Gwiz (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 9:53am

    Re: Re:

    The other day, I pulled up to my office parking lot, and the car parked next to me was a Mercedes with the doors unlocked and the keys sitting out in the open. Does very nature of the car's owner's setup effectively say, "Welcome, feel free to steal my car."

    Actually, there's another problem with your analogy. To compare with using my neighbor's open WiFi your analogy would have to be revised to consider the fact that the WiFi signal is being transmitted onto my property. More like if that Mercedes of yours was left with the key in it in my driveway. And there is even existing case law to support that I would then have the right to use that Mercedes. Here in Michigan we have an abandoned vehicle law, if someone abandons their vehicle on your property for x amount (I don't remember the length of time offhand) of time, you can then apply for a title from the State and the vehicle belongs to you.

     

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    boomslang, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 9:53am

    Re: Re:

    I'm the OP (I usually post anonymously, but I like Fenderson for being a fellow pedant, so I'll put a name to my replies)

    First, Gwiz:
    > "The owner of this car gives permission for anyone to test drive it"

    I don't buy that. Open wifi access points don't have signs on them that say "The owner of this network gives permission for anyone to connect." The argument in the article is that the act of leaving your wifi open *implies* that others should be allowed to use it, just like leaving the Mercedes unlocked with visible keys *implies* that others should be allowed to "test-drive" it.

    Second, Fenderson:
    > "There is no history of social norms being that leaving keys in the car constitutes permission for anyone to use that car."

    This is a good point, but I'd like to tie in what Gwiz said. There are social norms for places putting up signs that say "Free Wifi" (coffee shops, libraries, airports, etc). My guess is that the unsuspecting neighbor didn't have a sign that said "Free Wifi" on the front of his house.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 9:53am

    *calls Prenda law*

    Hello, I'd like to sue someone for facilitating criminal activities. Who, you ask? Every damn store that's living in 2014.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 9:55am

    Stanley tried to suppress the evidence, arguing that the use of MoocherHunter required a warrant


    A warrant for someone to check their own network for intruders? Next we'll see monsters claiming children have to get a warrant before they look under the bed.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 9:55am

    Re: Re:

    Perhaps more significantly, accessing someone's WiFi generally involves using it as a conduit to reach the open internet. As such, it's more like walking through an easement rather than breaking into a home. Had the person accessed private files on the WiFi owner's home network, the question of whether it was authorized becomes a lot more important.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 10:01am

    Re: Re: Re:

    "Free Wifi" signs in establishments aren't there to grant permission, they're there to advertise.

    "My guess is that the unsuspecting neighbor didn't have a sign that said "Free Wifi" on the front of his house."

    Probably not, but I would argue that shouldn't be relevant. In this day and age, in order to sun your WiFi unsecured, you have to make a deliberate choice to do it -- nearly every AP comes with WPA enabled by default, and there is copious documentation about WiFi security that comes with them. If someone chooses to turn off WPA, they aren't "unsuspecting" at all. They're making a conscious choice.

     

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    ChrisB (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 10:04am

    Re: To quote Wayne, Asshole say what?

    It is not comparable to an unlocked door. It is comparable to an open window with music coming out. If you don't want people to hear and use the music, close your window.

     

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    Gwiz (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 10:11am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Open wifi access points don't have signs on them that say "The owner of this network gives permission for anyone to connect."

    I'm arguing that broadcasting an unsecured SSID is exactly that message. It's saying "Hi. I'm a unsecured WiFi connection."

    If you want a private, closed WiFi that doesn't require a password, then don't broadcast the SSID (you can turn that off on most routers, by the way). Or better yet, turn on WPA/WEP and use a password.

     

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    boomslang, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 10:25am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    > In this day and age, in order to sun your WiFi unsecured, you have to make a deliberate choice to do it -- nearly every AP comes with WPA enabled by default, and there is copious documentation about WiFi security that comes with them.

    In this day and age, people still use "password" and "123456" as passwords, but there's also copious documentation explaining why those two passwords are bad choices.

    I'm just saying that the argument that by leaving wifi unprotected, the owner implies authorization to anyone who wants to join is a tricky argument.

    Even though real-world analogies like the unlocked Mercedes (and I'm not making this up; the owner usually parks next to me at my office building) rarely fit the tech world, I think the Mercedes analogy works, and car locks have been around a lot longer than WPA.

    How about another question. If a neighbor has left his or her wifi open, can I then use range extenders to increase the range and let others who might not otherwise be in range gain access to the neighbor's open wifi?

    Or, can I manipulate traffic on the neighbor's network? Can I cut his connections? Can I log into the router web configuration and set up WPA?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 10:30am

    Re: Re: Agree with the court

    If you leave your property on your porch/drive it still doesn't provide express consent for others to take without compensation (in the absence of a 'free to a good home' sign or the equivalent). I leave my car in my driveway. Should I not expect it to be there when I want to use it?

    Why not extend your analogy to leaving a window open being equal to you giving permission to enter your home, have sex with your pets, and eat all the cookies in the kitchen? Where does the authority come from to do anything on or with private property?

    Authorized access requires permission from an authority (i.e. the owner or an agent of the owner). Leaving wifi networks unencrypted is not permission, it is simply a vulnerability.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 10:48am

    Re:

    Or perhaps it would just turn Comcast's own customers into criminals for possessing an open WiFi router.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 10:55am

    Re: To quote Wayne, Asshole say what?

    It's not comparable because they aren't the same thing. At all.

    It's normal to access routers to get to the internet.

    It's not normal to just enter people's houses as an uninvited stranger.

    Having a router set as open to access is making a public area for people to get into.

    Having your door open or even unlocked on your private residence doesn't turn it into a public space.

