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Gas, Grass, or Ass, But No One Rides For Free
July 7, 2005 9:41 AM   Subscribe

"More than 10-million U.S. homes are equipped with [wi-fi] routers that transmit high-speed Internet to computers using radio signals. The signals can extend 200 feet or more." And Benjamin Smith was just arrested for going online through an unsecured one that didn't belong to him.

It begs the Doonesbury question: Isn't it still a free country?
posted by NotMyselfRightNow (249 comments total)

 
"Begs the question?"
posted by brownpau at 9:50 AM on July 7, 2005


Its not really a use of accicendently or inadvertant use of another persons access point. This guy was, supposedly, sitting out in front of someone else's house in his SUV using their internet.

Yea, the guy wasn't probably doing anything malicious, but if I leave front door unlocked, its not an invite for you to enter. Yes, its stupid of me to leave my front door unlocked, and I should expect, sooner or later, that I'll be a victim of something. It could be as innoccious as someone coming in and using the bathroom, to stealing my valuables.
posted by SirOmega at 10:03 AM on July 7, 2005


In other news, Joe Smith was just arrested for driving a car that didn't happen to belong to him... It also begs the Doonesbury question: Isn't it still a free country?
In other words, living in a free country has little or nothing to do with one particular act that at least has a basis to be criminal (ie, theft of bandwidth at minimum).
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 10:10 AM on July 7, 2005


A closer analogy would be if you left your hose running in your yard and some guy walking by took a drink.

Also, my laptop automatically connects to any wifi network found in range. It came from the store like that.
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:11 AM on July 7, 2005


This is the way I see it: If this is illegal than the manufacturers of said devices need to disable any functionality that would allow their devices to automatically reach out and log onto a network. Ever since these devices have been sold the expectation could not be more clear that these are devices set up to connect to the nearest open and available network because *that's how the damn system was designed and intended to be used and if it wasn't then there would be software and hardware functions in place to prevent that*
Making the argument that someone is 'guilty, guilty, guilty' because they logged onto an open network to use as they will is the penultimate expression of hypocrisy and I hope that the individual that was arrested sues the living hell out of the asshole who had him arrested as they well and truly deserve it.
So screw those who leave their networks open and expect others to somehow determine where they live, walk up to their door and knock and ask 'Hi, you don't know me, but can I borrow a cup o' wi-fi?'
Screw them up their stupid, unsecured network asses.
If you don't want someone to use your network, lock it down. If you can't be bothered to do that, then it's your own damn fault if anyone uses it for whatever purpose.
If it's anyone else's fault, it's the fault of the manufacturers of these devices for 1)not making the default a closed, secured network for the router and 2) the wi-fi cards or other devices for not building in something where the person would have to feed information in to connect to a specific network. Again, because these devices operate exactly the opposite, the intention is clear: these devices were designed and intended to be used as open networks available to all unless configured otherwise.
posted by mk1gti at 10:11 AM on July 7, 2005


Gosh .. it's so easy to encrypt those things. . .If I can do it, most people can.

I was just on vacation and at a relative's house, figured out which neighbors left their router unencrypted and sat in the shade at the corner of their porch and did email. . .I did not even know it was illegal. I also showed my daughter and nephew and niece how to do this. . .

Hmmm. . .I expect a knock on the door anytime. . .I'll get my toothbrush packed.
posted by Danf at 10:16 AM on July 7, 2005


So whats next if you stand out side and listen to someone playing music to loud are you going to get charged with theft of music you dont own? You cant hack something not secure, you cant steal something being left for free.

In fact when dealing with trash, when that trash reaches the curb its considered that you have abandoned it, and you no longer have legal rights to control it. Anyone can rummage thu it as they are want to.

All in all if you dont secure your network dont whine about ppl 'stealing' it.
posted by MrLint at 10:19 AM on July 7, 2005


Well, he was stealing: using property of another without consent. The only question is whether he intended to do it. My guess is he sure as heck knew he was getting on someone else's access.

Sounds to me like he should go to jail. Unless you reject the idea of property.
posted by dios at 10:20 AM on July 7, 2005


Guy should've used a yagi. Coulda yoinked wifi from blocks away.

what a noob
posted by wakko at 10:22 AM on July 7, 2005


Have you properly secured your rectum?
posted by srboisvert at 10:23 AM on July 7, 2005


It's not breaking and entering if the door is unlocked.

(it is, however, trespass)
posted by dreamsign at 10:23 AM on July 7, 2005


As discussed on "Ask"
posted by Keith Talent at 10:23 AM on July 7, 2005


Another analogy might be watching PBS or listening to NPR over the airwaves without contributing. . .I am not going to the wall to defend that one, though.

But still. . .it's an easy one to prevent.
posted by Danf at 10:24 AM on July 7, 2005


That will sure make me think twice about using the light spilling out of somebody's window to light my way at night. I never realized what a terrible radiation thief I was. I mean, God, somebody paid for that light. How dare I think that I can make use of it.

WiFi has a very open sub-culture. It's not at all unreasonable to believe that an open access point is an invitation to make use of the resource because in a number of cases that's exactly what it is.
posted by willnot at 10:26 AM on July 7, 2005


I'm not sure that the breaking and entering analogy is correct since this person did not 'enter' physically into somebody's property. I think it is similar to when someone puts furniture out on the curb. It may not have a sign saying 'take me' and they may not intend it as such but it would be understandable if someone did take it. I think this is an unusual case since the guy literally parked in front of their house to use their wifi, but this case could open the door to a lot of ridiculous ones. From my house I have 4 other unsecured networks that I have mistakenly signed on to in the past. Should I go to jail for clicking on the wrong button?
posted by Raichle at 10:28 AM on July 7, 2005


Remind me to buy a cracked satellite box and try this line of argument on DirecTV sometime.

"You guys are just beaming this stuff all over the earth, how was I supposed to know I wasn't allowed to use it?"
posted by darukaru at 10:28 AM on July 7, 2005


I commented after only reading the article. But a review of the comments is funny.

You have no right to another person's property, even if they don't keep you from trying to take it.

The hose example is the same: you have not right to go drink out of someone else's hose. They may have left it running and were willing to pay for that to water their yard.

The only silly about such hypotheticals is that they usually involve such completely benign takings that prosecution seems ludicrous. But, nevertheless, the analytical legal point is still valid. Property belongs to someone. You cannot use, occupy, or borrow their property without consent. If you do so, you are breaking the law.
posted by dios at 10:29 AM on July 7, 2005


nevermind, what willnot said!
posted by Raichle at 10:30 AM on July 7, 2005


Read this on Slashdot. As mentioned there: The unsecured wireless access point is actively advertising its availability. On top of that, when a computer asks if it's allowed to use the network the router says "Sure, take this IP."
posted by ODiV at 10:32 AM on July 7, 2005


This conversation isn't going to get anywhere until the people opposing this guys arrest approach the argument in good faith and admit that the resource he was using came at cost to the home owner. The owner paid for it, and the value of what he got in terms of bandwith was diminished by Smith. You have to concede this. When you do, these asinine analogs about light and music, etc. can be surpassed and we can get to the real issue.
posted by dios at 10:32 AM on July 7, 2005


Dang. I was just told that you can park in many hotel parking lots and get wi-fi access. Would have changed my life. Now they'll all be encrypting too.
posted by QuietDesperation at 10:33 AM on July 7, 2005


using property of another without consent. The only question is whether he intended to do it.

Seems like everyone's been aware that people do this, and nobody's argued against it, nor has it been announced that it's illegal.. Why does notice of new illegality and/or changes to customary behavior have to be propagated via felony arrests?

They could have someone in the FCC issue a couple policy statements first for chrissakes--those are human beings that work there, and they have to be aware of the customs of the people.
posted by nervousfritz at 10:34 AM on July 7, 2005


What is this, /.? Geez...

Music, light, and any other one way transmision is not a good analogy here. Simply because its a one way transfer. I can stand in the street and (if its turned up loud enough) hear it. Or see it if its bright enough. Thats it. There is nothing more to it.

Its different with Wifi since its two-way, the guy was using the homeowner's internet access (bandwidth). The guy in the SUV was using property without permission. He did not secure permission. Its theft. Since bandwidth is cheap its not a big deal in terms of monetary loss, but nonetheless, its still theft.

It doesnt matter what the subculture or whatever else is. Using a non-public item or service you're not given explicit permission to is theft.

(on preview) For once, I agree with dios. Its theft. Its not serious theft, but a crime nonetheless.
posted by SirOmega at 10:34 AM on July 7, 2005


The argument that the functionality indicates that this is a legal use is absurd. There are plenty of functions that users of almost anything are expected to control. For instance, not pulling the trigger simply because there isn't a trigger lock on the gun.

I can understand the outrage about this arrest because it threatens to make things less easy and fun, it seems like a victimless crime, it seems like a misunderstanding by stupid cops and DAs of stuff that tech folks take for granted. Clearly, though, there are some things which we would all expect and hope to be prosecuted in this kind of situation, such as using the WiFi for illegal purposes over and above simply connecting. Aside from the idiots who would pop up to argue that any theft (say of financial records) from the home owner computer was warranted because they were dumb enough to run an unsecured network, most people would not want such theft to go unpunished. Actually stealing use of the WiFi is simply one step back from that, and hard to really defend given the potential ramifications.

On preview: dios frames it more simply.
posted by OmieWise at 10:34 AM on July 7, 2005


Frankly if I left my hose running and I noticed that some guy was standing there taking a drink as I left my house and was still there when I got back hours later. Yeah, I'd call the cops. At very least I want to make sure that he is not a demented stalker. But the hose analogy doesn't work very well either. The open wi-fi connection isn't using up bandwidth until the war-driver comes by and starts using it. The guy is using resources that he did not pay for and that is the very definition of theft.

Pointing out that the machines are set this way by default is obfuscation. The laptop user clearly knew what he was doing and could have very easily chosen not to do it. It's not as if his laptop momentarily connected to the hotspot as the guy was driving by. The guy parked his car. He knew that he was doing something he shouldn't be doing. If he didn't, he wouldn't have closed the laptop when the homeowner came by to talk to him.

On preview:
The other analogies are just silly. There is a clear difference between using bandwidth you haven't paid for and hearing music, listening to NPR etc.. In the latter scenarios you are not actively adding to the cost without compensation.

Oh and Dios is spot on.
posted by oddman at 10:35 AM on July 7, 2005


brownpau: “”Begs the question?“
We really, really need an "Improper use of ‘Begs the Question’ flag, right now.
posted by signal at 10:35 AM on July 7, 2005


Actually, darukaru may have nailed the point.

Before they encrypted TV sat signals, that was the very argument used by people buying dishes and not paying for the service. Once they encrypted them, however, it became very clear that you were stealing if you bothered to crack the signal.

Also: There's a big difference between WiFi signals being beamed onto your property, and you going somewhere to intentionally intercept them.

So, if your sitting at home, or in an invited space, I doubt that you could get a conviction. Sitting in a public place, though, things get dicier -- esp. if you deliberatly moved to a spot to get a signal. Obviously, entering private property to get a WiFi link is not only theft, but trespass.

Of course, it all depends on how the law is written, not what is "right." If the law says that you can be prosecuted for unauthorized use of a WAP, and you do so, expect to be charged if you get caught.

Note that I seriously doubt any court in the land would declare that you have a right to Internet Access. (vain attempt to head off the standard 9th/10th amendment arguments. Hint: The point isn't to whom those rights are delegated, the point is that there is no right to delegate.)
posted by eriko at 10:37 AM on July 7, 2005


ummm.. i leave my wi-fi open and unencrypted.. and it's not a mistake.. I have unlimited bandwidth and I have plenty leftover so I'm letting some neighbors use it too.. if bandwidth becomes a prob, I can just encrypt it.. no biggie..

Also, when I'm away from home, I sometimes connect to whatever internet is available.. I'm thinkin someone else left it open for me to use too..

If someone leaves it out open where someone from pretty far away can access it, then it should be public domain.. If they gonna arrest this guy for "stealing" wifi then they should arrest everyone leaving their wifi open for lewd wifi.. I'm serious, how can you not expect people from next door or across the street to NOT use their laptops that automatically connect.. There's gotta be consistency here.
posted by pez_LPhiE at 10:38 AM on July 7, 2005


It would seem to me that anyone leaving a Wi-Fi hotspot unsecured is either ignorant or willfully allowing others to use it.

Driving around looking for hotspots, though, is lame. Pony up your $25 a month and buy your damned connection.
posted by fenriq at 10:39 AM on July 7, 2005


Off-topic.

Brownpau, thanks for that excellent link. I've book-marked it and will use it extensively from now on. I'm even thinking of using it as my .sig.

Thanks again.
posted by oddman at 10:40 AM on July 7, 2005


You cannot use, occupy, or borrow their property without consent. If you do so, you are breaking the law.

I get that. . .and I can follow the reasoning that wireless access is something that someone pays for, via buying an access point and (presumably) paying an ISP, but I also can't see how benign use can result in damage or injury to the owner of the router, unless I exposed them to some legal consequences by doing something illegal that could be traced back to their network.

Do you really believe that jail is a proper consequence for this person, given no other mitigating circumstances. . .that he was just emailing or surfing on someone else's network without asking permission?
posted by Danf at 10:40 AM on July 7, 2005


Although both are theft in the eyes of the law, the obvious difference between DirecTV and Wi-Fi is two-way communication, bandwidth and personal accountability.
DirectTV is not directly affected by a cracked box, only indirectly due to theoretical lost revenue... whereas Jane Everygal can get a huge overage charge on her broadband account and the cops busting in with a search warrant because her IP was the destination for several gigs of kiddieporn.
posted by CynicalKnight at 10:42 AM on July 7, 2005


My neighborhood has its own initiative focused on educating people about Wi-Fi and even helping them secure their own systems while keeping their routers set to open access. Many of the business establishments have Free Wi-Fi and many of the residents do as well. The goal is to create a free wireless mesh throughout the whole neighborhood.

If people don't want to share their wireless connection, that is fine. If they do, that is fine, but both types of people should know the absolute best way to go about doing either.
posted by sciurus at 10:43 AM on July 7, 2005


A closer analogy would be if you left your hose running in your yard and some guy walking by took a drink.

Well you know, more like you set up a water fountain in your front yard with a big sign on it saying "get your water here." Except the sign is only visible to computers. But anyway. My network will remain open to all who want to use it, with the SSID "default".

Isn't it still a free country?

This case doesn't say anything about that question until it's decided. It's probably good that this will get tested in court. Enough people are confused about it that it needs to be established clearly that connecting to an open network that's broadcasting invitations to connect to it is absolutely okay with the law.
posted by sfenders at 10:44 AM on July 7, 2005


It's not like he was just sitting on his front porch... he parked specifically in a place to take advantage of it. Further, he was well aware that the owner didn't want him to use the WiFi network since every time the owner came out to discuss it he stopped using it.

This isn't accidentally picking up a signal -- this is going out of your way to knowingly go against the wishes of the property owner.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 10:46 AM on July 7, 2005


All these analogies fall off the mark. The best analogy: this guy took some internet bandwidth, which the owner probably would not have noticed as he likely had oodles to spare, and did it wirelessly. Did he have permission? No. Did her act guilty? Well, he slapped his laptop shut when viewed by the neighbor. Is it theft? Technically it probably is to the extent he took something without permission. However, the taking is pretty de minimus. Without watching him the owner probably never would have been the wiser, probably never would have been harmed. The issue is especially clouded by the fact that many people don't care if you tap into their wifi to use the internet as long as you don't impact their use. You could even make the argument that by leaving the access point unencrypted that the owner was essentially inviting in such use, or at least could lead a reasonable person to believe so. As a defense, this probably fails given his furtive actions in shutting the laptop when seen.
posted by caddis at 10:47 AM on July 7, 2005


ummm.. i leave my wi-fi open and unencrypted.. and it's not a mistake.. I have unlimited bandwidth and I have plenty leftover so I'm letting some neighbors use it too.. if bandwidth becomes a prob, I can just encrypt it.. no biggie..

