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Friday, August 24, 2007

Is it theft to use someone else's Wifi?

The case this week where a man was arrested for making use of someone's Wifi has prompted much debate as to the rights and wrongs of leeching other people's wireless internet connections.

The law apparently sees it as stealing pure and simple - but is it? I would say that using open and unsecured wifi connections is not an act of theft at all and the law has it all wrong.

If you buy a newspaper and read it whilst sitting on a train, very often people might look over your shoulder and have a look at the headlines. They are consuming information you just paid for - are they stealing? No, of course not.

Some people may have their wifi connection open and secured because they actually you want people to share it. How can we tell what someone's intention is when they decide to transmit an open network?

I believe that broadcasting an open network is an invitation to use it. People on the other side of the argument might say "If I leave my front door open, does that mean you can walk in?". And the answer is no, of course not - but if you leave your door open with a sign above it saying "Open House - Party Inside", don't be surprised if people come in.

In actual fact, by broadcasting your connection details you are almost tampering with my laptop or wireless device. If someone set their wireless access point's SSID as the worst obscenity possible and caused that word to appear on your screen by broadcasting it to your Wifi equipment, are you in the wrong for receiving it, or are they in the wrong for sending it? Who is it that has committed the crime?

Some make the point that people may use your internet connection to access illegal content. I don't disagree and would say that's a very good reason for ensuring your internet connection is secured, because let's be clear, I'm not advocating that people do leave their wifi open - I'm simply saying that if you do decide to carelessly pump your connection out into the ether, you are making it available to all and sundry and that can't be theft.

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