    ---

    The digital world is a far more fluid thing. For those that grew up in it the rules seem clear cut and easy to understand... but then I see these questions arise and I wonder how people think the internet or technology works.

     

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    Kalvan (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 10:56am

    Car keys as invitation

    "There is no history of social norms being that leaving keys in the car constitutes permission for anyone to use that car."

    It's not widespread, but... about 10 years ago my wife got a job in a small college in the mountains of Colorado. The staff left the keys in their cars. When my wife asked about this, she was told, "what if a student or staff member without a car has to make a quick trip downtown? They can't drive our cars without the keys!"

    My wife's mind was blown, but there was no history of car theft at the college. A few years later, the police encouraged them to stop doing that.

     

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    Gwiz (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 11:05am

    Re: Re: Re: Agree with the court

    Why not extend your analogy to leaving a window open being equal to you giving permission to enter your home, have sex with your pets, and eat all the cookies in the kitchen? Where does the authority come from to do anything on or with private property?

    No one is talking about trespassing here. That's always been illegal.

    Question: Is it illegal to listen to my neighbor's loud stereo from my property? How is this different?


    Authorized access requires permission from an authority (i.e. the owner or an agent of the owner). Leaving wifi networks unencrypted is not permission, it is simply a vulnerability.

    I disagree. Open access is not the default setting for routers these days. You have to conscientiously set your router to open. Add in the fact that the router is basically screaming "I'm an open WiFi!" to every device within range when it broadcasts the SSID, how is that not permission? I don't need explicit permission to receive unencrypted television signals that enter my house, do I?

     

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    Ernie Gordon (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 11:07am

    If you leave your car running but unattended when you run into the house to get something you forgot and someone drives off in it, that's theft - an unlawful taking which deprives the owner of their property (or use of their property in some jurisdictions). Use of unsecured WiFi cannot be theft because it does not depriving the owner of their property.

     

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    Lee, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 11:15am

    Re: Re:

    So if I don't have a lock on my front door, my house isn't secure - and it's fair game?

    Methinks not.

    I also dispute the idea that if I haven't explicitly denied authorization, that it's implied. I'd argue the exact opposite - it's denied unless it's explicitly authorized.

     

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    Lee, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 11:19am

    Re:

    So by that logic, my downloading music / movies / etc. would be legal, because I'm not depriving the owner of their property.

    But it is - I'm depriving them of revenue in my case above, and the use of unsecured WiFi deprives me of my ability to, perhaps, stream my Netflix without interruption. You may be negatively affecting me - I'm not sure what you want to call that, but it certainly isn't right.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 11:29am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "I'm just saying that the argument that by leaving wifi unprotected, the owner implies authorization to anyone who wants to join is a tricky argument."

    I understand. I simply disagree -- it doesn't seem tricky at all.

    "If a neighbor has left his or her wifi open, can I then use range extenders to increase the range and let others who might not otherwise be in range gain access to the neighbor's open wifi?"

    Of course, and why not?

    "can I manipulate traffic on the neighbor's network? Can I cut his connections? Can I log into the router web configuration and set up WPA?"

    Of course not -- all of those things involve hacking and/or actual computer intrusion. You're conflating very different things.

     

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    boomslang, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 11:38am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    So, leaving the network open implies that other people are authorized to use the network...but performing certain actions in the network are not authorized?

    How is the mooch supposed to know where the line should be drawn? Implying that people are authorized to connect by leaving wifi open is one thing, but using the network seems to be another.

     

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    andypandy, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 11:43am

    here we go again!!!

    It is legal it is not legal it is legal it is not legal. Come on lets just make it legal once and for all and stop messing with what people have purchased.

     

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    Anon, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 12:08pm

    Re: Re: Re: To quote Wayne, Asshole say what?

    My 5 year old Netgear wifi router came default with wifi disabled, and it would not let you enable it until you set a password, no default password.

    Once you enabled it with a password, you could then remove the password and make it open, but the first time install would not allow you to immediately create an open wifi without first making it closed.

     

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    John Cressman, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 12:11pm

    Maybe not...

    I'm with the police on this one - you know, it hurts just saying that.

    They actually asked the person who was paying for the internet service to install the software to find the person - they didn't do it themselves.

    The person agreed. Enuf said.

    You use someone else's wifi at your own risk... open or not. Let's face it... open wifi is a redflag anymore... it's WAY too easy to do a man-in-the-middle attack nowadays.

     

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    Bergman (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 12:29pm

    It's not problematic at all at the end

    If I leave my front door unlocked, it's still residential burglary for someone to help themselves to my TV.

    If my niece leaves her ball on the grass of her front yard, it's not free for anyone to take.

    It may be possible to take unsecured Wi-Fi without breaking into anything, but that's not the same thing as putting a table on the sidewalk with a sign saying "free stuff".

    I do secure my Wi-Fi but even if I didn't, If I wanted people to use my Wi-Fi, I'd name my router something like "Free Internet Connection" not "MyName's Wireless".

     

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    Bergman (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 12:30pm

    Re: Re:

    The dog mysteriously disappeared while in police custody.

    The police claim the owner somehow did this remotely using the dog's microchip.

     

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    Bergman (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 12:32pm

    Re: Re:

    Exactly this. The owner of the router gave the police voluntary access to their property. No violation involved.

     

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    Bergman (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 12:34pm

    Re: To quote Wayne, Asshole say what?

    They're saying "I don't lock my back door because I trust my neighbors."

    Leaving a door unlocked doesn't make residential burglary okay -- someone walking off with my TV can't claim they had permission because I didn't lock my door while getting the mail.

     

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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 12:35pm

    Re:

    The other day, I pulled up to my office parking lot, and the car parked next to me was a Mercedes with the doors unlocked and the keys sitting out in the open. Does very nature of the car's owner's setup effectively say, "Welcome, feel free to steal my car."