You do realize that you're legally culpable for things that people might do with your open WiFi connection right? You're not a "common carrier" in the FCC sense of the term. If someone transmits child porn or some crap like that, those FBI guys will knock on your door looking for answers. And in the meanwhile, they'll probably take all of your computer stuff for a few months while they examine it for traces of whatever they're looking for.
posted by SirOmega at 10:48 AM on July 7, 2005


"The unsecured wireless access point is actively advertising its availability. On top of that, when a computer asks if it's allowed to use the network the router says 'Sure, take this IP.'"

This is an extremely important point, and is worth repeating. This is not about someone using a non-public resource, or stealing property, or using a connection without permission, for precisely this reason.

The computer networks we all use operate on certain protocols, and this particular case involves the DHCP protocol. If a computer asks for an IP address, it is given one. It doesn't matter whose computer it is. That's what DHCP is for, and that's what happened. This is the permission to use the network.

So, to adjust everyone's incomplete analogies: It isn't like leaving your door open and someone walking in and watching tv. It's like leaving your door open, then hiring a bodyguard, giving him specific instructions written on a card that say "Let anyone into this house. This is what I hired you to do, and this is what you have to do, no matter who it is."

The specific difference is that someone has purchased a device to act as this butler/bodyguard, specifically designed to grant people access to their networks, on their behalf.

The solution is education, little warning stickers, and a shift in policy on the part of those who make these devices to ship them secured by default.
posted by odinsdream at 10:49 AM on July 7, 2005


My network will remain open to all who want to use it, with the SSID "default".


This SSID would be better: "PleaseUseThisWiFiResponsibly" or "WelcomeCasualUser" etc.
posted by caddis at 10:50 AM on July 7, 2005


I don't believe it was stealing. An open wireless access point advertises itself as open and it allows you to connect to it by assigning you an IP address. It grants you access. If you don't want to be granting people access, stop it from granting people access! No one is breaking into your access point. You're giving stuff away and people are taking it, not stealing it!

I think the main, real issue here is how the guy was using his wireless access. The guy was being a total creep. He was parked in front of his house bathed in the creepy glow of his laptop. The homeowner went out to him a couple of times and the guy closed up his laptop each time as he approached him. That's creepy, guys. Of course, the homeowner called the cops and they did what cops generally do when it appears that someone's doing something wrong, legally ambiguous and/or very creepy: question and detain/arrest.

Hopefully the courts will decide that it is up to the person with the wireless access point to stop granting random passers-by access.

Arrest seems extreme but you almost can't complain ... the guy was being a total creep!
posted by redteam at 10:55 AM on July 7, 2005


This is almost as serious as the landmark case Albertsons v. Kowalski, in which the defendant's child ate a grape before they reached the checkout line.
posted by mosch at 11:10 AM on July 7, 2005


Making the argument that someone is 'guilty, guilty, guilty' because they logged onto an open network to use as they will is the penultimate expression of hypocrisy

so what's the ultimate expression of hypocrisy? rush limbaugh's pill problem?
posted by Hat Maui at 11:15 AM on July 7, 2005


odinsdream, THAT was a good analogy =)


I've been to bars that seemed to hire bouncers like that ...
posted by nomisxid at 11:17 AM on July 7, 2005


Well, hell. I've been using an unsecured local wireless network ever since the cat chewed through my router's cable. I guess I'd better wait for the knock on the door...

I think both sides of this argument have good points. Yes, by logging onto someone else's unsecured network you are using a resource they pay for, without their permission. On the other hand, and as a number of people have pointed out, many folk quite knowingly allow this and computers will actively sniff out and attach to unsecured networks unless you tick the little box against that network which makes it "on demand" or inactive.

It seems clear to me that more clarity and legal guidelines are needed before any heavy-handed legal action is taken against people who do this.

Having said that I'd better get to Radio Shack this very weekend. And remember to keep the damned cats shut out of the office.
posted by Decani at 11:18 AM on July 7, 2005


My DSL modem was damaged in a flood yesterday. As luck would have it, the neighbor's netowrk is unsecure. I'm currently soaking in it. I also happen to be leaving the country in a few hours, so if the cops are coming to get me, they better get movin'.
posted by Dick Paris at 11:19 AM on July 7, 2005


the guy was being a total creep!

Yeah. I hesitate to trust the reporting in that rather poorly-written (using "Wireless Fidelity" is a sure sign of total ignorance) article, but probably he was. In honour of him, I guess I'll rename my network. "IDIOTS_MUST_BE_ON_LEASH" it is.
posted by sfenders at 11:20 AM on July 7, 2005


someone's doing something wrong, legally ambiguous and/or very creepy: question and detain/arrest

Although being creepy in itself shouldn't be illegal.. Case in point I like to sit out on the sidewalk and watch the passersby and eat my food some evenings.. An employee of one of the stores who is a total retard kept trying to talk to me. After I responded to him the other night he tried to get in a fistfight with me and banned me from his store. If he could have, he would have had me arrested for "creepiness." All because he is stupid.

After a long day of corporate enforced normalcy I need a bit of downtime to let my chi forces flow freely. About half the pinks walking by on the sidewalk become terribly un-nerved by it. What can I do.. This is why I am happy to live in a free country where it isn't a problem to sit somewhere quietly. Heh.

All that said, I wouldn't sit out in front of someone's house with my laptop, and if they came out to ask me about it I would try to communicate decently and leave if they wanted me to, of course...
posted by nervousfritz at 11:21 AM on July 7, 2005


On the other hand, and as a number of people have pointed out, many folk quite knowingly allow this and computers will actively sniff out and attach to unsecured networks unless you tick the little box against that network which makes it "on demand" or inactive.

The distinction is that in this case, the owner of the WiFi hub tried to tell the SUV driver in REAL LIFE not to use his access point, and that message was communicated clearly because the SUV driver stopped using it when he saw the owner approaching and looking angry.

To use the bouncer example it's like the bouncer letting people in but the club owner coming over and asking them to leave.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 11:22 AM on July 7, 2005


DONT YOU RESPECT THE IDEA OF PROPERTY? YOU COMMIES!
posted by Satapher at 11:25 AM on July 7, 2005


Dios - how is light not an appropriate analogue to an open WiFi access point?

Both require the homeowner to purchase resources from a utility (Electricity/Internet Access), Both require a device of some kind (Lamp/Access Point), Both radiate in the house for the homeowners convenience, but as a by-product also radiate out into the neighborhood where passersby can get easy access to them. In both cases, the portion that the passerby is using can't be used by the home owner, but I don't think the home owner was going to be using it anyway, and if he wanted to, he needs to focus it better. Really, the only difference I see is the frequency of the radiation.

I'm seriously not being disingenuous about that. I know that one is clearly absurd to you, while the other seems very cut and dry, but from my perspective, they're both clearly absurd.

If you don't want somebody using your light, draw the blinds. If you don't want somebody using your WiFi, secure the access point.
posted by willnot at 11:31 AM on July 7, 2005


To use the bouncer example it's like the bouncer letting people in but the club owner coming over and asking them to leave.

Actually, it'd be like the club owner calling the police and having them arrested for trespassing given that the articles don't mention Smith and Dinon talking at all.
posted by jperkins at 11:32 AM on July 7, 2005


So much bad faith in this discussion.

To those who keep asserting that some people allow it: fine! Then it isn't a problem! If your neighbors are intentionally allowing it and give approval to someone using it, then it isn't a crime!

That scenario isn't what the issue is. No one gets arrested for taking, occupying or using personal property when they have the consent of the property's owners. The issue is whether because it isn't secured, that is tacit consent that it is free to use. The answer is no. No, no, no. Legally, it is still stealing. You have to have actual consent from the owner for it to not be a crime. If you enter or begin using the property before getting that consent, it is a crime ab initio.... from the beginning. If it is found out later that the owner doesn't mind, then it isn't a crime! And of course it won't be prosecuted!

That is why you are supposed to ask before doing things.

No matter how much you try to justify it, or no matter how much you want it to be not the case, it is a crime to use someone's property without consent. And I don't think we are going to go back on several centuries of penal theory merely because some people want to be able to get free internet.
posted by dios at 11:33 AM on July 7, 2005


Remind me to buy a cracked satellite box and try this line of argument on DirecTV sometime.

This argument has been successfully used in court. Damned if I can find a link to it now, unfortunately...

The only difference is that since it's cracked, you'd be charged with violating the DMCA.
posted by wakko at 11:35 AM on July 7, 2005


1. It's theft, and it's technically against the law. I don't see any point in discussing this part of the issue.
2. Whether or not it *should* be against the law is, of course, up for discussion.
3. *Practically* speaking, sitting in an SUV outside someone's property for over an hour in the middle of the night is just stupid -- it's going to trigger all sorts of alarm bells in people's minds. And trying to hide what you're doing is only going to compound the problem.
posted by Slothrup at 11:38 AM on July 7, 2005


I totally agree with you nervousfritz, I don't think creepiness should be a punishable offence. I just wanted to bring up that the homeowner thought something suspicious was going on and called the cops. I hadn't seen anyone mention it yet.

I'm sure I've unintentionally done many things that others thought were creepy but I thought were perfectly normal. Like let's say I walked up (from far away) to my car and started to inspect it all over and even looked in the windows. Someone seeing that would think it was totally creepy and even call up the cops or something, but it's my car! Whatever, I don't have to explain this (however badly I did so) to you, you understand, I just wanted to make sure you understand that I understand :)

What should've happened is that the homeowner should've gone out to the guy in front of his house and thoroughly questioned him instead of letting him go so easily. "Excuse me, what are you doing sitting in your car in front of *MY* house?" or "Can I help you? Why are you out here?" and so on. Maybe even conspicuously write down the guy's license plate number and just stare at him for a while or go "Computers, eh?" Or whatever. I've done this (and taken pleasure in doing so) on several occasions. I'm pretty disappointed with the homeowner for not properly protecting his castle. He appears to be a total wuss to me.
posted by redteam at 11:38 AM on July 7, 2005


OK. Here's my take...

Based on these facts:

1. The WiFi signal is flowing beyond the property of the owner.
2. The device config indicates an Open Access Point.

If I were to use a water analogy I'd say that the sprinkler was spraying into the street, and a passer-by stopped and took a drink.

Using the light analogy, you could compare it to neighborhood kids playing basketball in the street with the benefit of your porch light.

It could be argued that damages to my laptop resulted from the fact that your un-secured WiFi was leaking past your property line (given that the typical WindowsXP box gets infected within 12 minutes of connecting to the internet, and that many laptops automatically connect to open Hot-Spots).

In reality, as was pointed out, water/light analogies fall short as they're 1-way while WiFi is 2-way

So, we're talking about an incident that has no real legal precedent.

Is it good that this is being explored in court? Probably...

Do I think that the guy should have a misdemeanor/felony because of this? No way.

My position on this is (perfect world case):

1. Router Manufacturers should lock down the devices prior to shipping.
2. Ultimately, the onus is on the owner/operator of the device to secure access.
3. Open Access Points should be regarded as freely available
4. Open Access Points should require users to agree to a Terms Of Service prohibiting illegal/unethical use.
5. Opening an Access Point should automatically invoke filters to limit certain known types of this use.
posted by jb5dogs at 11:40 AM on July 7, 2005


dios writes "Well, he was stealing: using property of another without consent."

To reiterate what others have pointed out, it's reasonable to assume that the "thief" obtained service using the DHCP protocol, which requires his computer to query the wireless access point for permission to connect and to issue an IP address. The owner of the access point had set it up such that it responded to such a request with permission and with an IP address on the local network, in addition to establishing NAT such that the computer at this address could have free access to the internet. If this doesn't amount to explicit permission to use the network, I don't know what does. If the owner of the access point had set it up in this manner out of ignorance, well, that's his own damn fault.

To those who would argue that such electronic interactions do not amount to "real" permission: such a requirement would cripple the world's communication infrastructure. If the owner of a network needed to get actual physical permission (either written or verbal) before their network could access any other network, the entire internet, phone system, satellite communications system, etc. would grind to a halt. For the purpose of the law, permissions granted between standard electronic communications protocols are perfectly sufficient permissions.

No crime was committed here.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:40 AM on July 7, 2005


*brain explodes*

People aren't going to be arrested for sharing their bandwidth. Dude was in his SUV in the guy's driveway, closing up the laptop and driving away when the guy came outside. Hours later, dude was back, with the laptop, and closed it and drove away when the dude came outside.

Police used a code on the books to nab the potential ?weirdo?

Yes WiFi technology is new and naive. Yes maybe they need to default to be a little more difficult. Yes if people get charged with running a bandwith commune there will be cause for all this "it's light! it's air! it's water!" discussion. That's not the point here. RTFA, OMG, WTF. BBQ.
posted by cavalier at 11:41 AM on July 7, 2005


The Yahoo! story about this raises a good point that I don't think anyone else has mentioned:

Innocuous use of other people's unsecured Wi-Fi networks is common, though experts say that plenty of illegal use also goes undetected: such as people sneaking on others' networks to traffic in child pornography, steal credit card information and send death threats.

If someone uses your unprotected Wi-Fi connection to do something illegal, you are at risk of prosecution. The IP address can be traced and the owner will be legally responsible for any crimes committed using his/her connection. For those of you who willingly leave your networks open, you should be aware of this risk.

Also, I just don't understand the viewpoint that those who don't protect their Wi-Fi networks are asking for others to make use of/steal it. If I fail to lock my bike, am I implicitly asking others to steal it? Isn't it possible that I simply trust others to leave my property alone?
posted by Crushinator at 11:41 AM on July 7, 2005


Dios - how is light not an appropriate analogue to an open WiFi access point?

willnot, please. I can't even believe that you are asking that seriously. Look, if I use your light from your lamp that is spilling out of you window, your use of the light is not any manner diminished. It would spill out of the window regardless; my using it does not effect your bill; you are not exposed to any legal ramifications from me using your light.

If I use your wifi, the situation is clearly different. I am using your bandwith, so if you only have 1 gb whatever a month, you now have less because I used it. There may also be other effects: maybe your use slows my connection. (I am sure there are even further effects that use of wifi has, but I don't know enough to use it). Not to mention the fact that my use of your wifi connection can present legal questions if something illegal is done because it is done through your gateway. The point being is that the use of the resource has effects. A person using "light" outside has no effects on the person paying for it.

Can you really not see the difference?
posted by dios at 11:42 AM on July 7, 2005


Those of you that think this is a cut-and-dry case of "theft" are being way too simplistic.

An unencrypted WiFi signal beamed into public property is an invitation, of sorts.

I'm sorry, I just don't buy the argument that this is obvious theft. There is no theft prevention mechanism in place (i.e. no scrambling or even an attempt at obfuscation). The signal reaches into public space. The technology of the signal is openly inviting others to connect.

There is a very solid case on the con side here. It's not a black and white issue. Can you really claim as your property an open-protocol signal that readily grants access to anyone you knowingly beam into public space in an unsecured manner?

That is a real, and unanswered, question.
posted by teece at 11:43 AM on July 7, 2005


Oh, and the first linked article claims that the homeowner deliberately and knowingly left the access point open, so the idea that there was permission here seems even clearer to me.

