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View Poll Results: Should browsing on an unsecured wireless network become legal?
Yes, it should become legal 26 59.09%
I have no opinion 6 13.64%
No,browsing on unsecured wireless networks is and should remain illegal 12 27.27%
Voters: 44. You may not vote on this poll

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Old 11-14-2008, 08:28 AM   #1
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Should browsing on an unsecured wireless network become legal?

I recently read in a newspaper magazine that a guy got caught with the possibility to go to jail for one year for browsing on someone else's unsecured wifi.

In Belgium (my country of origin, browsing on someone else's wireless internet is illegal.
On the other hand browsing on a wifi in a wifi spot is not.
The difference is very small.
In some countries it is legal to browse on unsecured wireless networks, in others there are no laws against that, and in others it is punishable with fine or jailtime.

What do you think?
Do you also know what the regulations and laws are in your country/environment?

Last edited by ProDigit; 11-14-2008 at 08:34 AM.
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Old 11-14-2008, 08:37 AM   #2
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Sorry, I must be dim this morning... browsing for what? (E-books, I assume.) When you say "unsecured network," are you talking about a particular site, or some branch of the web itself? And by browsing, do you mean just seeing what files are on the network, or opening them, buying them, etc?

Edit: Ah, I see you added specifics while I was responding...

In the U.S., my understanding is that a person who downloads something illegally can be found guilty for possessing illegal material (such as child porn). The owner of the network upon which he downloaded the material can also be held liable for allowing the transmission of said material. So the owner of an unsecured WiFi could be held liable if someone else passed by and downloaded child porn.

This includes WiFi hotspots in public places, which is usually why those either restrict the sites you can access, or require you to register with them for access (even when it is free) for tracking purposes (and, ultimately, to force you to accept all liability).

It seems to be that the onus should be on the WiFi owner to secure their network, if leaving it open could leave them open to prosecution. If they decide to leave it open, it should be legal for people to use it (after all, they are not all doing illegal things).

If the real concern is prosecuting people for downloading illegal material, then an ID system should be in place to allow tracking of downloads right to the individual. (I know how people will feel about that, but it's really the only solution to that problem.)

Last edited by Steven Lyle Jordan; 11-14-2008 at 08:49 AM.
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Old 11-14-2008, 09:07 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by Steve Jordan View Post
Sorry, I must be dim this morning... browsing for what? (E-books, I assume.) When you say "unsecured network," are you talking about a particular site, or some branch of the web itself? And by browsing, do you mean just seeing what files are on the network, or opening them, buying them, etc?
He means connecting your computer to the internet using someone else's WiFi network without their permission.

This is illegal in the UK, and a number of people have been prosecuted for it.

Quote:
It seems to be that the onus should be on the WiFi owner to secure their network, if leaving it open could leave them open to prosecution. If they decide to leave it open, it should be legal for people to use it (after all, they are not all doing illegal things).
I'm afraid I disagree. The fact that someone leaves the front door of their house standing open doesn't make it legal for other people to go into that house and use the owner's possessions without their permission. No more does the fact that a WiFi network is unsecured make it legal to use it without permission.
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Old 11-14-2008, 10:00 AM   #4
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It's not illegal as far as I know in the U.S. In fact. I leave the WiFi from my condo open for anyone to use though it doesn't reach very far. I don't think anyone outside of my building can hop on. There are several open connections in the building.
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Old 11-14-2008, 10:45 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by HarryT View Post
I'm afraid I disagree. The fact that someone leaves the front door of their house standing open doesn't make it legal for other people to go into that house and use the owner's possessions without their permission. No more does the fact that a WiFi network is unsecured make it legal to use it without permission.
This analogy is pretty bad. The way computers works nowaday it is very hard to detect that you are using a network you did not intend to use. Also I want my networks to be public but there is no way to declare them as public. But there is a way to make then non-public by locking them. So the default shoubd be that you could use them.
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Old 11-14-2008, 10:47 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HarryT View Post
He means connecting your computer to the internet using someone else's WiFi network without their permission.

This is illegal in the UK, and a number of people have been prosecuted for it.



I'm afraid I disagree. The fact that someone leaves the front door of their house standing open doesn't make it legal for other people to go into that house and use the owner's possessions without their permission. No more does the fact that a WiFi network is unsecured make it legal to use it without permission.
Except that some of us (me included) leave a connection open specifically for the use of the public. They are more than welcome to use that connection without prior permission.

So, in our neighborhood, it's more like leaving the door open with an understanding that anyone is free to come in and use the bathroom. That's what it's there for.

I often see one or two cars parked on the road in front of my house, with occupants browsing away on their laptops. Every time I have gone up to the road to say "hi" to whoever it is, it turns out that they are a builder or real estate agent just trying to keep in touch with the office.

I always assure them that it's just fine and dandy to use the connection, and point out several other houses in the valley (some of which are probably closer to the house they are building or marketing) that have exactly the same "policy."

So, I couldn't really take the poll, because there was no selection for (1) it's not illegal in my area and (2) I have a very open door policy about the public using my connection.
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Old 11-14-2008, 10:56 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HarryT View Post
I'm afraid I disagree. The fact that someone leaves the front door of their house standing open doesn't make it legal for other people to go into that house and use the owner's possessions without their permission. No more does the fact that a WiFi network is unsecured make it legal to use it without permission.
I don't argue that. However, as the owner, it is your responsibility to close your front door, and no one else's. Also, if you had something in your house that was illegal for someone else to possess... say, a firearm, or in the case of a minor, a bottle of alcohol... and that someone came in and took them, you could be liable for allowing them to easily gain access to something they were not supposed to have, even as they were breaking the law by taking them.