    No. But an open WiFi system is literally broadcasting a signal that grants permission to connect to it. Back in the early days of WiFi, most systems AUTOMATICALLY connected to ANY open WiFi network, because that's how open WiFi was designed to work. The open WiFi access point sends out a signal that says "hey, anyone, connect to me!"

    That's ENTIRELY different from leaving a key in the car.

    Similarly, if a neighbor uses a weak WPA password, they are protecting their network with WPA, but the very nature of choosing a weak password effectively says, "Welcome, feel free to connect to this network."

    No, because there, you've put a sign on it that says "you're not welcome here unless you've been granted permission." Very very different.

    You're basically saying if the wireless network can be easily connected to, then it should be fair game for anyone to use

    No. I'm saying that if your WiFi BROADCASTS a signal saying "welcome, join" then if you do join, you're clearly authorized.

     

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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 12:38pm

    Re: Well, clearly not an authorized connection

    Did the owners of the apartment authorize him to connect?

    Yes. They did. Because their network broadcasts a signal that says "welcome, connect"

    Analogy: If I leave my hose connected in my yard, is it ok for my neighbor to drag it into their house to fill their fish tank?

    Not analagous at all. That involves first trespassing, and there's no comparable signal. However, if you put a sign on the hose that says "hey neighbors, use my water" then yes. Because that's what open WiFi is. It's the router blasting out a signal that says "this network is here for you to connect to."

     

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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 12:40pm

    Re: Agree with the court

    Let's put it into a different context. Suppose one of my next door neighbors is sneaking in through my doggie door to make international phone calls.

    That is totally different. With open WiFi you are sending your signal TO his yard and it has a clear message with the signal that SAYS "please connect." That's how WiFi works.

    My WiFi, my choice.

    Right, and the choice you make with open wifi is to have your WiFi blast out a message that says "please connect."

     

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    Bergman (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 12:40pm

    Re: Re: Well, clearly not an authorized connection

    So if I go out of my house to get the mail and leave my front door closed but unlocked, it's not residential burglary for someone to slip inside and take my TV while I'm out?

    Fail.

     

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    Bergman (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 12:41pm

    Re: Re: Well, clearly not an authorized connection

    If they were just receiving a signal broadcast into their house, you might have a point.

    But an internet connection is a two-way transmission, and required a broadcast back to the router, which was on private property.

    At that point, there is in fact trespass.

     

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    Bergman (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 12:42pm

    Re: Re: Well, clearly not an authorized connection

    Untrue. It's like leaving the front door of your house open while you get the mail.

    Just because the door is open doesn't mean it's okay to take my TV.

     

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    Michael, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 12:56pm

    Re: Re: To quote Wayne, Asshole say what?

    Please pay up for your public performance.

    - RIAA

     

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    Michael, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 12:59pm

    Re:

    That is not what happened here. The police tracked the person down who was using an open WiFi router. What this is saying is that you have no expectation of privacy if you connect to a WiFi router that you do not own.

    That seems like a rather bad precedent to set.

     

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    Michael, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 1:04pm

    Re: Re:

    It is a little more subtle than that, in my opinion. The police found out that someone other than the owner of the WiFi router was using the router as a WiFi access point.

    If having the router unsecured is the equivalent of inviting someone to use it, and using it removes their expectation of privacy, that is a little concerning.

    Even more concerning, they have indicated that USING the open WiFi router is unauthorized access and in and of itself illegal. That is REALLY concerning because that would mean there is no way to determine if it is ok for you to access any open WiFi without first contacting the owner of the router. That's very different from the way the world currently works as many (I would venture to say most) people find it socially acceptable to connect to and use an open WiFi router.

     

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    Michael, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 1:07pm

    Re:

    Actually, it is EXACTLY what Comcast would want. It makes it illegal for anyone other than the paying subscriber to connect to an open WiFi router.

    If you want to access the internet and your neighbor left their WiFi open - sorry, you HAVE to get your own or it is illegal access.

     

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    Michael, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 1:12pm

    Re: Car keys as invitation

    It was common practice on Marsh Harbor in the Bahamas too. I knew one guy that actually super-glued the key in the ignition of his car so people couldn't accidentally take it.

     

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    Michael, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 1:20pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    First, any analogy that involves actual physical property (like a car) is fundamentally flawed by the fact that two people cannot use it at the same time. Someone using an open WiFi can be (and often is) completely transparent.

    Part of this is about social acceptance. It has become normal to use open WiFi routers to access the internet. However, along with that, it has been not socially acceptable to use the entire bandwidth, change router settings, access other devices on the network, etc.

    People using open WiFi tend to not expect people to be hacking into their systems, but they also (mostly) tend to accept it when it happens and simply secure their devices or the WiFi router.

    Now, socially acceptable and law are certainly not the same thing. The problem we have is if you codify law in direct conflict with social norms, you tend to simply create laws that everyone will ignore. That never really works out well.

     

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    Gwiz (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 1:22pm

    Re: It's not problematic at all at the end

    If I leave my front door unlocked, it's still residential burglary for someone to help themselves to my TV.

    Yes. But using someone's open WiFi doesn't' involve trespassing. BIG difference.


    If my niece leaves her ball on the grass of her front yard, it's not free for anyone to take.

    What if your niece leaves her ball in my yard? I have every right to be a dickhead neighbor and throw it in the trash. Using someone's open WiFi doesn't involve trespassing onto someone else's property, it's broadcast onto my property.


    It may be possible to take unsecured Wi-Fi without breaking into anything, but that's not the same thing as putting a table on the sidewalk with a sign saying "free stuff".

    Please explain the difference. Your router is sending out a signal saying "Unsecured WiFi here!", why is that different than a physical sign saying "Free stuff here!"?