I only scanned the stories, but I didn't notice that at any point the home owner actually asked the guy to stop using his WiFi or even realized that's what the guy was doing. He was just sitting out there with a computer acting suspicious, so the home owner called the cops. He may well be as surprised as I am at what the guy actually got arrested for.

On Preview Dios - most internet packages are all you can eat with a bandwidth cap at any one point. So it's not like it's costing the homeowner any more. I really can not see the difference. I'll accept that there may be legal consequences, but I think that should be covered by the common carrier laws even if they aren't.
posted by willnot at 11:44 AM on July 7, 2005


An unencrypted WiFi signal beamed into public property is an invitation, of sorts.

A short skirt is an invitation of sorts too.
posted by Slothrup at 11:47 AM on July 7, 2005


mr_roboto writes "No crime was committed here."

With one possible exception: it's possible that the owner of the access point had agreed, in his contract with his internet service provider, not to provide service to additional users. In which case, by allowing this user to connect, he violated his contract. Which definitely places him in the wrong, even if it's not a crime.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:48 AM on July 7, 2005


mr_roboto said: The owner of the access point had set it up such that it responded to such a request with permission and with an IP address on the local network, in addition to establishing NAT such that the computer at this address could have free access to the internet. If this doesn't amount to explicit permission to use the network, I don't know what does.

In this scenario, the owner gives his permission without ever realizing that he has done so. What, then, is the point of giving one's permission?
posted by Crushinator at 11:52 AM on July 7, 2005


I only scanned the stories, but I didn't notice that at any point the home owner actually asked the guy to stop using his WiFi or even realized that's what the guy was doing.

The homeowner came out and attempted to talk and the SUV owner drove away both times. That seems like a clear "I want to know what you're doing" message to me, which was acknowledged by driving away. The SUV driver had a basis to be aware that he was not welcome, and by choosing to drive away instead of just asking he opened himself up. So, maybe the bouncer let the patron in, but the patron avoided the manager who was clearly coming over to talk about something. He might not have been officially 86'd yet, but he knew what was coming and was trying to avoid the conversation.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 11:54 AM on July 7, 2005


No matter how much you try to justify it, or no matter how much you want it to be not the case, it is a crime to use someone's property without consent. And I don't think we are going to go back on several centuries of penal theory merely because some people want to be able to get free internet.

Dios: from a legal standpoint, a computer can be considered an agent, and gaining automated permision can be seen as actual permission.

Did you get personal permision to post on mefi from matt? No? then by your logic you are stealing thread and database space.
posted by delmoi at 11:54 AM on July 7, 2005


willnot: umm, the light analogy is bad because if you are standing out in the street, bathed in somebody's living room light, this does not in any way diminish the lighting in his living room. However, if you are leeching pr0n at 5mbit/sec off somebody's wireless access point, chances are good that you are diminishing his ability to use the internet.

And all of this aside - I'm really curious to find out what exactly the guy was using the bandwidth FOR. His behaviour makes it very clear that he, at the very least, didn't want the home-owner to see what he was doing, so he KNEW that what he was doing was wrong.
posted by antifuse at 11:55 AM on July 7, 2005


Actually the light analogy is closer than many people give credit for.

Light is Electromagnetic Radiation of a higher frequency than WiFi. Both are part of the same spectrum. WiFi just happens to spill through most walls...
posted by jb5dogs at 11:56 AM on July 7, 2005


Correction: should have said "it is possible that the owner gives his permission...". My thinking is that the settings roboto describes could be the default settings.
posted by Crushinator at 11:56 AM on July 7, 2005


Round and round and round we go.

Look, it's simple. All of the technomumbojumbo in the world about settings are irrelevant. This nonsense about leaving it open; the owner isn't required to secure it! Maybe he left it open so anyone who he invited into his house could jump on it. It doesn't give other people the right to use it without permission.

1. If you use, occupy or borrow the property of another without permission, then you have broken the law and committed conversion/theft (as it is in every state I am aware of, the Model Penal Code, historically).
2. People are not required to secure their property in order to assert their property rights over it.

This is cut and dry. This guy committed a crime.

You can argue all day that it shouldn't be a crime or that law has changed.

But as it sits right now, there is no doubt that this guy committed a crime.

And on preview: the light example has NOTHING to do with wifi because there are not costs associated to the owner in the use of the light outside the property. Quit coming up with stupid analogs!
posted by dios at 11:58 AM on July 7, 2005


The homeowner came out and attempted to talk and the SUV owner drove away both times. That seems like a clear "I want to know what you're doing" message to me, which was acknowledged by driving away. The SUV driver had a basis to be aware that he was not welcome, and by choosing to drive away instead of just asking he opened himself up. So, maybe the bouncer let the patron in, but the patron avoided the manager who was clearly coming over to talk about something.

We need to stop talking in metaphores here and discuss the real issue.

If it had been me, I would have called the police. Why? Because given the user's behavior, I would have thought they were downloading kiddy porn or sending spam or something. (actualy, I would have just blocked their MAC address).

The guy was behaving creepily, and most likely the police just want an excuse to look through his computer for kiddy porn or something.

Claming that using someones wifi with automated permission is stealing is rediculous.
posted by delmoi at 11:58 AM on July 7, 2005


Dios: all you're doing is making assertions. If you want anyone to belive you you're going to be more spesific. Simply stating that this is a crime is not the same thing as proving it.

We're not talking about "mumbo jumbo" if you advertize something as free, and people take it, they're not stealing.
posted by delmoi at 12:01 PM on July 7, 2005


dios, you're making quite a bit of sense, but I don't buy the equivocation of property theft and service theft. Internet access is a quantifiable resource in that there is a maximum rate at any one time. However, very few people use the maximum rate at all times, so claiming that you're alotted X megabytes of download capacity is flawed. Similarly, this isn't a utility like water or electricity because I'm not billed by how much I use. It's more quantifiable than light because performance is impacted by multiple users.

I think there's a reasonable expectation that people will have private networks secure. I believe (although I may be wrong) that most routers include instructions on setting up access restrictions and encryption. There are many people who encourage use of their open network, or note no difference when it is used. It's very possible to close your laptop, go to a friend's house, open it up, and end up right back on a network. I've started typing email, browsing the web, etc. before realizing that I'm on an unknown network. I've done it in my own apartment as well -- one time the neighbor's access point had a strong signal when my router was down. I switched back minutes later, but I doubt anyone would think I was doing something immoral for those few minutes.

To me, it legally resembles trespass. If I came home and some kids were playing baseball in the neighbor's yard and they placed third base in my yard, they'd technically be trespassing. However, I wasn't using my yard at the time and would never notice if I wasn't home. If a kid broke her leg sliding into third, I could be liable because she would injure herself on my property.
posted by mikeh at 12:01 PM on July 7, 2005


Dios: from a legal standpoint, a computer can be considered an agent, and gaining automated permision can be seen as actual permission.

Do you have any legal basis for making this statement. Because it is wrong, and I'd love to see a case or any argument for such a proposition.

Did you get personal permision to post on mefi from matt?

Please. This is getting stupid. With such stupid analogys and such bad faith, this topic is really becoming a waste of time.
posted by dios at 12:02 PM on July 7, 2005


delmoi is exactly right.

The http server on my machine is very much analogous to this guy's wide-open WiFi hotspot.

Are you committing a crime when you visit my web-page? I never explicitly gave you permission to download from my server. Shall you be charged with 'theft?' What if I only intended my server to be used by family, and you Slashdotted it?

Can I charge you with theft? This is NOT a black and white issue, as evinced by the plain fact that we have decided the issue in the exact opposite way for very (or exactly) similar technologies.
posted by teece at 12:03 PM on July 7, 2005


Look: if you don't like people using your resources, don't put the mechanism for people to use those resources onto public property without some protection.

The man was apparently on the street. If he didn't trespass on the property (a different crime) then he did nothing but utilize the service that the property owner had made available for use on public land.

If he cracked the WEP password, that would be a different issue, but I don't see anyone claiming that.

Another point, that is not a legal one, but common sense: Unless this guy was hauling down movies from bittorrent, the cost of bandwidth would not realistically rise beyond the noise floor. There is such thing as statistical insignificance.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:05 PM on July 7, 2005


Ruh roh, I better pack up and leave the country - I used a neighbor's wide-open access point last week for a couple of hours while my DSL was down (this was from my desk, mind you; I have neighbors on three sides with WiFi).

I have no idea of knowing *which* neighbor it was, but I changed the hostname of the router (not the SSID) to "ChangeYourAdminPassword", after switching the unit to Channel 9 (everyone in the neighborhood is crowding channel 6).

A couple of days later the "linksys" SSID dissapeared; I hope he secured it properly. If I can figure out who it belonged to, I'm going to thank them and take over a plate of cookies or something.

My direct next-door neighbor has his stuff setup properly (WEP, etc.) I asked him the day we moved in, "Are you HarrisonHome? I can see the network while sitting in my living room." He said "Yeah, if you ever need to use it just let me know and I'll give you the key".
posted by mrbill at 12:05 PM on July 7, 2005


jb5dogs, yes, but reading by someone else's light doesn't infringe on their ability to use the light to read by. That's where the analogy falls apart. Granted, this guy's bandwidth was probably not being consumed by the free rider but whatever the guy was using made it so that the owner of the hotspot could not use that bandwidth he'd paid for.

The fact that the guy tried to talk to the free rider and he closed shop and drove away only to come back and use it again and be approached again tells me that the free rider knew what he was doing. Then again, if some dude parked his SUV outside my house and just sat there, I'd go out and ask him what the hell was going on too. And, if he drove away without answering me only to come back later, I'd for damned sure be in his face the instant he came back.

dios, if this is wasting your time, CLOSE THE BROWSER WINDOW AND GO DO SOMETHING ELSE. No one is forcing you to reload and read new comments for you to piss on.
posted by fenriq at 12:06 PM on July 7, 2005


If a dude's parked on the street in front of my house, i'd check my router config, turn on encryption, MAC address filtering and disable SSID broadcast...

Going out to yell at a stranger in their car is liable to get you shot.
posted by jb5dogs at 12:10 PM on July 7, 2005


Are you committing a crime when you visit my web-page? I never explicitly gave you permission to download from my server. Shall you be charged with 'theft?' What if I only intended my server to be used by family, and you Slashdotted it?

Actually there are cases on-point about this. See Ebay v. Bidder's Edge. The court held that if a webpage explicitly says "screenscrapers can't visit this page" then a screenscraper visiting the page is mis-appropriating bandwidth and there is at least a tort (if not a crime). Walking out and trying to tell somebody to stop in real-life might serve the same function.

That said, I'm curious to see how the court comes down on this.

I have no idea of knowing *which* neighbor it was, but I changed the hostname of the router (not the SSID) to "ChangeYourAdminPassword", after switching the unit to Channel 9 (everyone in the neighborhood is crowding channel 6).

Actually logging in and changing somebody's router settings without their permission is a whole different issue, and is almost definitely a crime, as it should be.

If he didn't trespass on the property (a different crime) then he did nothing but utilize the service that the property owner had made available for use on public land.

Yes, but he was INDICATED TO STOP. The homeowner never got the chance to actually tell him, but the drive-away dance made it pretty clear that the homeowner wasn't comfortable with it. If I have a service available for free, but I tell you specifically to not use it, then you're still stealing even if others can use it free.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 12:11 PM on July 7, 2005


If a dude's parked on the street in front of my house with a laptop open in his lap, I'd check my router config, turn on encryption, MAC address filtering and disable SSID broadcast...

Going out to yell at a stranger in their car is liable to get you shot.
posted by jb5dogs at 12:11 PM on July 7, 2005


Smith, who police said admitted to using Dinon's Wi-Fi, has been charged with unauthorized access to a computer network, a third-degree felony.

Was he charged with theft? No. Was he charged with being creepy? No. Was he charged with trespassing? No. So why are you people discussing it as if he was? He was charged with unauthorized access to a computer network. And there is most definately a case to be made for the reponse of Dinon's router with an address as being an authorization, as it was the only authorization system in place. John Dvorak argued a while back that it should be legal to use unsecured access points once the signal leaves your property, I think that's reasonable, and he touches on a lot of good points in the article.
posted by nTeleKy at 12:12 PM on July 7, 2005


In summation: Nothing to see here, move along, people blowing loads in their shorts again.
If there was a crime, again it is up to manufacturers of these devices to regulate them and make it impossible to connect to any open network without express permission of the network provider.
Again: the end user is not the responsible party here, the manufacturer is because they created a device that openly invites other devices to interact with it as a default. Take away the default option and problem solved.
Until then it's open season. I believe that the lawyers for the device manufacturers have much more experience than anyone in the threads and would agree on this point.
posted by mk1gti at 12:13 PM on July 7, 2005


Dios, don't hang your argument on the fact that it cost the owner something. Most people get essentially unlimited internet use from their ISP and could never go over without downloading movies or something. In all probability the owner suffered zero loss. As to an open invitation, I am not sure I agree with Mr. Roboto's argument but it is clever. I do not see this as open and shut or black and white. What makes this interesting are the shades of gray which both sides can assert. This would be a fun case to litigate.
posted by caddis at 12:14 PM on July 7, 2005


the owner will be legally responsible for any crimes committed using his/her connection.

I'd like to see some evidence to back up that statement. Got any links?
posted by letitrain at 12:14 PM on July 7, 2005


An unencrypted WiFi signal beamed into public property is an invitation, of sorts.

No "of sorts" about it. The relevant signal is known as a "beacon", and the sole purpose for it is to say to everything in range "Hey! Network connection here! Here's how to connect to it."

it is a crime to use someone's property without consent.

The law is overly-complex sometimes, but if it were as simple as that, walking up to your neighbour's front door using his and to get there would be an offense.

Going out to yell at a stranger in their car is liable to get you shot.

If going out to politely ask a stranger in their car what he's doing there is likely to get you shot, you have my sympathy.
posted by sfenders at 12:16 PM on July 7, 2005


dios writes "All of the technomumbojumbo in the world about settings are irrelevant. This nonsense about leaving it open; the owner isn't required to secure it! "

You're kidding, right? He didn't just leave it open, he left it in a mode where it was actively granting permission, IP addresses, and network address translation to all clients requesting these things.

"Technomumbojumbo" is immediately relevant because there are specific laws that apply to transactions between electronic devices and computer networks. All your talk of "property" is at best tangential. It's silly to discuss laws regarding theft or trespassing, which may or may not apply indirectly to this scenario, when there are laws regarding electronic transactions that inarguably apply directly to it. And according to those laws, automated permission given by an electronic agent is completely valid and sufficient to allow access to a network.

Are you suggesting that the each time I make a phone call, a human agent of my provider contacts a human agent of the backbone owner to obtain permission to connect and "occupy or borrow the property" of the backbone? That's absurd. These transactions are handled automatically using standard protocols. Which is exactly what happened in the case at hand.

You seem to desire a system in which electronic communications are treated as real estate. If we needed to set a closing date and use escrow for each packet exchange, there wouldn't be an internet. Your argument is absurd.

Crushinator writes "In this scenario, the owner gives his permission without ever realizing that he has done so. What, then, is the point of giving one's permission?"

Yeah, that kind of sucks for the owner, but he really should have informed himself. If you sign a contract without reading it carefully, you're still responsible for meeting your obligations under the terms of that contract. Whether or not you realized what those terms are. It's pretty much the same deal here: he bought a device that is subject to certain FCC regulations and that uses standard protocols which fall under the laws regulating electronic communications.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:17 PM on July 7, 2005


texas, what can i say...
posted by jb5dogs at 12:17 PM on July 7, 2005


Did you get personal permission to post on mefi from matt?
Please. This is getting stupid. With such stupid analogies and such bad faith, this topic is really becoming a waste of time.