In the U.S., it would be analogous to an adult buying alcohol and giving some to a minor: The adult was not wrong in buying the booze, but in giving it to a minor, the minor broke the law (by drinking it) and the adult broke the law. In cases where minors have drunken booze from their parents' cupboard, the parents have been held liable for making booze available to minors (a prosecution rarely pursued, except in cases of injury, property damage or worse).

I see securing your own network as a matter of protecting yourself from liability, with the understanding that failing to secure could leave you open to prosecution as an unwitting accessory of sorts to the crime.
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Old 11-14-2008, 11:04 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RickyMaveety View Post
Except that some of us (me included) leave a connection open specifically for the use of the public. They are more than welcome to use that connection without prior permission.

So, in our neighborhood, it's more like leaving the door open with an understanding that anyone is free to come in and use the bathroom. That's what it's there for.
Obviously, if every stranger who came into your house did so just to use the bathroom, there'd be no reason to discuss the point. If whatever they were doing was hurting or robbing someone, however, it would be a different matter. How would you react, for instance, if you knew people were using your WiFi network to download child porn, or to coordinate a robbery or attack on your neighbor?
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Old 11-14-2008, 11:24 AM   #9
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I fail to understand why a law is required for this.

If the concern is that they are stealing bandwidth that you're paying for then take them to small claim court.

If this is some attempt of non-repudiation in things like child porn or illegal file downloads then I think it fails.

There should be a law that if you create a new law you have to remove two obsolete laws first.
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Old 11-14-2008, 11:29 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by HarryT View Post
The fact that someone leaves the front door of their house standing open doesn't make it legal for other people to go into that house and use the owner's possessions without their permission. No more does the fact that a WiFi network is unsecured make it legal to use it without permission.
That analogy is perfect, IMHO.

/JB
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Old 11-14-2008, 11:37 AM   #11
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Except that some of us (me included) leave a connection open specifically for the use of the public. They are more than welcome to use that connection without prior permission.
In that case that's fine, but are you sure that is compatible with the terms and conditions you signed up to with your ISP? YMMV, but I know that if I did that I'd most certainly be in violation of those terms.

/JB
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Old 11-14-2008, 11:56 AM   #12
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I think it should become legal.

If someone doesn't want a stranger using their Wi-Fi then they should use WEP or similar.

If communities decide to share their Wi-Fi then they can share the WEP code.

And if someone really doesn't mind complete strangers using their Wi-Fi then they can leave it completely open and then the person using won't be prosecuted.

All IMHO...

Cheers,
Terry.
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Old 11-14-2008, 12:00 PM   #13
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In that case that's fine, but are you sure that is compatible with the terms and conditions you signed up to with your ISP? YMMV, but I know that if I did that I'd most certainly be in violation of those terms.
That is between you and your ISP and irrelevant for the questions.

And the ansver is hard to find. Contracts sometimes say one thing and practice or explicit or implicit permission another. See thing like the FON project were ISP providers seems to accept the people share their connection.
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Old 11-14-2008, 04:54 PM   #14
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I have 2 stories on 2 sides to share.
About 2 years ago a policeofficer lost in court, when he deliberately left his laptop visible in his car with the car unlocked; in an attempt to catch a thief in action.
There was a thief, and the verdict of the court was that the police officer had tempted people to break into his car leaving the car unlocked with laptop visible (much like the verdict is against people walking naked on the street). And the costs of breaking the glass (thief broke window despite the car being open) was all on the officer!

I found it somewhat similar to transmitting your wifi signal without encryption. Meaning, inviting people to use it.

On the other hand, I believe was it also about 2 years ago?, when a police squad stormed into an old lady's house, arresting her with charges of dealing with child pornography.
Upon further investigation what seemed was that the old lady just had bought internet, not knowing about wireless encoding ofcourse.
It seemed someone in her neighborhood was the cause.

So I don't think it would be fair to get punished (fined, jailed)when you're browsing on someone's unsecured internet connection.
However, I don't like being caught neither because someone is doing illegal business on my internet connection...

It's a pretty hard thing.

What's even more, in Germany I read there's a new technology that allows 26 people living in a radius of a few miles next to eachother, to go on the internet as long as there are minimum 3 modems connected to the internet.
It works on the principle of mesh networking or somehting... But, if you happen to have one of those modems, then it could be someone a few miles away would be doing illegal stuff on your connection.
With that thought in mind it would become very hard to catch the perpetrator, so maybe that's why the law...?

Last edited by ProDigit; 11-14-2008 at 05:09 PM.
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Old 11-14-2008, 09:38 PM   #15
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When I first put in wireless for the house so I could use my laptop and so I would not have to wire my wife's areas, I did not secure it at first. I was just worried about getting the signals right. Then the performance dropped. OK, I have a hard wired machine on the desk and that ran fine so I started looking for the problem. One of the items on the list was to look for how many machines were connected. I had two extra machines on the wireless than I had in the house with wireless cards and one of those was not even on at the time. My wife could not get to the web sites that she wanted and when she did (at long last get there about 30 minutes later) she could not get the next page.

Long story short, I secured the connection and the following day my next door neighbor complained that someone had turned off his free Internet connection. His whole family were using it and now it was secured and wouldn't let them in to their Internet.

I told him the story about the three freeloaders that were camped out on my connection and how I had to secure the wireless just so my wife and I could get to web sites that we wanted. He said that it was WEP protected and he was going to get a WEP cracker. I upped the security levels later that day. He finally got his own Internet connection.
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