    I do secure my Wi-Fi but even if I didn't, If I wanted people to use my Wi-Fi, I'd name my router something like "Free Internet Connection" not "MyName's Wireless".

    What does the SSID name have to do with anything? Most of the AT&T DSL connections around my house are the default "2WIRExxx" names. It's just an arbitrary name.

     

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    Michael, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 1:25pm

    Re: It's not problematic at all at the end

    and I have an open WiFi router to allow internet access. It is not named in any way that has open in it (it is actually my last name + "QC") and I DO have it there so anyone can access the internet when they are within range.

    My way of letting people know they can use it - leaving it unsecured and broadcasting the ID.

     

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    Gwiz (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 1:31pm

    Re: Re: Re: Well, clearly not an authorized connection

    But an internet connection is a two-way transmission, and required a broadcast back to the router, which was on private property.

    At that point, there is in fact trespass.



    I disagree with this too.

    Yes, using the WiFi does require it being broadcast back to the router. But, at that point I have already received permission to use the connection (IMHO). Permission is granted with the initial broadcasting of the SSID name and the fact that it's unsecured. The router is basically shouting to all devices in range "Hey, open WiFi here!"

    If you really don't want anyone connecting to your open WiFi, set the router so it doesn't broadcast the SSID name to everyone. You can still connect without a password, but you have to manually type in the SSID name to do it.

     

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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 2:00pm

    Re: Re: Re: Well, clearly not an authorized connection

    Untrue. It's like leaving the front door of your house open while you get the mail.


    You can keep repeating it, but it's still not true.

    1. It's not "leaving your door open." It's leaving your door open with a GIANT LOUDSPEAKER SAYING COME IN!. Your AP is *broadcasting* a signal that specifically says "THIS IS HERE FOR YOU TO JOIN." Your access point is giving permission for people to join it.

    Just because the door is open doesn't mean it's okay to take my TV.


    But it does mean I can watch your TV from across the street. Same thing here.

     

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    nasch (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 2:47pm

    Re:

    how did this ever go to court?

    the police more than likely had the permission of the homeowner who paid for the wifi. a criminal should never be allowed to claim evidence was improperly collected from OTHER PEOPLES PROPERTY.


    Who do you think should decide they can't make that claim if not a court?

     

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    nasch (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 2:48pm

    Re: Re: Re: Well, clearly not an authorized connection

    So if I go out of my house to get the mail and leave my front door closed but unlocked, it's not residential burglary for someone to slip inside and take my TV while I'm out?

    Fail.


    The fail is in equating using a wifi signal with stealing a TV.

     

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    Anonymous, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 3:14pm

    This is Amerikkka. What ISN'T a crime?

     

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    nasch (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 3:16pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Implying that people are authorized to connect by leaving wifi open is one thing, but using the network seems to be another.

    You're suggesting it would be OK to connect to the router, but not OK to use that connection to access the internet?

     

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    nasch (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 3:17pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    I also dispute the idea that if I haven't explicitly denied authorization, that it's implied. I'd argue the exact opposite - it's denied unless it's explicitly authorized.

    Broadcasting an unsecured SSID is exactly that explicit authorization.

     

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    nasch (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 3:21pm

    Re: Re:

    So by that logic, my downloading music / movies / etc. would be legal, because I'm not depriving the owner of their property.

    It's not theft. Whether it's illegal is a different question.

    the use of unsecured WiFi deprives me of my ability to, perhaps, stream my Netflix without interruption. You may be negatively affecting me - I'm not sure what you want to call that, but it certainly isn't right.

    There is a very simple solution to that problem that doesn't involve any laws.

     

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    Rekrul, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 4:37pm

    So the lesson here is; When using someone else's WiFi for illegal purposes, don't be greedy. Don't keep using it after the cops pay a visit to your neighbor's home. ;)

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 5:53pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    "and using it removes their expectation of privacy, that is a little concerning."

    But it does, in exactly the same way and to the same degree that using any other intermediary, such as an ISP, removes your expectation of privacy. That is, if you're using my WiFi then I have access to every bit that you're sending and receiving. I have made no promises to you about what I will or won't do with those bits. You can, at a minimum, expect that the traffic will get logged. Further, the radio signals can be picked up (and even modified) by anybody nearby.

    This is why you have to be very cautious when using open WiFi, be it your own, or mine, or the local Starbucks. Ideally, you use a VPN so your entire datastream is encrypted. At a minimum, only use SSL and HTTPS, and avoid typing or viewing sensitive information.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 6:08pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "How is the mooch supposed to know where the line should be drawn?"

    Because in order to do things the "mooch" (I prefer "guest") isn't allowed to do, he has to bypass access controls. Connecting to the WiFi means that they get an internet connection. That's the intention.

    Open Wifi doesn't mean they everyone has free reign through all your systems, so it's not even remotely like leaving your front door open. It's more like what an earlier commenter said: letting people walk through an easement to get to the highway on the other side.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 6:11pm

    Re: It's not problematic at all at the end

    What "stuff" is being taken?

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 6:14pm

    Re:

    You joke (and I marked it funny!) but I remember what a police detective friend of mine once told me about committing crime: if you're halfway intelligent, you can get away with nearly anything if you only do it once. What gets people caught is that they get greedy and do it again.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 8:50pm

    Re: Re: To quote Wayne, Asshole say what?

    "If the door had to be opened to enter, then it's "breaking" whether that door was locked or not."

    Uh oh, I'm in deep do-do then. I just got home from going to Walmart and ,yes I admit it, I opened the door to go in. And then again when I was leaving. I not only broke in, but out as well! Should I call 911 in an attempt to turn myself in now, or just wait for the SWAT team?

     

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  93.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 8:51pm

    Re: Re: To quote Wayne, Asshole say what?