I didn't ask the question in bad faith at all. And I'd love to see your answer.

---

Look, clearly 'thef to service' is a crime. No one here is saying that if you, for example, used a Blue Box to get free long distance that that would not be a crime.

The question is what constitutes permission? I want to know what you think constitutes permission from someone to use their wifi. What do you think constitutes permission for you, or anyone else, to post on mefi or any other web board?

From my perspective, if you advertise something as free, and someone takes it, they are not stealing. The internet is full of free services, from Mefi to just about any other website. I've never asked permission to download any web page, am I a thief? Or is there some legal assumption that if you put something on the web, it's OK for people to download it over TCP port 80. It's not hacking, or theft or anything else.

You're the one who claims to be a lawyer. Crack open your Westlaw account and find us some case-law that shows people can be prosecuted for taking something advertised as free. Find us a case of someone being convicted for theft of service for utilizing free internet resource.

The question here is whether or not the guy had technical permission, and most people agree that broadcasting your availability to use a free service is the same as giving permission.

This guy was acting creepy, and I would have called the police as well, thinking he might be engaged in some other crime (like kiddy porn downloading) but I don't think just using the wifi itself is a crime. Hell, just loitering outside someone's house and driving off when they come out to talk to you would be enough reason to call the cops, wifi or no.
posted by delmoi at 12:21 PM on July 7, 2005


nTeleKy, I believe that it was the arrested guy's creepy behavior that alarmed the homeowner and caused him to call the cops.

That's why creepiness is being discussed here.
posted by redteam at 12:23 PM on July 7, 2005


John Dvorak argued a while back that it should be legal to use unsecured access points once the signal leaves your property, I think that's reasonable, and he touches on a lot of good points in the article.

I agree entirely, nTeleKy. The granting of an IP address is authorization on an unencrypted, public hotspot.

If I take my $1,000 camera and set it on my sidewalk (public property), I have no expectation of ever seeing the thing again, no matter what the law says.

If I take my $1,000 camera and set it on the sidewalk, with a sign that says 'Free' you're damn right it's gone, and probably even legally so.

An open WiFi spot is the second of those two cases. I think the law needs to explicitly state that you *must* protect as electronic resource before it's use can be considered protected, particularly when the resources finds it's way onto public property as a matter of course. There should be no default expectation of property rights or whatever rights on EM signals broadcast into public space. One already needs to put up banners disallowing unauthorized access on public FTP or SSH servers to be on solid ground in most cases (with the password counting as token of authorization). It should be the same here: open network, open access. If you don't like that, you have the tools to change it at your disposal.
posted by teece at 12:26 PM on July 7, 2005


What concerns me is how did the cops know the guy had been using the unsecured router for access? Did they check its logs (not likely) or did they just haul the guy in on the word of the network owner? What if I'm driving around, get lost and pull over in front of a house to look up directions on my laptop by connecting through my cell phone. I happen to park in front of the house of some nervous dude with an unsecured wifi network who assumes that I must be using his network and he calls the cops. Granted, the guy that got arrested had been showing up repeatedly, but it seems like even just using a laptop in the vicinity of an unsecured hotspot could be cause for being arrested if the cops involved aren't technically inclined.
posted by shinji_ikari at 12:30 PM on July 7, 2005


Sorry delmoi, I am not sure that this was in fact advertised as free. It is pretty clear that the owner did not intend to give it away freely. The other arguments, like Mr. Roboto's, are the sort of technical mumbo jumbo that only a lawyer or geek would love. The hard part is selling it to Joe average WiFi point owner or a jury member.
posted by caddis at 12:34 PM on July 7, 2005


letitrain, you sound very skeptical, but it has been done: As the RIAA target individuals by IP addresses, it is often not the bill payer that is at fault. For example there were several cases where it was children involved in sharing out music, but the parents who may even not have any computer skills are the ones that get the penalty.

The bill payer is responsible for any illegal activity that occurs using his/her connection.
posted by Crushinator at 12:40 PM on July 7, 2005


caddis: I think the whole point is that a wireless access point automatically advertises itself as being available. And since it is not secured, that is being deemed to be implicit "permission" to use it. I don't agree, personally, but that's where the "advertised as free" argument is coming from.
posted by antifuse at 12:43 PM on July 7, 2005


There should be no default expectation of property rights or whatever rights on EM signals broadcast into public space.

I agree, but the law doesn't. For example, there are restrictions on what you can do with intercepted mobile phone calls (it wasn't long ago that most of them were trivially intercepted by anyone with a radio receiver). Not that those laws would apply to this case. There's (probably) no interception of point-to-point communications involved here.

It is pretty clear that the owner did not intend to give it away freely.

Well, based on the limited information available in this particular case, even that isn't at all clear to me. Apparently the guy was fully aware that his network was open for all to connect to, and intentionally left it that way. Whether that would outweigh the "creepy" nature of the accused in the minds of some hypothetical jury, I don't know.

The bill payer is responsible for any illegal activity that occurs using his/her connection.

Given that the example you chose to link to in support of that assertion is one where the target of the legal action was quite obviously not a legitimate target of litigation, wherein the case was quickly and embarrassingly dismissed, I am inclined to question your ability to interpret the law for us here.
posted by sfenders at 12:59 PM on July 7, 2005


i love it when people who are completely ignorant of technology assert their opinions on something they know nothing about are gospel truth. (coughcoughDIOScoughcough)

If the homeowner didn't want anyone using his network, he should have secured it. If he doesn't know how to secure it, his ignorance is his problem. a) return his router to Best Buy b) get a neighborhood kid to fix it, c) google it (horrors, you might learn something.)
posted by keswick at 1:00 PM on July 7, 2005


I think that as infantile as it sounds, the criticism of mr_roboto's and others' arguments as technical mumbo jumbo has some merit.

I think this criticism has merit because it highlights the increasingly prominent problem of technological elitism and expert worship. I think that it is difficult for people like mr_roboto to appreciate just how much they understand about technology compared to the average citizen. There's just too much information out there about computers and technology in general for everyone to become an expert. As a society we use specialization and the division of labor because it's more efficient. You can't expect everyone to know everything about everything.

You may say that using computer technology is an option and that those who chose to use this technology must accept the risks that go along with its use, but I would argue that in many professions and indeed in most modern lifestyles, the use of this technology is almost mandatory and the pressure to use it is only increasing. What we need to do to make this complex world in which we live more manageable and safe is to offer more protections for consumers rather than willfully exploit the rational ignorance that is the natural product of the division of labor that makes our society and economy thrive.
posted by Crushinator at 1:07 PM on July 7, 2005


As far as the theft arguement goes, I don't think you can even make the arguement that any damages occurred to Dinon by the use of his connection. Broadband connections are paid for at a flat rate for a certain amount of bandwidth at all times. Unless the owner was saturating his connection, his use of the broadband connection was in no way depleted. Even if he was I'm under the impression that theft must constitute damages of at least $20 in order to be legally prosecuted (although I have nothing to back this up) which would require days of heavy use.

Is what Smith did creepy? Yes. Should he be allowed to sit in front of this guy's house all day using his connection? I don't think so and I'm pretty sure the law agrees with me. If there was someone chilling in a car for hours in front of my house and I asked them to leave and they didn't I probably would've called the cops too. And I wouldn't be upset if the people got in trouble for it - although even under those circumstances I think a third degree felony would be absurd. He could've been charged with loitering or prowling, or any number of things - but he wasn't. The owner also could have asked him to leave - which he didn't - but that's not all that relevant since he wasn't brought up on any charges directly related to his being there - it was the WiFi use that was the issue. And bringing up cases of child pornography or theft of sensitive information from Dinon's network is pointless - there's no evidence of it and if there was I don't think anyone would be complaining if he was charged with a crime.

From a legal standpoint I think that if anyone should be charged with unauthorized access to a computer network, it should be Dinon. He had permission from his provider to use his internet connection for a single computer (most likely) - not to share it with other people (as mr_roboto said). He granted access to anyone that had a wireless connection and I'm pretty sure he wasn't authorized to do that. Most providers don't even (legally) allow you to share the connection with multiple PCs using a router. Since this is a legal case involving technical matters, technical/legal "mumbo-jumbo" is most definately warranted.
posted by nTeleKy at 1:07 PM on July 7, 2005


You have two cows.
You tie them up on a public street, and hang signs around their necks that say "Free Milk".
You call the police when a guy stops and milks your cows.

Seriously, the guy with the open access point is probably in breach of his TOS. If anyone is stealing it's him, from his ISP.
posted by mullingitover at 1:08 PM on July 7, 2005


This may be construed as a derail or in bad faith but as a very confused Canadian I must ask the following questions of the American legal system:As for analogies, I tent to regard any attempt to shoehorn issues dealing with the internet into real world analogies as, at best, counterproductive.
posted by cm at 1:10 PM on July 7, 2005


Aw. I still like the light analogy.
posted by jennanemone at 1:11 PM on July 7, 2005


antifuse: I'd go so far as to say the router is giving explicit permission.
posted by ODiV at 1:12 PM on July 7, 2005


antifuse writes "caddis: I think the whole point is that a wireless access point automatically advertises itself as being available. And since it is not secured, that is being deemed to be implicit 'permission' to use it. I don't agree, personally, but that's where the 'advertised as free' argument is coming from."

Yes, but this is a bad argument. The confusion here is that we all know (but the owner might not have known) that he should have/could have secured his network. Not doing so is not an advertisement of it's being free simply because it isn't. Hotspots make themselves known because they have to in order to work. There is no physical place into which one plugs the computer. In other words, I think it's incorrect to essentially argue that "WiFi wants to be free" simply because the technology works through broadcast and the owner is not tech savvy.

(Most of which is beside the point, since the user clearly knew that he was doing something wrong. If one wants to argue that the network was advertising itself, certainly one can argue that the user was advertising his culpability.)
posted by OmieWise at 1:12 PM on July 7, 2005


If a dude's parked on the street in front of my house with a laptop open in his lap, I'd check my router config, turn on encryption, MAC address filtering and disable SSID broadcast...

I don't know what any of those things are. Does that mean that if I get WiFi I'm in danger of having my signal stolen? Or, to put it in analogy form*, if I don't know how to install a lock on my door, does that make it ok for someone to come into my house and start taking something?

This is a pretty clear case of a cutting edge technological issue about to get some of the competing arguments decided where our society decides things-- in court. The excuses put forth for the theft could be determined to be valid, and therefore they'll make good defenses. Or the people will decide they'd rather not have such zealous enforcement of the laws out there, and their representatives will clarify the law, and it will get changed. Happens all the time. Relax.


*most of the analogies being bandied about here are pretty unconvincing. Such as "If I take my $1,000 camera and set it on my sidewalk (public property), I have no expectation of ever seeing the thing again, no matter what the law says." Well, see, in that case it's abandoned, so yeah, it's not theft. Or "An unencrypted WiFi signal beamed into public property is an invitation, of sorts." I don't know about that. My bratwurst on my back grill are sending out a tasty invitation of sorts too, I guess, but I doubt the law will protect some asshat who comes over and takes my delicious sausages.
posted by norm at 1:15 PM on July 7, 2005


keswick writes "If the homeowner didn't want anyone using his network, he should have secured it. If he doesn't know how to secure it, his ignorance is his problem. a) return his router to Best Buy b) get a neighborhood kid to fix it, c) google it (horrors, you might learn something.)"

keswick-this is an unconvincing argument, and seems beside the point. Are you really asserting that ignorance translates into an invitation to other's bad behavior. I understand the impulse to ridicule the owner, but condescension aside, this just seems like a crappy position to take.

On preview-norm, I'm coming over for brats!
posted by OmieWise at 1:17 PM on July 7, 2005


The fact that the man who was using the WiFi was a creepy-ass douchebag is irrelevant. It just muddies the actual matter at hand.

APs can easily be configured to be either public or private, the documentation to do this comes with the AP and is not complicated, by any means.

If you set it as private, even with a crappy WEP key, then it's obvious that somebody using your connection has knowingly and purposefully evaded security mechanisms to break into your network.

If you set it as public, there is absolutely no reason for 3rd parties not to use it. Your AP is actively adveritising it's presence, and granting them permission to use the network.

There is probably a law which could be used to keep creepy people away from your property (and by proxy your network), but bandwidth theft is not the appropriate charge.

Oh, and please stop bringing up provider TOS conditions, kiddie porn, stolen credit cards and death threats. None of these things have anything to do with the charge in question.
posted by mosch at 1:17 PM on July 7, 2005


My bratwurst on my back grill are sending out a tasty invitation of sorts too, I guess, but I doubt the law will protect some asshat who comes over and takes my delicious sausages.

And the award for best analogy go to...norm and his delicious sausages!
posted by Crushinator at 1:19 PM on July 7, 2005


He was charged with unauthorized access to a computer network.

I was going to ask where you got that then I realized their where three links. I only saw the first one which said "theft of services." I guess the CNN article is probably the proper one. (I do not know the elements of the offense of "unauthorized access to a computer network", but it sounds like it would be like theft or trespass which both focus on consent)

This idea of permission via the device is misplaced. A person is not required to secure their property in order to maintain their rights in it. That the person left it open doesn't allow anyone the right to use it. As I said before, it is completely reasonable for the person to leave it open to allow all the people they invite into their home that are in their gaming club to use it. That doesn't mean people outside of their property can leech it. Or, to put it another way, I could have a gas grill in my backyard which has a sign saying "Please use me if you want to cook your hotdogs" so that people who come over know they can use my grill. That doesn't mean that the person who climbs my fence and see that sign all of the sudden has the right to use it. The same goes here: the user is free to say that he left it open for anyone who he brings into his house to use. Because of the range of technology expands beyond the guys property lines doesn't somehow

The fact that this guy was knowingly taking something of value from someone without consent is theft. And it is that black and white.
What bothers me about this discussion is that I think most of you, like the guy who got arrested, know that taking wifi is just a sneaky way to get something for free. And what you are trying to do is argue for a justification. I know in l33t computer circles, there that whole "everything should be free" mindset. However, that doesn't comport with the way the law is. A lot fo this smacks of "I like my free stuff so back up."
posted by dios at 1:23 PM on July 7, 2005


I had a table & chair I didn't want, once. I set it out at the street, with a sign on it that said "free." After it sat all day with no takers, I made a new sign that said "Five Dollars." It was gone in ten minutes. It was an interesting object-lesson about the perception of value that has almost nothing to do with this thread.
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:24 PM on July 7, 2005


Ha! For purposes of full disclosure, I had not read norm's comment before posting. But I think his point is well made. And I guess we both got grilling on our minds!
posted by dios at 1:25 PM on July 7, 2005


If the guy takes your bratwurst, he has trespassed and stolen a physical possession.

What if you had a machine that, not only cooked bratwursts, but would, when someone clapped thrice, dispense them through a chain-link fence that divides your property from public land?

Bear with me.

Oh, also the "clap three times for bratwurst" protocol is well-known to the public, and other public bratwurst machines are well-known to be installed by charitable citizens.

I would say that you need to set your BratMatic to a different sequence of claps to activate it, or people might (shockingly) take advantage of it's intended function!

The only difference in these is that the bratwurst machine is providing a product, rather than the service of forwarding properly-formatted messages on through the network and retrieving the response.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:25 PM on July 7, 2005


Seems to me when you arrest someone you're trying to alter not only their behaviour but the behaviour of others in your society.

The behaviour they want to change is for you to secure your wireless network.

There are some big media companies who wish to re-sell wi-fi to you in coffee shops, at the mall, airports or even on the street. They will very likely fail unless they can convince us all that the world is a nasty and brutish place from which our computers must be secured.

Which sucks because a wired world would be much better (IMHO) but a world dominated by fear is what they're selling.

Go ahead and hate your neighbour,
go ahead and fear your friend.
Do it in the name of safety,
or whatever will justify it in the end.
posted by dontrememberthis at 1:31 PM on July 7, 2005


antifuse: I'd go so far as to say the router is giving explicit permission.

Sorry, I meant implicit with respect to the owner, not the router itself. Unless he sets the SSID on the router to "FreeForAllNetwork" - in which case I would consider it pretty explicit as well. :)
posted by antifuse at 1:33 PM on July 7, 2005


mullingitover: Seriously, the guy with the open access point is probably in breach of his TOS. If anyone is stealing it's him, from his ISP.

Bingo.

The Wifi signal in question is not tangible property. Instead, its use is governed by that wacky branch of law called IP. Even if the homeowner rebroadcasts his connection over the air, the ISP has the right to determine who has access.
posted by Popular Ethics at 1:34 PM on July 7, 2005


dios: I don't think "open" is quite the right word. The network is not sitting there passively unable to prevent intrusion. The network is actively advertising its availability and actively granting permission. I'm not going to use an analogy to describe this because I don't think it needs one.

I agree that it sounds like the guy was knowingly being a sleaze and generally creepy. I agree that the owner's actions should have made it clear that he wasn't welcome and he should have taken the hint.

What I'm resisting here is analogies likening using someone's WiFi to stealing something physical, breaking and entering, eating their sausages, etc. There are no suitable analogies. It is what it is. I don't think it's reasonable to equate all usage of someone else's WiFi to theft without knowing the particulars.
posted by ODiV at 1:34 PM on July 7, 2005


Crushinator writes "What we need to do to make this complex world in which we live more manageable and safe is to offer more protections for consumers rather than willfully exploit the rational ignorance that is the natural product of the division of labor that makes our society and economy thrive."

Yeah, I'd agree with that. I'd also say that one of the parties in need of protection here is the accused, who had no way of expecting that his (in my opinion, perfectly legal) actions would become the subject of a prosecution.

I would say that the burden of regulation should be placed, if anywhere, on the device manufacturers. It would be trivial to ship devices with security enabled as the default, and with warnings issued to users who change security settings. By regulating in this manner, the regulation is applied to the minimum number of people necessary to effect a change (the device manufacturers, rather than the device owners or users of open access points), and there's no need to change fundamental principles of network access permission in a way that would be incompatible with the status quo operation of communications networks.

OmieWise writes "Hotspots make themselves known because they have to in order to work."

Not true! My access point doesn't advertise its ssid, for instance. Actually, I would advise anyone with a wireless access point who wants that access point to remain secure to not broadcast their ssid (the "name" of the access point). You'll have to enter the name manually on each computer you want to connect, but you'll only have to do it once.

dios writes "This idea of permission via the device is misplaced. A person is not required to secure their property in order to maintain their rights in it"

This doesn't answer any of my arguments. What the hell do you mean the idea is "misplaced"? "Permission via the device" is the way electronic communications networks work, and the way that the law recognizes them to work. We're not talking about "property", we're talking about access to a communications network. I suggest you limit your arguments to the relevant law and technology.

"I do not know the elements of the offense of 'unauthorized access to a computer network'"

No shit. You need to inform yourself before you argue any further.

"What bothers me about this discussion is that I think most of you, like the guy who got arrested, know that taking wifi is just a sneaky way to get something for free. And what you are trying to do is argue for a justification."

Thanks for telling me what I think, asshole. But you're wrong. The reason that I don't like your interpretation of the facts is because your interpretation, if implemented as law, would break the internet. Automated permission for network access is absolutely necessary for the proper functioning of modern communications networks.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:34 PM on July 7, 2005


the sole right, that is
posted by Popular Ethics at 1:35 PM on July 7, 2005


dios,

what if the sign you made inviting guests to use your grill is posted out on the street and in your back alley...

nobody has to jump any fences or open any doors to see an open access point.

if you take an extra couple minutes, call your friends and give them the combo to your gate and let them know they can use the grill, you've just secured your open GrillFi Point.
posted by jb5dogs at 1:41 PM on July 7, 2005


MrLint writes "You cant hack something not secure, you cant steal something being left for free."

Echos of it being illegal to listen in on cell phone conversations. I wonder if we'll see similiar useless laws for WiFi.

darukaru writes "how was I supposed to know I wasn't allowed to use it?'"

Um, It's scrambled and your cracked box is illegal to use.

Oddman, dios, SirOmega etc. did you guys miss kindergarden or something? How do you surf the web without using something that you haven't payed for? Are you sending Matt a check every month? Lots and lots of people leave their AP open on purpose as a way of sharing, contributing to a community service, and just being nice. I'll think nothing of connecting to an open AP and will continue to do so.

fenriq writes "Driving around looking for hotspots, though, is lame."

Never been even student poor fenriq?

mr_roboto writes "In which case, by allowing this user to connect, he violated his contract."

Which would seem to be the owner of the AP point's problem not the guy using the open AP. If I use a DVD to play movies to an audience without a performance license the people I sold tickets to don't get arrested.
posted by Mitheral at 1:42 PM on July 7, 2005


Actually mr_roboto, the fact that he closed up his laptop and drove away every time the homeowner tried to approach him, makes it pretty clear that he was under the impression that he was doing something wrong.

As for setting up WEP being "very simple" - I bought an SMC wireless router 2 years ago, and spent AGES trying to get WEP working properly with XP. Invariably, it would end up shutting me out of my own network, and I had to connect via a wire to the router in order to get it working properly again. this comes down to my SMC router being a piece of junk, with horrible documentation and a horrible user interface (not to mention that it didn't even come with MAC filtering as a function out of the box - I had to upgrade the firmware to get that feature). Expecting your average dumbass user to know how to do this is expecting a LOT. Maybe it's much easier to do with wireless networks now, I no longer have one, but no way in hell would I ever expect anybody that wasn't intimately familiar with computers to be able to secure that router out of the box, even if they *had* RTFM.
posted by antifuse at 1:44 PM on July 7, 2005


norm and dios: you don't seem to understand the distinction between public and private property, or you ignore it.

If your grill is on public property with a sign that says "feel free to grill" then yes, strangers may feel like grilling.

Or, if you run your hose from your property to a spiget on public property, with a sign that says "free water" again, folks might use the water.

That's the appropriate analogy here, if we are going to argue with lame analogy. The WiFi signal, while originating on private property, is impossible to contain to private property, and ended up in public space with absolutely no protections, but worse, with an actual solicitation for use, which is why the camera I mentioned above was on public property.

If you are arguing for a special and different interpretation for WiFi signals and their public and private nature, that's one thing. But that is new, and not in any way traditional with our law, as dios has claimed with the certainty of the arrogance of his handle.

The distinction, in these bad analogies, and in the actual case, is crucial, and if you fail to recognize it you fail to fully understand the difficulty with this issue.
posted by teece at 1:45 PM on July 7, 2005


A prior case in Canada, to further fuel this interesting discussion.
posted by Floydd at 1:47 PM on July 7, 2005


"I do not know the elements of the offense of 'unauthorized access to a computer network'"

No shit. You need to inform yourself before you argue any further.


Thanks for being an asshole when I was being honest. I suppose you know the elements of the crime and can state them here? Your statements haven't indicated at all that you know what the elements of the crime is. So perhaps you need to inform yourself before you argue any further? Hows that for being a prick right back at you?

We're not talking about "property", we're talking about access to a communications network. I suggest you limit your arguments to the relevant law and technology.

Are you limiting yourself to the law? In my reading, you have not stated one single legal argument other than your technology driven opinions. Do you have any legal basis that bandwith isn't property? I didn't think so. Because funny thing: it is property. If you pay for a service, you develop PROPERTY rights in the service. I guess you think property is always something tangible, but that isn't the case. There is a whole morass of law which indicates that data is property. And if you are paying for bandwith, then you own and have property interest in that bandwith

I can't believe you are sitting here and lecturing me about the law, when it is obvious that you are the one who is just will-nilly positing legal assumptions that are completely faulty.
posted by dios at 1:49 PM on July 7, 2005


I'm really surprised to see the number of people defending the ignorant AP owner, yet failing to recognize that his ISP never intended for him to offer their bandwidth as a public service. There was theft of services, but it was done by the owner of the AP sharing the ISP's services to the general public.

There also seems to be a lot of confusion about the difference between property and a service. No property was stolen in this case, period. If you're drawing drawing analogies about property in this situation you're only betraying your own lack of understanding.

The actual criminal charge the defendant is facing, unauthorized access to a network, still basically holds water. However, that charge had nothing to do with accessing the Internet and everything to do with connecting to the router.
posted by mullingitover at 1:51 PM on July 7, 2005


Thanks for not answering any of my questions, Dios.

Or "An unencrypted WiFi signal beamed into public property is an invitation, of sorts." I don't know about that. My bratwurst on my back grill are sending out a tasty invitation of sorts too, I guess, but I doubt the law will protect some asshat who comes over and takes my delicious sausages.

Right, but the reason you "don't know about that" is because you don't understand how wifi works. There's nothing "of sorts" about the invitation. It's no different then an "open" sign on a restaurant.

Let's try another 'analogy' since you and dios don't seem to understand the technology:

On the outside of your house you have a drinking fountain with a sign that says "free water". Someone comes and drinks some water. Is that theft? clearly not.

"Oh, but he didn't understand how is router works!"

Well, that's his problem. If the owner of the drinking fountain didn't know how to read, and thus didn't know what the sign on the drinking fountain said, and didn't actually want anyone else to drink out of the fountain, it's still not theft. Calling it theft would be stupid. It's not the drinker's fault that the fountains owner is illiterate.

In general, I don't think these situations should be discussed by using analogies, because you're never going to find one that fits exactly. You should just

If you don't agree with me, then tell me what exactly you think is needed to constitute "permission" to use an internet resource. What is the legal difference between a wifi connection and a website?
posted by delmoi at 1:51 PM on July 7, 2005


mitheral, every college student I know has a nice big fat juicy pipe to connect to the internet on campus.

Besides, this guy was 41. I don't think he was poor, just a cheap and creepy bugger. Or maybe he was using the other guy's WiFi to send out spam or hate mail or something he didn't want on his own ISP's logs.

And yes, I have been poor before. I tend to not waste my time surfing the internet looking at pictures of boobs and butts. Though I did maintain my fantasy sports teams and had to do it at the library once or twice.
posted by fenriq at 1:54 PM on July 7, 2005


Crushinator: What we need to do to make this complex world in which we live more manageable and safe is to offer more protections for consumers rather than willfully exploit the rational ignorance that is the natural product of the division of labor that makes our society and economy thrive.

While offering the kind of protection you seem to have in mind may have some benefit, it isn't without cost.

Someone above suggested that those who want wireless network access should simply pay for it -- well, we can't do that. There isn't any for-pay wireless service that comes anywhere near the kind of comprehensive, nearly continent-wide coverage that has been achieved with free open networks. I am not sure at this point whether the majority of them are unintentionally open. Probably, but by a smaller margin than last year, as more and more stories like the one under discussion make their way into popular consciousness.

There is at least a sizeable group of people and businesses who do want their networks open and shared. I'm among them, and yes it is (I think) okay by my ISP. (Though I must admit that where I live, people actually making use of my open network is very rare.) It is a wonderfully efficient way of covering populated areas with wireless network connectivity, for very little cost, using connections that already exist. Even if they did not face competition from these numberless small-scale free open networks, I do not believe that private for-profit entirprise would be likely to do as good a job at providing coverage as is currently available. The area to cover is too large, the number of people willing to pay for the service is so far too small. They would face much greater costs, and I think it's obvious that it would be a less efficient way to do things, even if it did work.

(In the long run, some form of token compensation for the people running open APs would be nice, and has some chance of emerging and being adopted, soon as somebody writes the software for it. But it seems sort of like "micropayments" for the web, which haven't managed to catch on yet, so maybe not. Anyway, we make do with what we have.)

The main problem though, is that there's no way to tell whether any random network is left open intentionally, run by someone who doesn't know it's open but would leave it that way if they did, or run by someone who would object to people using it. There's no easy way to find out, so if the network itself is marked as "open", all we can do is assume it's meant to be and hope for the best. If that becomes illegal, it may provide comfort to the poor guy who just wants his stuff to work for him, but it also effectively prohibits me and thousands of other geeks from intentionally sharing our connections for the mutual benefit of everyone.

Either way, to resolve this properly, we need some social change. Either educate people that they need to mark their networks private if they want them to be private, or that they need to mark them public if they want them to be public. The difference is that the former matches with the way the technology was designed in the first place.
posted by sfenders at 1:54 PM on July 7, 2005


cm: No, these things are not treated as property in the U.S., but people like dios like to pretend that they are, since it makes his arguments seem stronger.

Hotspots make themselves known because they have to in order to work. There is no physical place into which one plugs the computer. In other words, I think it's incorrect to essentially argue that "WiFi wants to be free" simply because the technology works through broadcast and the owner is not tech savvy.

This is untrue. Wireless equipment works easier when it's set to auto-connect to broadcasting stations, but this is not necessary. If a router shipped with broadcasting disabled, with a unique SSID, and a password on a sticker, you could easily use it to work on your network securely, it would just take five more minutes of setup, which a lot of people are simply too impatient to put up with. But, nothing about these devices -require- them to broadcast their availability. My AP at home has broadcasting turned off. On each of my laptops, I've just manually typed in the SSID once, and it remembers it. Neighbors won't see my signal unless they're snooping around.

It is pretty clear that the owner did not intend to give it away freely.

Really? That's not what the router he purchased and installed had to say about it.

Others have covered this better than I can, but there are reasonable expectations at work here. One of them is in the reasonable expectation that devices operating on common protocols behave predicably. In this case, anyone can understand that the access point was designed to help random clients connect to its resource (the internet, in this case). That's what it's for, and anyone could have predicted that this is what would happen even if this laptop rolled past the house on wheels unattended. Can a rolling, unattended laptop commit a felony?

You don't have to educate Joe Average about it, just slap a sticker on the router box that says:
"Warning: This router device complies with the DHCP and TCP/IP protocols. When activated, this router will coordinate with any clients in its range to give these clients access to your network. If you want to change these settings, see Page Four of your User's Guide."

That way, when joe average raises hell, every sensible person in the room can say "Did you not read the instructions?"

"Techno-mumbo-jumbo" should be discussed in a situation where it's explicitly required in order to discuss Joe Average's purchase and use of a "techno-mumbo-jumbo box."

analogy #35: you buy a phone and plug it in at home. It's the first phone you've ever bought, and you're really excited about calling some of your friends later. Then you get tired and go to sleep, but 10 minutes into your restful slumber, you're awakened by a god-awful metallic bell sound! "WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT!" you exclaim. Angrily, you return your phone to the store, demanding your money back for such a rude machine that made noises without your permission. "But sir," the manager of the store tries to explain, "the phones we sell are designed to cooperate with the phone company in your area, and when that company sends a signal to your phone, it is designed to ring. It's all explained right here in the manual for your..."
"GOD DAMN IT I GAVE NO SUCH PERMISSION!" you angrily cut him off. He gives you your money back anyway, being a nice guy. You leave and go directly to court where you unsuccessfully sue your phone company for disturbance of the peace.

posted by odinsdream at 1:54 PM on July 7, 2005


Oh, and the whole "Lots of people are known to leave their networks open for others to use, therefore EVERYONE that leaves their network open is asking for me to connect to it" is quite a weak argument. Unless it says in my wireless AP's manual "Note - leaving your router unsecured is an invitation for anyone to use it without telling you", there should be no expectation on the part of users to know that this is the case.
posted by antifuse at 1:56 PM on July 7, 2005


OmieWise: The confusion here is that we all know(but the owner might not have known) that he should have/could have secured his network."