    "Lawyers and judges will say, "There is an absolute difference between the three."

    It comes down to "mens rea" which looks at the same actions with different motivations to do evil or not."

    Yeah, and any decent mind reader can clearly tell the difference.

     

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    beltorak (profile), Jun 12th, 2014 @ 9:32pm

    Re:

    > Unless he placed equipment outside of his home, he simply intercepted a signal that was in his home.

    But the signal goes both ways. Yes, the access point is broadcast indiscriminately, but in order to use that access point you have to send signals back to the router. It's the client computer that initiates the "connection".

    Even with the IPv6 "router advertisement" feature (which basically broadcasts "hey, if you need to send packets somewhere, consider routing them through me :)"); well that gets a little more messy.

    > What if the signal is on a wire rather than through the air?

    Even so, probably even more so. Let's say the good neighbor had the router in his home and a sign outside that said "free ethernet drop point". The guy would still have to make an effort to run the wire from his computer to the router. But WiFi isn't exactly like that, it would be closer to imagine the good neighbor having a router with 100 ft ethernet lines already hooked up on his end traversing through an open window (or something) with the end points strewn about his lawn, and his neighbor's lawns, and the street, etc. But in order to use that router, the person must take direct action and hook up those wires to his machine.

    We are in dire need of reforming the third party doctrine. The way I figure it, for an interaction between parties, any and all data (and metadata, which is really just data) that results from that interaction must be held strictly in confidence between all the direct participants. This would nicely cover the "business records" case. Middle-men (ISP's, backbone routers, etc) who have nothing to do with the content of the interaction have no rights to that content, and any metadata they generate as a result of handling the data (look, more metadata) must be held in strict confidence between them, the interacting participants, and the intermediaries they connected to for that transaction. "Reasonable and Articulate Suspicion" and probable cause must be validated by a Judge with a warrant in order for law enforcement officers to acquire any of it.

    But we as a society must also reevaluate our expectations of privacy when it comes to technology. It is ridiculous to think that you can keep a secret by communicating via mailed postcards; people have to realize that many things in their daily lives (from increasingly "smart" appliances like fridges and TVs in the "internet of things" to unsecured WiFi signals at Starbucks) carry exactly the same "technical" privacy protections as postcards, or shouting in a bar.

    Let us get away from imperceptible (to the human senses anyway) radio signals and consider the guy and the good neighbor were transcribing network packets by shouting at each other across the yards. Would it be OK for a police officer to stand on the sidewalk and listen for as long as he wanted to gather incriminating evidence?

    Now it gets more interesting if you consider that the guy and the good neighbor are shouting in code (or, to break the analogy, the child porn purveyor was using a VPN or Tor). The police know that the end point is the good neighbor's router, and there may be any number of people who are in shouting conversations with him, but only one conversation is being carried out in Navajo.... This is similar in setup to the college student who was caught for emailing a bomb threat even though he used Tor, because he was (likely) the only one on the network using Tor at the time.




    I'm just thinking out loud at this point, I think I need to re-review Cory Doctorow's "Coming Cival War over General Purpose Computing"....

     

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    wifi en eventos, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 10:40pm

    different view

    I would say free wi fi is not crime but free unsecured wifi should be . better have a safe connection.

     

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    JustSomeGuy, Jun 12th, 2014 @ 10:56pm

    Vehemently disagree

    "Just the idea that this is unauthorized access is a big problem, because it's not unauthorized."

    If I (stupidly) leave my front house door open when I go out, that is NOT authorisation for someone to enter my home.

    Ditto for unsecured wifi, unless your SSID is "come_use_me_for_free". The vast majority of people have no idea how to secure their equipment.

    In any case, if you want to have some fun with your neighbours, you should rename your wifi to "FBI surveillance van # 7".

     

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    PaulT (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 1:30am

    Re: Re: Re: Well, clearly not an authorized connection

    The fail is that ridiculous analogy. Try a different one that addresses the reality of what happens when someone uses the unsecured radio signal that's accessible from public airspace.

     

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    PaulT (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 1:33am

    Re: Re: Re: To quote Wayne, Asshole say what?

    "Well now a days I think most new routers come with encrypted wifi by default."

    Exactly what I said in my first paragraph.

     

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    PaulT (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 1:34am

    Re: Re: Re: To quote Wayne, Asshole say what?

    "Uh oh, I'm in deep do-do then. I just got home from going to Walmart and ,yes I admit it, I opened the door to go in"

    Do you understand the difference between a public business and a private residence?

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 5:53am

    Re: Vehemently disagree

    "The vast majority of people have no idea how to secure their equipment."

    If the equipment was purchased in the last few years, it comes pre-secured, so people don't have to know. You have to know how to unsecure it.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 7:00am

    Re: Re:

    Comcast routers come with a second open WIFI signal for use by other XFINITY users by default. It is sort of clever way around so long as bandwidth isn't counted against you.
    http://wifi.comcast.com/hotspots.html

     

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    nasch (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 7:14am

    Re: Vehemently disagree

    If I (stupidly) leave my front house door open when I go out, that is NOT authorisation for someone to enter my home.

    Why do so many people think open wifi is the same as an open front door?

     

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    PaulT (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 7:19am

    Re: Re: Vehemently disagree

    "Why do so many people think open wifi is the same as an open front door?"

    Option 1: They haven't got a clue what the actual argument is and choose a faulty analogy that has nothing to do with it.

    Option 2: They know exactly what the argument is, and deliberately introduce misleading analogies to skew the argument and distract from the point or to introduce an emotional response not relevant to the true argument (see also: **AAs using shoplifting analogies when discussing file sharing).

     

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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 7:21am

    Re: Vehemently disagree

    Did you read any of the comments above already dealing with this?