In the 2nd link in the FPP, it says:

The problem, security experts say, is many people do not take the time or are unsure how to secure their wireless access from intruders. Dinon knew what to do. "But I never did it because my neighbors are older."

So the arguments that he didn't know how to secure his access point don't seem to apply in this case. It seems he specifically chose to leave it open so other people could use it.
posted by drstupid at 1:58 PM on July 7, 2005


If you pay for a service, you develop PROPERTY rights in the service. I guess you think property is always something tangible, but that isn't the case.

I'm not saying it's property, that's irrelevant really. But if you advertise your property as "free to take" and someone takes it, that's not a crime. If you're illiterate and didn't realize you were advertising it that way, it's your fault.

Dios, or norm: please explain what exactly is wrong with the following logic:

A) If something (either property or a service) is advertised as free to take, and someone takes it or uses it, no crime has been committed.
B) An open Wifi AP broadcasting its availability is advertising itself as free to take.
C) This wifi AP was broadcasting it's availability
C) Therefore no crime has been committed in this case, by using the Wifi.
posted by delmoi at 1:59 PM on July 7, 2005


dios writes "I suppose you know the elements of the crime and can state them here?"

Yeah, I read the statute yesterday when this was discussed on Slashdot. It unfortunately does not define the term "authorization", which is the key to this particular case. I would argue that as this term is understood in the field of computer networks and electronic communications, the accused was authorized to access the network.

I think you're missing the crux of the argument. No one is arguing that it shouldn't be illegal to intrude on a computer network without authorization; the argument is that automated authorization, performed by standard networking protocols, is sufficient. Whether or not data are property (they are, but keep in mind the accused didn't take any data from the access point's owner: he was apparently simply accessing the internet) is irrelevant.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:08 PM on July 7, 2005


dios writes "I know in l33t computer circles, there that whole 'everything should be free' mindset."

Geez dios if your going to rag on hackers please at least get the catch phrase right. It's Information wants to be free and it isn't a mindset it's an observation in the same way that the phrase "entropy always increases" is an observation.

antifuse writes "Maybe it's much easier to do with wireless networks now, I no longer have one, but no way in hell would I ever expect anybody that wasn't intimately familiar with computers to be able to secure that router out of the box, even if they *had* RTFM"

Obviously what is required is a WiFi license, then we'd know if someone intended a AP to be open or not.

fenriq writes "mitheral, every college student I know has a nice big fat juicy pipe to connect to the internet on campus."

Ya got to expand your network of students. Anyways what I was getting at is there are lots of people (the unemployed, homeless, recently bankrupt, students, anyone living on a fixed income) who may have a laptop yet be unable to afford or procure internet access.

fenriq writes "Or maybe he was using the other guy's WiFi to send out spam or hate mail or something he didn't want on his own ISP's logs."

Or maybe he was just a guy on a sabbatical tour of the US who just wanted to check the weather and email his girlfriend. If he waws doing anything illegal with the connection then charge him with that not this bogus unauthorized access charge.
posted by Mitheral at 2:08 PM on July 7, 2005


If I sit on my property and beam across the spectrum a particular series of bits encoded in some modulated and error-encoded format at some frequency that is in accordance with a public protocol and all FCC regulations... your device is under no obligation to respond.

This could not be any clearer.
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:09 PM on July 7, 2005


oh... I think I see the problem. Dios is talking about something called "bandwith" while everyone else is talking about bandwidth. Bandwith is indeed personal property while bandwidth is the property of your ISP. Seriously dude, if you're going to go off about something at least learn how it's spelled. Chill out and go get a sanwich or something. /cheap ad hominem
posted by shinji_ikari at 2:11 PM on July 7, 2005


norm and dios: you don't seem to understand the distinction between public and private property, or you ignore it.

Well, I can't speak for dios here, but I don't see that it's particularly relevant given the charges that the defendant is facing. The public property here is the airwaves, but that's not what's being stolen, it's the target's bandwidth.

That's the appropriate analogy here, if we are going to argue with lame analogy.

b-b-but I thought my bratwurst analogy won!

Dios, or norm: please explain what exactly is wrong with the following logic:

A) If something (either property or a service) is advertised as free to take, and someone takes it or uses it, no crime has been committed.
B) An open Wifi AP broadcasting its availability is advertising itself as free to take.
C) This wifi AP was broadcasting it's availability
C) Therefore no crime has been committed in this case, by using the Wifi.


Well, the idea of "advertised" is prone to legal wrangling, for one.* And B is an argument, not a statement of fact. C relies on that technical argument that you are putting forth.

Sounds like a defense that the lawyer will offer! Awesome. More power to him. Re-read my earlier post if you think my position is changing.

*There are ways you can make the 'offer' really explicit, as I recall from earlier discussions about this topic. Such as naming your node "FREETOTAKE" or "PLEASECONNECTEVRY1" or whatever. Just because it looks like an easy mark doesn't strike me as a justification for stealing, though. I suspect the law will get clarified on this point one way or another, and such cases are a big part of the way the law gets there.
posted by norm at 2:12 PM on July 7, 2005


Mitheral: Oddman, dios, SirOmega etc. did you guys miss kindergarden or something? How do you surf the web without using something that you haven't payed for? Are you sending Matt a check every month? Lots and lots of people leave their AP open on purpose as a way of sharing, contributing to a community service, and just being nice. I'll think nothing of connecting to an open AP and will continue to do so.

I do believe I let Matt charge my CC $5 or something like that when I signed up for MeFi. I believe that gives me permission to use MetaFilter.

Anyways, to answer your inane question, I have infact paid for my internet. I pay my ISP $x/mo for a connection.

My ISP pays its ISP (a Tier 1 ISP) for their internet connection. That Teir 1 ISP peers with other ISPs and has a business relationship to peer internet traffic. Likewise, it goes down the other side of the chain when I access a server (they paid for access to host a webserver, etc). Through this network of business relationships, it has given me access to the billions of websites and servers. The wardriver above had no relationship (business, personal, or otherwise) with the person he was stealing internet from.

Hosting a webserver is not the same as having an open AP. If I run a webserver, I run it for the purpose of having people access it. When most people run an AP, their purpose is to share internet within their own domicile, not to run a free (as in beer) AP. Most people do NOT run their AP as a community service. I'd bet $1000 that it is in fact a very small percentage of people who have an AP who purposefully run their APs open for others to use. I know I don't.

Its all about intended use. Assume an AP is not available for your use until you get explicit permission. Its not only being courteous, it seems to be legally prudent as shown above.

One last point... physically securing an AP and its signal is quite difficult. Its not as easy as putting up a fence. You need a Faraday cage to completely block the RF signals, you can not depend on distance alone (see the yearly Defcon contest to see who can send WiFi the longest distance in the Mojave desert). This is why there is encryption and that whole thing.
posted by SirOmega at 2:19 PM on July 7, 2005


More power to him.

My p.c. liberal pedantry is compelling me to point out that my use of the male third-person was directed at the defendant rather than a notional attorney. I regret the obvious inference to the contrary.
posted by norm at 2:20 PM on July 7, 2005


There are ways you can make the 'offer' really explicit, as I recall from earlier discussions about this topic. Such as naming your node "FREETOTAKE" or "PLEASECONNECTEVRY1" or whatever.

Problem I have with that is, it doesn't really work. For one thing, it isn't usualy done. Lots of people (me, until today) don't bother, and lots of people want their network to have a cool-sounding name. And what if it's named just "FREE"? Is that good enough? How about "FREEDOM"? Maybe that's just some guy who really like freedom. There's no standard. Except there already is a standard for making it private, which is to not broadcast invitations to connect to it.
posted by sfenders at 2:20 PM on July 7, 2005


All the protocols and all the devices involved behaved exactly as they were designed to.

Again, when the router responds to a request, it is, under no coercion or false conception, volunteering that response. It is taking the next little step in the protocol. That is what a protocol is.

Unless there was a crime comitted in the act of eliciting that response, the user has done nothing illegal.
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:28 PM on July 7, 2005


If I leave the keys to my car in the car, sitting on a public street, does that give anybody else the right to use it? It might not be "secured", but it sure as hell doesn't give anybody else the right to use it. Especially if I come out and tell them not to use it.

Or, to use the gas grill analogy, the grill is sitting in front of my house and I don't worry about it too much since I have "older neighbors" who wouldn't misuse it (or use it at all). Then somebody comes along and starts cooking. I walk out to tell them to quit but they run away. They are undoubtedly mis-using my grill, even if it's not secured in any way and even if I do let my older neighbors come over and grill if they want to. I have the right to revoke permission to use the grill and I did so by walking out and trying to tell the SUV driver to stop.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 2:32 PM on July 7, 2005


What if, instead of a barbeque or a car, you have a router that's actively advertising WiFi availability and is set to actively allow users to access it?
posted by ODiV at 2:34 PM on July 7, 2005


To be more clear, it doesn't matter if the SUV driver had permission to use the WiFi node initially. It's as clear as hell that the homeowner revoked any permission the driver may have had by attempting to confront the driver twice. The driver was aware of this based on his decision to act like he was doing something wrong and driving away each time.

If I make a resource freely available to others but tell you not to use it then you are violating my rights by continuing to use it when you know that you don't have permission. It's just that simple. It doesn't matter if the rest of the world can use it for free or not: if I tell you not to use it then you can't use it. Period. The homeowner made it clear to the SUV driver that he was not to use the WiFi anymore and he continued to do so.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 2:35 PM on July 7, 2005


To be more clear, it doesn't matter if the SUV driver had permission to use the WiFi node initially. It's as clear as hell that the homeowner revoked any permission the driver may have had by attempting to confront the driver twice. The driver was aware of this based on his decision to act like he was doing something wrong and driving away each time.

If I make a resource freely available to others but tell you not to use it then you are violating my rights by continuing to use it when you know that you don't have permission. It's just that simple. It doesn't matter if the rest of the world can use it for free or not: if I tell you not to use it then you can't use it. Period. The homeowner made it clear to the SUV driver that he was not to use the WiFi anymore and he continued to do so.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 2:35 PM on July 7, 2005


That came out a little more assholish than I intended. I agree with lightly though in that the owner's behaviour constituted a refusal of access (or at least the possibility, had the SUV guy stuck around).

I'm just frustrated with the analogies and think this needs to be dealt with for what it is and not by equating communication networks with physical property.
posted by ODiV at 2:41 PM on July 7, 2005


I'd bet $1000 that it is in fact a very small percentage of people who have an AP who purposefully run their APs open for others to use.

Yes, but it's a much larger percentage who have an open AP and would leave it open if the whole thing were explained to them. That is, by leaving it open they're participating in a custom that gives them easy, instant access to the internet everywhere they go. And if some idiot does start abusing it, then you'll be a lot more justified in fencing it off at that point, having at least given cooperation a chance.
posted by sfenders at 2:47 PM on July 7, 2005


If you can't be bothered to secure your router and then bitch about people using it, I suggest you either a) go back to CAT-5 or b) get off the Internet.
posted by keswick at 2:49 PM on July 7, 2005


tddl makes a good point. If the owner of a service makes his intention to deny you access to that service known, it could very reasonably be construed as theft of service.

That bears on this particular case, but not on the general issue of legality of public WiFi access.
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:51 PM on July 7, 2005


This thread is stealing my time.
posted by iamck at 2:51 PM on July 7, 2005


SirOmega writes "I do believe I let Matt charge my CC $5 or something like that when I signed up for MeFi. I believe that gives me permission to use MetaFilter. "

Nope, just bought you a userID.

SirOmega writes "I have infact paid for my internet. I pay my ISP $x/mo for a connection. "

You haven't paid for the internet, just your connection to it. You sure haven't paid for the costs associated with running servers also connected to the internet that you access over your connection.

SirOmega would I be wrong in thinking you got your first connection somewhere in the mid nineties or later?
posted by Mitheral at 2:55 PM on July 7, 2005


There was no sign that said "free." Mr. Roboto's arguments are clever, and I do not dismiss them out of hand, but they are far from definitive. Too many people make the logical mistake in their arguments here that the sign saying free is a given. It isn't. My guess is that you would have a less than 25% chance of convincing a court with that argument. You can go on arguing as if it is a proven fact, but that leaves a mighty big hole in your arguments as to whether the actions in question constituted theft or unauthorized entry into a computer network.

Also, every one of the analogies given so far are crap. They all miss some point which relates to the situation at hand. It is a nice convenient form of arguing due to its simplicity. However, since none of them fit exactly you might as well do the heavy lifting and analyze the facts of this case, not some mythical cow with a sign around its neck.
posted by caddis at 2:55 PM on July 7, 2005


Broadband connections are paid for at a flat rate for a certain amount of bandwidth at all times.

Just a tech note:

(A) this is not always true. Google for "per mb broadband charge" and you will find that this per-mb broadband is very common in Australia and the UK, and there are a few American firms who do this too (although it is not the norm here in the US). Also, "a certain amount of bandwidth at all times" is not true, several flat-rate US providers explicitly state there is NO guarantee of service quality (but will list an "average" or "expected" service quality).

(B) in a general case, having WiFi does NOT mean you have broadband. I could have 28k dialup access with traditiional per-minute charges hooked up to a WiFi network no problem.

So, in the general case (not this specific incident), you can NOT assume that use of a WiFi network to access the internet is not costing the owner of the network. Broadband can easily be charged by usage, and WiFi!=Broadband.
posted by wildcrdj at 2:57 PM on July 7, 2005


The reference to "unauthorized access to a computer network" was from this article; I should've noted that.

as a very confused Canadian [...] you should ask your government to clarify their laws, as should people in the US. The article linked by Floydd implies that both the operator of the WAP and the person using the open WAP could be held liable. And the article I linked earlier implies the same (for Canada). This is not a black-and-white issue - if it were we'd be referencing laws and not making analogies. I do, however, think that it's something that really needs to be clarified. The way it is now, there's really no way to tell whether someone is intentionally sharing an AP or not. As such, there's no way to place liability on either party - if it's open, it's implied that it's shared, but maybe the people that set it up simply didn't realize they were sharing it and maybe the people that were using it didn't realize that they weren't supposed to be doing that or maybe everything's A-OK. It seems to me the simplest way of sorting it out is shipping routers in a pre-secured state and putting warnings in the instructions and in the settings. Companies can be held liable for not doing so and any routers made before X date (when the law would go into effect) would be exempted. Maybe there's a better way, but arresting people under unclear circumstances is not it. Honestly, analogies are only going to go so far - breaking into a car is like breaking into a house is like trespassing is like a lot of things, but they're all legally distinct, and that's something that's both necessary and nonexistent in this case. Calling it clearcut on either side is disingenuous. Hopefully, this guy will get off and we'll make some laws before we arrest anyone else.

On the other hand, though, he was stealing internet. Hey, you!! Come back here with my internet!!! (Sorry for ripping it out of context, just thought it was amusing) Also, ODiV wins.
posted by nTeleKy at 3:05 PM on July 7, 2005


There was no sign that said "free."

That's all fine and dandy, caddis. But neither was there a sign that said "not free." And while it is not 100% obvious the signal is public, it is also not 100% obvious the signal is private.