    If I (stupidly) leave my front house door open when I go out, that is NOT authorisation for someone to enter my home.

    That is true. But that's not what you're doing with open WiFi. Open WiFi is literally blasting out a signal that says "come use me". If you put a sign on your front door that says "come on in" it would be the same thing.

    Ditto for unsecured wifi, unless your SSID is "come_use_me_for_free".

    Your WiFi is broadcasting a "come use me for free" signal. If you don't want that, change it.

    The vast majority of people have no idea how to secure their equipment.

    People claim this, but it's bullshit. May have been true in early years, but almost all WiFi today comes secured.

     

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    PaulT (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 7:27am

    Re: Re: Vehemently disagree

    "Your WiFi is broadcasting a "come use me for free" signal"...

    ...into publicly accessible airspace.

    I think that's something to emphasise in these argument. If I'm using your open wifi, I'm doing to from the street or an adjacent building, not entering your property as I would need to in order to open your door.

    In other words, if people have a real issue with people using their wifi, they should stop sending open invitations to the general public for them to do so.

     

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    Gene Cavanaugh (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 7:43am

    Open WiFi is an invitation? Don't think so.

    You say: "The neighbors left their WiFi open, and thus, by default, it is sending out signals that effectively say "welcome, feel free to connect to this network."".

    By that reasoning, if I leave my lawn unguarded, I am saying "here, feel free to dig up my grass?" or if I leave my car outside unlocked with a package in it (admittedly stupid, but ...) I am saying "free package, everyone".

    Don't think so. I think taking what is not yours, whether the owner knows or not, or feels deprived or not, is, and should be, criminal.

     

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    PaulT (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 7:47am

    Re: Open WiFi is an invitation? Don't think so.

    "By that reasoning, if I leave my lawn unguarded, I am saying "here, feel free to dig up my grass?" or if I leave my car outside unlocked with a package in it (admittedly stupid, but ...) I am saying "free package, everyone"."

    Yes, if they can do so with neither entering your property nor removing access from those items for yourself.

    or, you can read the thread, realise this idiotic analogy has been repeatedly been debunked before you got here, and address the actual argument with an original thought.

     

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    Michael, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 8:11am

    Re: Re: Re:

    It must have been a Sony.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 8:12am

    Re:

    I think you are ignoring "expectation of privacy," quite possibly, on purpose. People having a face-to-face conversation in an open area, with others around that can hear them, don't have that expectation.

    You are suggesting that those same people, who are having a cell phone conversation, with no one around them to hear (even one side of the conversation), should expect that their conversation is being monitored?

    If you need special equipment to listen to my private telephone conversation, then I think you missed the boat.

     

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    Gwiz (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 8:17am

    Re: Vehemently disagree

    If I (stupidly) leave my front house door open when I go out, that is NOT authorisation for someone to enter my home.

    That's right. But if you do, there's no law keeping me from standing on the street and watching your TV through the door that was stupidly left open. That's closer to using someone's open WiFi. No trespassing onto your property is involved.

    We've gone over this multiple times on this comment page already and I'm beginning to feel like a broken record. *sigh*

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 8:25am

    Re: Re: Re: Well, clearly not an authorized connection

    Leaving the wifi signal unsecured changes the categorization of the signal from private (secured) to public (unsecured).

    When the signal is public, it becomes analogous to the locked door vs open door scenario. Someone above mentioned, in jest, that they better turn themselves in because they "broke into" WalMart by walking through their closed, but unlocked door. Someone replied to that with some snark about not knowing the difference between a public store, and a private residence.

    When the signal becomes public, by being unsecured, it becomes like the WalMart, where it is expected that people will come & go as they please, and there is no trespassing taking place.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 8:30am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: To quote Wayne, Asshole say what?

    "Do you understand the difference between a public business and a private residence?"

    Do you understand that no distinction was being made between the two? Backpedal much?

     

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    The Wanderer (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 8:41am

    Re: Re:

    Actually, if I'm reading this correctly, they are explicitly not saying that.

    Rather, they are saying that if you connect to a WiFi router without having been authorized to do so by the owner of the router (an important point, since while the open "please connect to me if you want to" broadcast of an unsecured wireless router can be reasonably read to say that the router is granting authorization, the router is not the one from whom authorization is needed), you may be committing a crime.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 8:41am

    Re: Trespassing

    Did you put up a sign saying either, "Keep off lawn," or "Playing on my lawn is OK?"

    Can't we all just agree that a router broadcasting the SSID IS the sign. If the signal is open, and the SSID is being broadcast, then it's fair game. If the signal is secured, and the SSID is being broadcast, then you know it's not fair game.

    Also, if the signal is unsecured, but the SSID is not being broadcast, it's not fair game.

     

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    The Wanderer (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 8:52am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    if you're using my WiFi then I have access to every bit that you're sending and receiving. I have made no promises to you about what I will or won't do with those bits.
    I remember reading about one fellow who put in a setup such that browsing through his open WiFi would work, but all image requests made over HTTP would be redirected to be filled by random images from a porn stash. (Or possibly from a repository of explicit images online, I don't recall in detail.)

    The post included details of how he set it up, and it turned out to be not all that complicated in the end.

    I believe someone else did a similar image-intercepting arrangement, except that instead of replacing the image outright, they applied an imagemagick script to turn the requested image upside down... again, not terribly complicated in the final implementation.

     

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    The Wanderer (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 9:01am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Well, clearly not an authorized connection

    Your access point is giving permission for people to join it.
    Yes, but the question is: does the fact that your access point is giving this permission mean that you are giving this permission?

    Because the access point does not have the legal authority to grant permission. Only the owner has that authority.