But what is completely obvious is that the WiFi hotspot was doing exactly what it was supposed to do.

If the absolutists would admit that, I'd be happy. This is a grey area, it's somewhat new, and we have to decide what the law should be here.

We can't do that with everybody coming in with ill-concieved notions that are set in stone.
posted by teece at 3:12 PM on July 7, 2005


Anyone dumb enough to get caught stealing Wifi without permission deserves to be charged with a felony. Get a better damn antenna, and crank down the brightness on your laptop, nimrod.

The guy was sitting in front of the house, was obviously busted once by the guy, and he kept sitting there? Throw the book at this douche.

Spare me your analogies.
posted by angry modem at 3:22 PM on July 7, 2005


mitheral, he could have been on a national tour and just using this guy's connection. But, since he left and came back, that doesn't really work so well. That and the fact that he shut down and drove off twice when approached by the owner.

And yes, I do know of some students living off campus who live in converted garages, attics or other spaces where they do not have the nice fat pipe or even windows. But its been a while since I've done the 3xRamen diet. On the other hand, I have an open wireless network that I'd be happy to let some students use from time to time. Only problem is that I'm a good 20 miles from the campus now.

teece, true, the hotspot was functioning properly. My thinking is that access to unsecured hotspots should be allowed so long as the use of those spots is legal (i.e. not using a hotspot to spam, steal IP or hack systems).
posted by fenriq at 3:25 PM on July 7, 2005


teece: This is a grey area, it's somewhat new, and we have to decide what the law should be here.

We agree.
posted by caddis at 3:29 PM on July 7, 2005


It would be really great if the guy *was* downloading kiddie porn, and the dumbass owner of the hotspot is held liable (as he should be).
posted by mullingitover at 3:39 PM on July 7, 2005


I wonder if there is anyone here who believes that the guy in the SUV did no wrong, who also believes that downloading music with Kazaa is wrong, or theft or whatever? I somehow doubt it. Could it be that the crowd who likes to take music for free also likes to take internet service for free as well? Follow on question, how many of those who fall into this category of taking free stuff also have a pirated copy of Photoshop? OK, maybe I am way off base here - prove me wrong.
posted by caddis at 3:57 PM on July 7, 2005



the guy in the suv did no wrong

downloading music (that you haven't already paid for) is wrong
posted by jb5dogs at 4:01 PM on July 7, 2005


You're wrong, caddis. Thhhppppffffft!!!

The argument follows trivially from what I've already written here.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:03 PM on July 7, 2005


proper analogy:

a man puts a fountain in his yard with a greek sign that says "please! drink". he doesn't know greek, but then gets mad when a van full of thirsty greeks park at his house.

the owner is entirely at fault because he granted the guy access - though he didn't know it. The guy's laptop asked "may i?" and the owner's agent said "yes you may" That the owner was unaware of this discussion is his own fault.

the guy with the laptop acted guilty, and probably secretly knew in his heart that the owner would rather he not use his WAP. This is entirely beside the point. There are innumerable circumstances where one can act genuinely guilty and know they are acting against another's wishes and still be perfectly legal.

now - Should a decent human being use a network when they suspect the owner would disaprove? No, but indecency shouldn't be illegal unless there is a proven violation of rights - absent here.
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 4:17 PM on July 7, 2005


Wow, all this back and forth and "hoses" and "grills" and wrangling about WEP etc...

Here's an analogy which is more to the point, IMO, and definitely directly applies:

I have a cordless phone on my landline. You live across the street, and have on your landline the same brand of phone as I do, which transmits on the same set of frequencies. Instead of using your own landline to call your Aunt Lobelia in Kazakhstan, you get in your car, park in front of my house where your phone will transmit through my handset, and place your call to the other side of the planet, jabbering on for hours about how your cat keeps horking up hairballs and sister Anne's hammer toe.

This of course runs up my phone bill to some astronomical amount and pisses me off. When I notice you sitting in your parked car with your handset in front of my house, I call the cops. Because it's entirely illegal, and I believe a Federal felony, to use my phone line to make such calls.

So really, this is definable as a crime, and in this case the arrest may well be warranted. The arrested gentlemen should have paid for his own Internet connection.

However, I do think that wireless routers should be secured by default, requiring people to authorize what hardware gets to communicate through it. Probably wouldn't be that hard to make that fairly easy to do - perhaps similar to the "Add me as a friend" request on Yahoo Messenger or AIM or other IM apps, so that any time a device requests access to the router, the owner gets a little popup that asks nicely, and even allows the owner to limit the percentage of bandwidth that each connected outside user can use. If the owner's not home, no request would be granted.

I have Apple Airport running at my place, with password access to users registered on my system only. There are a few other people in my building with "linksys" showing as the network, and I bet they're wide open.
posted by zoogleplex at 4:17 PM on July 7, 2005


well, in 2003 here in Toronto, a charming fellow name Walter Nowakoski was arrested in the act of driving around town naked from the waist down and using unsecured wi-fi networks to download kiddy porn - http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/1069439746264_64848946
posted by TrinityB5 at 4:21 PM on July 7, 2005


I wonder if there is anyone here who believes that the guy in the SUV did no wrong, who also believes that downloading music with Kazaa is wrong, or theft or whatever?

Yeah, I'd agree to that.

Unless tddl is correct in assuming that the owner of the home was successful in communicating to the guy in the SUV that he should leave (which to me is unclear), and except that I think the odds are pretty good that the guy in the SUV, even if he didn't get that message, though he did nothing that I know of that is or should be illegal, probably didn't handle himself well at all, considering that he did get arrested. And you should specify that it's music you don't have the legal right to download since that's presumably what you mean. I'm all in favour of music being distributed freely on the net with the approval of its creators and assorted other rights-holders, which does happen quite often you know.

a man puts a fountain in his yard with a greek sign that says "please! drink".

Dude. This analogy thing is getting out of hand. I already used that one.
posted by sfenders at 4:22 PM on July 7, 2005


zoogleplex, unfortunately your analogy falls under that wire-tapping stuff, which is most definitely a felony, as far as I know. This is distinct and different from the wifi situation because there are no such laws in place for the wifi kind of communication.
posted by odinsdream at 4:27 PM on July 7, 2005


Couple things:
First, this isn't theft. Once again, it's trespass (just like Kazaa, Caddis!). Second off, at least in my state, you can't be charged with stealing a car if you had permission to borrow it and simply did not return it. The laptop got permission to use the computer network.
It's odd that the personal responsiblity crew here doesn't want Joe Wifi-owner to have to have responsibility for his own damn network. If you buy something and set it up without any idea of how to use it, how is that the fault of others?
Third, it's weird how there's this disavowal of public space here. The guy was on the street, using the wifi, same as if he had been soaking up water from a sprinkler left spraying the street.
Fourth, this fails to meet any sort of harm standard. Did using the wifi actually hurt this guy? To the degree that he required public protection? If anything, this should be a civil matter (just like copyright). Though, of course, it shouldn't be anything.
Fifth, Dios has to be the dumbest lawyer since my father's cousin Tom. You aren't Tom, are you Dios?
Sixth, I'd support legislation that limited the liability of WiFi public node owners with regard to illegal uses of their WiFi. That would be a much better use of the government's time than trying to make shitty cases like this stick.
posted by klangklangston at 4:32 PM on July 7, 2005


It's truly amazing how proficient people can be at ignoring what's being said. I have nothing to contribute to the discussion about protocols and whether they equal permission that hasn't already been ignored, and I'm certainly not a lawyer, so I can't tell you about the many cases I've tried that have already settled this issue (funny how no one's done that). But I do have a question:

Could "attractive nuisance" laws be invoked here, since the WiFi was broadcasting its availability?
posted by solotoro at 4:33 PM on July 7, 2005


I suppose these will soon be illegal as well then?
posted by numlok at 4:35 PM on July 7, 2005


zoogleplex, the cordless phone thing did seem superficially sort of close even to me, staunch advocate of open wifi as I am becoming today. So let me point out some of the differences:

The protocol by which the handset connects to the base is very likely a proprietary secret of the phone manufacturer, not a widespread standard open protocol. Even if whatever handshake protocol gets used is known and legally useable (patents), it isn't designed to be interoperable with different kinds of clients. Even if it were, the phone network being circuit switched means that it certainly isn't meant to handle multiple devices connecting to it, meaning that you adding one can't be an expected or conventional use of the system.

That circuit-switching thing also means that I can't use the phone at all while you're on it. And it costs me money. While some net connections are billed per packet, odds are very good that typical use of a wireless AP will not incur any charges.

There are standard, relatively easy techniques, very likely documented somewhere in the manual that came with the wireless AP, telling me how to stop other people using it, if I want to.

Mobile phones are cheap and ubiquitous (too bad they effectively can't do Internet, so far. Despite what the sales guy told me.) So there's no real reason for you to leach on someone else's phone line.
posted by sfenders at 4:50 PM on July 7, 2005


Maybe I missed this in the flood of analogies, but if I'm in MY apartment and someone's wireless signal penetrates my walls and windows . . . .? Just askin' how some of these analogies hold up, is all.

Another one is an old favorite. Is using someone's open WAP more like breaking into their apartment to take a crap, or them leaving the toilet out in the hall?
posted by realcountrymusic at 4:51 PM on July 7, 2005


Sorry about the "patents" mistake and spelling errors, there.
posted by sfenders at 4:53 PM on July 7, 2005


Analogies are useless here because this is a unique situation with unique properties.
posted by angry modem at 4:56 PM on July 7, 2005


a man puts a fountain in his yard with a greek sign that says "please! drink".

There was no sign, just your interpretation of acknowledgement and response in WiFi.


The laptop got permission to use the computer network.

Nope, never did. Sent a request which was answered, by a router. permission comes from the owner, not a router. The owner never gave explicit permission. The router only said connect, but not "my owner gives you permission to use his internet connection." If you doubt the permission, look at the action of the man in the SUV - when approached he closed up his computer. He knew damn well he had no permission. I still like a challenge, and I would love to argue Roboto's position, even though I think it is a dead, bang loser in court, unless of course you have a jury of computer geeks. First voir dire question, "have you ever played D&D?"

On preview: you are so right angry modem
posted by caddis at 5:03 PM on July 7, 2005


Points well taken, odinsdream (although I think it comes under "wire fraud" as opposed to "illegal wiretap") and sfenders. I just feel that the cordless phone analogy is closer technically, and more importantly in spirit and intention, to the actual scenario of the arrest.

The exact situation I describe used to happen back when cordless phones were relatively new, often by accident, since several people on one block or in an apartment building might own the same Radio Shack phone, for example; it happened to me on a few occasions where I picked up my phone and someone else was having a conversation on my line, because their location in their apartment put them closer to my base station than their own. Just an honest mistake, but I'm pretty sure some people took advantage of it. Whereupon, of course, the phone manufacturers refined their signal techniques, protocols and frequencies (900mHz, 2GHz), and eventually added encryption between handset and base station to fix the "leak," so to speak - and I bought a newer, better phone to end the problem for myself.

Anyway, it seemed more to the point than hoses and grills. :)

And yes, this is a new, unique situation, for which law remains to be made (or ignored).
posted by zoogleplex at 5:04 PM on July 7, 2005


Here's the real question: if this guy was troubled by the creepy laptop guy in the SUV, why didn't he just shut down his network, wait a few minutes for the guy to bolt and fire it up again?

I don't know what's more absurd: the wireless network owner's no surrender, call-the-cops approach or the idea that an unsecured network can be framed within the context of eminent domain law. What I do know is that within this incident lies all the problems of American mentality.
posted by ed at 5:07 PM on July 7, 2005


Caddis: Bullshit. As the man bought and installed the WiFi, the WiFi was acting as his agent. Just like if his kid had invited the SUV guy in to use the internet, even though Dad didn't like it. No crime.
posted by klangklangston at 5:21 PM on July 7, 2005


I say if they can't keep their wifi off my lawn, I can use it.

Hell, they are infringing upon my airspace.
posted by Freen at 5:31 PM on July 7, 2005


klangklangston: Did he tell his WiFi to give permission? No. The WiFi gave permission on its own (at least according to your definition of permission). The owner did not give permission. The owner owns the internet connection, not the WiFi device. The owner is the only one who can give permission. The question remains, given the circumstances is it reasonable for someone to believe the owner is giving permission - they did leave the thing wide open? Unfortunately for the schmuck in the SUV, he answered that question by indicating his view of the owner's permission by closing his laptop whenever the owner came near.

I would just love to argue this "machine gave permission" versus "owner's view" in court with you. Good luck with your side. I am keeping all D&D players off the jury and seeking a representative swath of the rest of the population.
posted by caddis at 6:01 PM on July 7, 2005


If you are unsure of how you think the rest of the population would view you "machine decides" nutty viewpoint just ask your mom, dad, uncle, grandpa etc. No fair if any of them are computer scientists.
posted by caddis at 6:05 PM on July 7, 2005


Nope, never did. Sent a request which was answered, by a router. permission comes from the owner, not a router. The owner never gave explicit permission. The router only said connect, but not "my owner gives you permission to use his internet connection."

This makes me think: if the requirement of permission is this strict (explicit say so from the human operating the network), what stops me from suing everyone that access my httpd server? Or better yet, trying to get people accessing it charged with 3rd degree felonies? I have never given a single soul explicit permission to access that particular network service, except perhaps my wife. I pay bandwidth for my server. Anyone that access my server is using that bandwidth. I have never explicitly authorized that.

UNLESS, you count having an open, unrestricted web server as a form of permission.

Which is a very similar situation to this case, from a technology point of view. It does not seem at all unreasonable to assume that a completely open WiFi hotspot is also a form of implicit permission.

So what makes folks come down on such entirely opposite sides of something that is, in general, nearly that exact same issue?
posted by teece at 6:17 PM on July 7, 2005


permission comes from the owner, not a router. The owner never gave explicit permission.

So making a phone call without explicit permission from the phone's owner is trespassing?

So viewing a web page without explicit permission from the server's owner is trespassing?

So watching broadcast TV without explicit permission from the transmitter's owner is trespassing?

How about using EZ-pass, or an automated tollbooth? Did you get explicit permission to use the road - or are you just assuming that participating in a known public protocol is sufficient authorization?
posted by bashos_frog at 6:20 PM on July 7, 2005


Caddis: Did he tell his WiFi to give permission? Yes, when he set it up. And the owner owns the wireless router. Arguing that his ignorance negates his culpability is pretty dumb. Do you want to be dumb, Caddis?
The rest of your comment is bullshit, and I'm not sure why you brought up D&D. Perhaps your extensive knowledge of the role-playing community gives you some special insight into their character?
(Oh, and my father will probably concur with me. He's pretty bright. No computer scientist or anything. Maybe your problem is that your family are morons, and have raised you thus?)
posted by klangklangston at 6:24 PM on July 7, 2005


The analogy is this: the Brat-o-bot is openly declaring "Unrestricted access to bratwurst!", and providing all those who say "I want bratwurst" with brat's.

The key distinction here is that at the moment, when I open my Bratwurst receiving machine, it asks, out loud to all potential brat machines: "Hey, can i get a Bratwurst?".

If your Bratwurst machine, goes out of it's way, leaves it's owners property, and gives me one, is it my fault?

Replace Bratwurst with IP address/internet access, and you have an accurate analogy.

The technical aspects of it are, actually critical, and fairly simple to understand.

Say I went door to door, and asked for Bratwursts, and someone gives me one. Could I be charged with theft?
posted by Freen at 6:25 PM on July 7, 2005


The question remains, given the circumstances is it reasonable for someone to believe the owner is giving permission - they did leave the thing wide open? Unfortunately for the schmuck in the SUV, he answered that question by indicating his view of the owner's permission by closing his laptop whenever the owner came near.