    If the owner has explicitly configured the access point to be open and unsecured, then things get kind of murky; I could make arguments in either direction (or both directions at once) at that point, and most likely the question would turn on the owner's intent in so doing.

    But if the access point is open and unsecured simply because that's its default state - which for a lot of "home wireless router"s sold in the past decade, many of which may still be in use, was the case - then that open and unsecured state says nothing whatsoever about whether the owner has granted authorization.

     

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    The Wanderer (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 9:11am

    Re: Re: Trespassing

    That set of simple standards would be the ideal, and I'd support it.

    But that's not necessarily the existing understanding - and the existing understanding is what is being (and, arguably but - somewhat reluctantly - IMO, needs to be) applied in existing cases.

     

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    Gwiz (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 9:53am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Well, clearly not an authorized connection

    Because the access point does not have the legal authority to grant permission. Only the owner has that authority.

    That really doesn't make very much sense to me. There are tons of systems these days that grant or deny access automatically. By granting access they are giving the permission of the owner.

    By your reasoning, every website on the web that doesn't have a login requirement would not actually be granting you permission to view the contents. That's kind of silly.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 9:57am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Well, clearly not an authorized connection

    "Because the access point does not have the legal authority to grant permission. Only the owner has that authority."

    If I hang up one of those OPEN/CLOSED flip over signs, and "accidentally" flip it over the the OPEN side when I meant to be CLOSED, and someone walks in, can I have them arrested? After all, the sign itself has no authority, and I didn't mean to be OPEN.

    "most likely the question would turn on the owner's intent in so doing."

    Ah, so they better be able to read my mind, or be prepared to be arrested for breaking and entering. Sounds about right.

     

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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 10:38am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Well, clearly not an authorized connection

    Yes, but the question is: does the fact that your access point is giving this permission mean that you are giving this permission?

    Yes, in the same way as when you put up a website, if someone tries to visit that website, they are allowed to do so.

    Because the access point does not have the legal authority to grant permission. Only the owner has that authority.

    That's just wrong. Again, in the same way as a website lets you visit it without a person granting you explicit permission, but by announcing "hey, connect to me" the owner IS GIVING EXPLICIT permission.

    then that open and unsecured state says nothing whatsoever about whether the owner has granted authorization.

    That's just wrong. Yes, the router is announcing that you have permission just as this server is saying you have permission to visit this website without me telling you so.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 2:36pm

    Re: Re: Re: To quote Wayne, Asshole say what?

    You're just being silly. B&E cannot happen if you have permission to enter. But I'm guessing you already knew that.

    BTW, here's the legal dictionary's definition:

    breaking and entering v., n. entering a residence or other enclosed property through the slightest amount of force (even pushing open a door), without authorization. If there is intent to commit a crime, this is burglary. If there is no such intent, the breaking and entering alone is probably at least illegal trespass, which is a misdemeanor crime.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 2:42pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Yes. In fact, I have an app on my phone right now that can do this. It can also do complete MITM (intercepting the entire datastream, editing it, and passing it along) as well as disconnecting and/or barring any given device from the AP and other such things.

    It makes for some fun practical jokes. Particularly replacing all the images in web pages (although, being a traditionalist, I prefer goatse).

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 2:43pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I should clarify that I don't have to own the AP to do all of this. It can be done with any open WiFi that is in range of my phone.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 5:40pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Well, clearly not an authorized connection

    "by announcing "hey, connect to me" the owner IS GIVING EXPLICIT permission."

    I concur. The sole puropose of open WiFi is to connect to Internetz without password. Including strangers within WiFi range.

     

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    Anonymous, Jun 13th, 2014 @ 6:18pm

    If CP was legal, there would be fewer problems like this. But then, if CP was legal, how could we clog the court system and overfill our prisons with non-violent offenders whose only "crime" is looking at and sharing pictures?
    Gotta remember though...it's for da chilldrin!

     

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    PaulT (profile), Jun 13th, 2014 @ 10:49pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Well, clearly not an authorized connection

    Well, here's the problem with that interpretation - it's impossible for anyone to tell whether the owner of the access point is intentionally granting permission or not. Given that the default state of the vast majority of devices for many years has been to have the wifi disabled or password protected out of the box, it's reasonable to assume that an open wifi point is intentionally left in that state by the owner.

    But, it's not possible for a person connecting to such a device to know the intentions of its owner. Are we honestly meant to accept that anyone near such a device is meant to read minds? Especially once you consider that some devices might join the open wifi without intervention by that device's owner? Sounds like a very dangerous precedent to me.

     

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    The Wanderer (profile), Jun 14th, 2014 @ 4:53am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Well, clearly not an authorized connection

    I agree that that is a problem.

    But the logic I gave is an (IMO decent) encapsulation of the logic being employed by those who say that connecting to unsecured WiFi "without permission" is, or should not be, allowed.

    And yes, this same logic would be - and apparently is - applied to Websites and other servers. It's what underlies things like deciding that modifying a URL to connect to a part of the site you haven't been linked to is "hacking", or that accessing a Web server which does not require password authentication but whose existence is not publicized outside of a small circle can likewise be "hacking" - both of which decisions, if I'm not mistaken, have been made and held up (or at least not overturned) in court.


    Understand: I don't *like* this logic, and I'm not happy with its implications.

    But I can understand why those who accept, employ, and support it do so - because it is internally consistent.

    I'm pretty sure the problem here is one of conflicting underlying assumptions, and unless you can break one or more of those assumptions, you're never going to get the different sides to agree. Breaking assumptions in a context as abstract as this one (where presenting direct, visible, incontrovertible evidence is generally not possible) is very difficult, but in order to do it, you need to at least recognize what those assumptions are - and argue against the *assumptions themselves*.

    So far, all I'm seeing presented here is assertions against the assumptions, which are not going to convince anyone whose thinking is based on those assumptions.

    What I'm trying to do here, at least as much as anything else, is point out some of those different underlying assumptions, and hopefully help people understand them - hopefully well enough to effectively argue against them, and failing that, possibly well enough to think "maybe the people on the other side do have something of a point", which even if it doesn't advance The Agenda(tm), might help promote understanding and thence comity in a different regard.

     

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    The Wanderer (profile), Jun 14th, 2014 @ 4:58am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Well, clearly not an authorized connection

    Given that the default state of the vast majority of devices for many years has been to have the wifi disabled or password protected out of the box, it's reasonable to assume that an open wifi point is intentionally left in that state by the owner.
    Actually, this specifically gets at the point I was making pretty well - because while you think it's reasonable to assume that, people on the other side of the argument may very well think it's *not* reasonable to assume that, and/or is reasonable to assume the contrary. (Particularly given that the default state of virtually all devices for a different many years, previous to the years you mentioned, was to be unsecured.)

    That difference in assumptions is precisely what needs to be addressed (one side justified and supported, the other side debunked and broken down) if this argument is to be won by any means other than attrition as one side's supporters die off. So far, the only argument I recall having seen presented against the opposing assumption is that "the vast majority of devices are secured by default nowadays", which plainly is not getting the job done.

     

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    Aaron (profile), Jun 15th, 2014 @ 5:35am

    Re:

    In Habersham a couple weeks ago in Georgia, a flashbang actually did severely harm a baby when the dtf threw a flashbang into it's crib.


    http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/30/us/georgia-toddler-injured-stun-grenade-drug-raid/?c=&page=3


    Don't necessarily have any love for the cops in north Georgia but can't really blame 'em. Pissed, bet I am. But this was an honest mistake. Just hope the cops learned something from this to where it won't happen again.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  130.  
    icon
    Aaron (profile), Jun 15th, 2014 @ 5:47am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Well, clearly not an authorized connection

    Wonder if anyone's got sued for trespassing, because their Wifi (open or closed) was in range of a neighbor. I know it's stupid but an intriguing thought.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  131.  
    icon
    Aaron (profile), Jun 15th, 2014 @ 6:00am

    If my neighbor has an apple tree that is rooted on his property but dangles on my side of the fence, you damn right ima eat an apple.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  132.  
    identicon
    yep, Jun 15th, 2014 @ 4:39pm

    reasoning for third party

    The way I see it its the third parties call, they can require the police to get a warrant or waive that right. Now as a consumer I expect my privacy to be guarded by my ISPs and the services I use and the interconnects they both use. However if I am connecting to someones network with out permission or payment they carry no responsibility to protect my data. It does not however make doing so illegal.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  133.  
    icon
    Cain Abel (profile), Aug 1st, 2014 @ 1:28pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Well, clearly not an authorized connection

    This is wrong.

    The default state of a Wifi AP has always been "unplugged". In this state, they do *NOT* broadcast the SSID, and they do *NOT* allow access to your network.

    It's up to the user to learn how to use the tools he buys. Either he has the ability to understand how to configure his AP, or he needs to pay someone to do that, or to have a friend help him for free.

    Either way, not being able to properly use a tool has never been a legal excuse.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  134.  
    icon
    Cain Abel (profile), Aug 1st, 2014 @ 1:35pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Not just broadcasting SSID, also allowing association (no MAC filtering at the AP level), also having a DHCP server and giving DHCP offers (no MAC filtering at the DHCP level).

    The STA (the Wifi client) doesn't enter unless the AP allows it to enter.

    It's like having an automatic door.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  135.  
    icon
    Cain Abel (profile), Aug 1st, 2014 @ 1:43pm

    Re: Vehemently disagree

    "The vast majority of people have no idea how to secure their equipment."

    Not my problem.

    If they don't know how to use a Wifi AP, then they should:
    - learn themselves
    - or seek help
    - or refrain from using it

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  136.  
    icon
    Cain Abel (profile), Aug 1st, 2014 @ 1:47pm

    Re: Open WiFi is an invitation? Don't think so.

    Wrong analogy.

    We are NOT discussing unsecured FTP server or NFS server.

    We are NOT discussing the deletion of files.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  137.  
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    nasch (profile), Aug 1st, 2014 @ 2:05pm

    Re: Re: Open WiFi is an invitation? Don't think so.

    Did this story just get linked somewhere? Why several new comments today?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  138.  
    identicon
    mej, Sep 10th, 2014 @ 12:23pm

    Bad analogies all around

    A wifi router broadcasts signals that anyone may capture and decrypt. If you broadcast to that wifi router, you ARE entering someone else's home and are trespassing, unless you have explicit permission.

    It is a social convention/law whether an open wifi is an invitation to use it or not. Obviously there is disagreement. That's what legislatures are for.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  139.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), Sep 10th, 2014 @ 1:05pm

    Re: Bad analogies all around

    A wifi router broadcasts signals that anyone may capture and decrypt. If you broadcast to that wifi router, you ARE entering someone else's home and are trespassing, unless you have explicit permission.

    So much wrong...


    • If the signal is encrypted, then only those who have been given the key may decrypt it (attackers CAN decrypt it but they have not been given permission, therefore they MAY not).

    • Broadcasting a radio signal is not entering someone's home. Leave aside the issue of permission for a moment. If someone is standing outside my house and I call out the window and invite him to connect to my router, and he does, is he then inside my home? Of course not.

    • If the access point is open, that is permission. That is the only purpose of an open access point: to allow anyone who wants to connect to it. Leaving access open is the way that the administrator grants permission.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  140.  
    identicon
    David, Jan 31st, 2015 @ 4:25am

    Re:

    The legal system isn't always like that. Cops aren't always assholes. However, it seems you are.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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