His actions can't become criminal simply by what he does with his laptop when the guy walks up to his car. His decision to shut his laptop should have no bearing on whether he was breaking the law by using an open WiFi connection.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:27 PM on July 7, 2005


wow. Way too many commas.
Sorry.
posted by Freen at 6:27 PM on July 7, 2005


Did he tell his WiFi to give permission? Yes, when he set it up

Nope, he told it nothing. It was set up that way. His ignorance is not assent. Good luck with your geek argument.
posted by caddis at 6:44 PM on July 7, 2005


The "victim" in this case must have had political connections coming out of his arse. Cops will go to some lengths to discourage you from even filing charges in cases of petty fraud, so one can imagine how interested they would be in pursuing charges in a case where the theft is only worth pennies (nickels at most), and where the "victim" has failed to take even the absolute first step towards mitigating the "tort".

If an ordinary person went to a police station to file charges in a similar case, he would probably hear audible laughter from the officers as he stepped out of the station empty-handed.
posted by clevershark at 6:47 PM on July 7, 2005


Hmmm. I guess it would be better to say that it came set up that way from the factory and he told it nothing. In any event, the guy gave no assent. You are attempting to make his ignorance his assent. This argument will not fly with those who are not comfortable with technology. Given the number of WiFi points without encryption, and the number of VCR players that always flashed twelve O'clock, the bulk of the population will likely not recognize your subtle technical argument (i.e. your geek argument).
posted by caddis at 6:51 PM on July 7, 2005


Caddis: So... if I place something by the curb, and some folks in a truck take it, they've stolen it? I didn't consent to have them take my garbage, the agreement was already there when I put it out.
Good luck with your retard argument.
posted by klangklangston at 6:51 PM on July 7, 2005


Caddis: It's his fucking WiFi. It's his fucking responsibility. Why is responsibility so hard for you to understand?
posted by klangklangston at 6:53 PM on July 7, 2005


The owner did not give permission.

The question is not whether the owner gave permission. Nobody is disputing that he didn't intend to. It's about whether the access is implicitly authorized by the nature of the interaction. There are many cases of "access" as defined by the law where it is. Some idiot in an SUV not knowing that he's authorized to access a computer network (assuming that he did in fact feel he wasn't) does not mean he's right. Not knowing that he wasn't authorized could perhaps be a defense, but otherwise it's irrelevant what he thought, given that he probably hasn't even read the law in question. The court will have to decide NOT whether this guy thought he was authorized, but whether the nature of the service provided is such that access has been implicitly authorized as it is in the case of, for example, access to a computer network via sending email to it.
posted by sfenders at 6:54 PM on July 7, 2005


Nobody is disputing that he didn't intend to.

Although one certainly could. I just remembered that one of the articles implied that he wasn't in fact ignorant of its open-to-the-world status. It would still be irrelevant to the case.
posted by sfenders at 6:56 PM on July 7, 2005


Caddis: I buy a light. It comes with a shade. I do not put the shade on, and some of the light from that lamp seeps into my neighbors yard where he reads from it. Is my neighbor liable?

And what about the Brat-O-Bot?
posted by Freen at 6:58 PM on July 7, 2005


Why is responsibility so hard for you to understand?

How about the responsibility of the thief not to steal, even when the goods are practically handed to him on a silver platter?
posted by caddis at 7:14 PM on July 7, 2005


What about charging people for theft when they accept a good handed to them on a silver platter after they request it?
posted by Freen at 7:17 PM on July 7, 2005


What is your point freen? If I leave one of my Nikons on the front walk on a silver platter and you steal it I will still press charges. [Oh, this analogy sucks so bad - let's get back to the case at hand.]
posted by caddis at 7:21 PM on July 7, 2005


My point is that the guy in the SUV knew he was stealing or wrong or whatever, as evidenced by his laptop closing behavior when approached.
posted by caddis at 7:22 PM on July 7, 2005


Okay, getting back to the case at hand: By connecting your computer to the Internet, you are implicity granting authorization to the world at large to access your computer system via such methods as: sending email to it, sending packets to various well-known ports to inquire if services are available (such as port 80), and acessing and making use of those services (such as a web server) if they are. That is how the Internet works. If the system you happen to run comes with a web server running on port 80, people are going to request web pages from it and you are unlikely to succeed in claiming that this constitutes unauthorized access under the law. Most wireless routers do in fact provide such a web server; on the page it provides, a password is requested for further access. Circumventing that password protection would constitute unauthorized access. Browsing through un-protected pages, unless perhaps their content prohibits such action, is not. Such commonly available services for which no explicit authorization is required include such things as DNS servers, email servers, web proxies, and other methods of using that service to access other parts of the network, so that the service in question does so does not make it unique. So why, then, should it constitute "unauthorized access" to access that system via a wireless connection, when it clearly wouldn't when such access was made via a wired router?
posted by sfenders at 7:26 PM on July 7, 2005


I read this whole thread thanks to my neighbor, Linkys.

And I'm still going with Willnot's light-spilling-into-my-living-room analogy.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:34 PM on July 7, 2005


What he was doing was, perhaps slightly immoral. True. Taking advantage of a free resource is, well, kinda wrong. Eating all the free samples at a supermarket, while in bad taste, isn't illegal.

What he did when the owner approached has no bearing on the subject matter. I've gone back for seconds at a sample tray and been quite sheepish about it. That doesn't mean i committed a crime.

Lots of people feel guilty about doing totally legal things. That doesn't imply criminality.

If your nikon broadcast to the world in plain english that it was "take-able", and responded to my request of "Can i take you?" with a response "yes, you can!" I would totally take it, and not feel bad about it in the least. Even if A) you were nowhere in site. B) you had no idea that you camera was even capable of such a conversation.

How am I supposed to know that you are a dumbass? (the hypothetical owner of the talking Nikon, not you caddis)
posted by Freen at 7:40 PM on July 7, 2005


My point is that the guy in the SUV knew he was stealing or wrong or whatever, as evidenced by his laptop closing behavior when approached.

If my roommate walks in on me and I'm masturbating, I'm going to hurriedly stop. I know that masturbation isn't wrong, and it isn't illegal. I just don't want anyone to see me doing it. Not wanting someone to see what you are doing is not an admission that what you are doing is wrong.
posted by 23skidoo at 7:40 PM on July 7, 2005


I think most situations are much more gray than this. For instance, taking a small slice of bandwidth from the neighbor. They left it open, they did not say no. Is there permission or no? I think given the current mindset of technically savvy folk that is an open question. If your neighbor has indicated some displeasure by coming over glaring at your laptop then the situation changes. Then you know, or should know, that you do not have permission. Heaven forbid that this should be the test case as the facts are so bad for the interloper.
posted by caddis at 7:46 PM on July 7, 2005


If my roommate walks in on me and I'm masturbating, I'm going to hurriedly stop. I know that masturbation isn't wrong, and it isn't illegal. I just don't want anyone to see me doing it. Not wanting someone to see what you are doing is not an admission that what you are doing is wrong.

Yeah, every time someone sees me on the internet I clam up like I was caught masturbating because that is so personal, so embarrassing. I mean, who would want to openly use the internet when someone else might see? eeeww.
posted by caddis at 7:49 PM on July 7, 2005


I know people who don't want me looking at their computer screen when they've got a half-composed email on the screen. To some people, doing certain things on the internet, like composing emails, is a personal thing that they don't want others to see.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:00 PM on July 7, 2005


I mean, who would want to openly use the internet when someone else might see? eeeww.

That's a perfectly natural reaction to have, when you're participating in such degenerate discussion threads as this one.
posted by sfenders at 8:19 PM on July 7, 2005


I, for one, would not ever want to hire Dios as my lawyer, as he would probably bill me for hours arguing on Metafilter!

I disagree with Caddis' contention that these are "technical, arcane" arguments that have no resonance beyond the "D&D crowd". I suspect that Mr. Roboto may be correct that there are established laws that relate to communications protocols but I wish that someone would kindly provide some proper references to these as well as an argument establishing their relevance. Please -- enough with the analogies! What we need are laws and precedents and perhaps some expert opinion.

I quite concur with Caddis that this is a terrible test case (but not as bad as the Canadian case, linked to twice above, where the fella was caught literally with his pants down, kiddie porn streaming into his car).

Finally, this comment brought to you by "wireless", the otherwise anonymous neighbour of my girlfriend, who has not explicitly granted me permission to enter into her apartment, use her plumbing and sleep in her bed.
posted by bumpkin at 9:41 PM on July 7, 2005


When you setup an Airport Extreme here is a screenshot of step 5. There is no way to skip this step.


posted by mosch at 10:14 PM on July 7, 2005


mosch that is a very large image. You're stealing my bandwidth (and worse, my screen space) by posting it!

*There are ways you can make the 'offer' really explicit, as I recall from earlier discussions about this topic. Such as naming your node "FREETOTAKE" or "PLEASECONNECTEVRY1" or whatever. Just because it looks like an easy mark doesn't strike me as a justification for stealing,

*sigh*. You clearly don't understand the technology. The AP sends out more information then just it's name.

Most people do NOT run their AP as a community service. I'd bet $1000 that it is in fact a very small percentage of people who have an AP who purposefully run their APs open for others to use. I know I don't.

And I'd bet $1000 that if you'd read the article you'd see that this AP owner did know how to restrict access, and chose not to so that his neighbors could use it.

One last point... physically securing an AP and its signal is quite difficult. Its not as easy as putting up a fence. You need a Faraday cage to completely block the RF signals, you can not depend on distance alone (see the yearly Defcon contest to see who can send WiFi the longest distance in the Mojave desert). This is why there is encryption and that whole thing.

What on earth are you talking? Setting up encryption takes like 5 seconds with most hardware if you take the time to do it. God.

My ISP pays its ISP (a Tier 1 ISP) for their internet connection. That Teir 1 ISP peers with other ISPs and has a business relationship to peer internet traffic. Likewise, it goes down the other side of the chain when I access a server (they paid for access to host a webserver, etc). Through this network of business relationships, it has given me access to the billions of websites and servers.

That's about the most rediculous thing I've heard in this discussion. Do you have any refrences to back up this claim? I've never heard of anything like that, and I'm certan that you could never really prove there was a 'contract path' between you and any random server anywhere in the world. People get busted for hacking all the time dispite doing it over the Internet.

The fact that we are both paying ISP fees dosn't give you the legal right to read files I have on my hard drive, but if I served those files from my hard drive with a webserver you could. Why do you think that is?


I do believe I let Matt charge my CC $5 or something like that when I signed up for MeFi. I believe that gives me permission to use MetaFilter.


Hmm, I forgot that matt started charging for accounts.


If I leave the keys to my car in the car, sitting on a public street, does that give anybody else the right to use it? It might not be "secured", but it sure as hell doesn't give anybody else the right to use it. Especially if I come out and tell them not to use it.


God, enough with these fucking analogys? What if the car had a sign that said "free car" What if the sign was only readable by computers? What if the sign just said "car" but had a barcode readable by computer, but the sign was made of cheese and melted in the sun? what if we talked about what actualy happened?

To be more clear, it doesn't matter if the SUV driver had permission to use the WiFi node initially. It's as clear as hell that the homeowner revoked any permission the driver may have had by attempting to confront the driver twice. The driver was aware of this based on his decision to act like he was doing something wrong and driving away each time.

Yes, I agree with this, but the guy could be charged with Loitering or stalking or something, not Computer Hacking

caddis:
klangklangston: Did he tell his WiFi to give permission? No. The WiFi gave permission on its own (at least according to your definition of permission).

Yes, he spesificaly said that he left it open for people in his neighborhood to use, but got unnerved by creepy SUV guy.

I am keeping all D&D players off the jury and seeking a representative swath of the rest of the population.

So we should have people who don't understand computers sitting on jurries for people who commit computer crimes. Is that what i understand you to mean? That sounds like a good idea. (that was sarcasm)


Nope, he told it nothing. It was set up that way. His ignorance is not assent. Good luck with your geek argument.


caddis read the fucking article. The owner knew how to turn off open access, and chose not to. He said this spesificaly

could you at least read the rest of the thread before spouting off?
posted by delmoi at 11:09 PM on July 7, 2005


Just to point this out. I would have called the cops too (actualy I would have sniffed their traffic to see what they were doing. heh).

But I don't think that simply using an open access point is theft.

Also, downloading unlicensed music off the internet is not theft, its copyright infringement.
posted by delmoi at 11:11 PM on July 7, 2005


delmoi writes "I would have called the cops too (actualy I would have sniffed their traffic to see what they were doing. heh)."

Well, the tool in question (viz "the victim") doesn't even know how to properly set up a wireless AP... I doubt he'd know how to use AirSnort.
posted by clevershark at 11:16 PM on July 7, 2005


Yes, he spesificaly said that he left it open for people in his neighborhood to use, but got unnerved by creepy SUV guy.

The way I read it he sounds like he thought the "older neighbors" wouldn't use it at all, therefore he didn't feel the need to secure it. I think we need to know more details about the facts, it really feels like some crucial step is being left-out.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 11:27 PM on July 7, 2005



God, enough with these fucking analogys? What if the car had a sign that said "free car" What if the sign was only readable by computers? What if the sign just said "car" but had a barcode readable by computer, but the sign was made of cheese and melted in the sun? What if we talked about what actualy happened?


This made the entire thread worth it.
posted by 235w103 at 12:06 AM on July 8, 2005


Yeah, but what if the car did have a sign that said "free car", but it was locked in the trunk? And the keys are in the car, with the ignition key missing? With a note on the car saying: "I'll be back in ten minutes", but it doesn't say when it was written! And the handwriting is bad! And it's in faded red ink!
posted by dreamsign at 12:26 AM on July 8, 2005


klangklangston said what I wanted to say, and said it well. I have wireless here, I'd prefer it to be unsecured in the event someone needed it, but the liability issue prevents this. That sucks.

I too am amazed at folks such as dios refusing the point that the owner of the AP has RESPONSIBILITY for leaving their router open. If you shoot your friend dead because you "didn't know it was loaded", you are still guilty.

And, whoever asked, I do think its wrong to infringe copyrights on music.

Maybe someone has written a law to cover this. Laws are all too often totally STUPID, and cops even moreso.

Creepy guy kept coming back. Why? If APs are so common as you say, it seems very weird, highly suspicious. The alleged victim should be concerned for his privacy/security.
posted by Goofyy at 1:16 AM on July 8, 2005


I'm not going to check this whole thread -- I gave up about halfway through -- but my net.friend the good Reverend AKMA had a relevant experience a while back.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:24 AM on July 8, 2005


Couple of months back I noticed a computer on the local campus network, with some shared folders (Windows searches for these shared resources automatically unless you specifically tell it not to do so). I looked into them to see what was shared, and found that I had read-write access to the backup server for a research lab. Anything I wanted to do I could have done with those files - erased, copied, modified, anything. I didn't have explicit permission from the prinicipal investigator of the lab to do any of this, but the lack of a required name / password combinaiton gave my computer explicit permission to browse, create, edit or delete those files. Certainly the technology used to set up the network allowed me to do what I wanted, and just as certainly overwriting or deleting those files would be morally wrong for me to do, but would not in any way be illegal. I doubt that it would stand up as unauthorized access to a network, as my computer did ask for and receive permission to access both the network as well as those shared files. (What I did - rather than modify, delete, or corrupt data on the shared server, was to contact the PI and explain to him that he was unknowingly sharing this data with everyone. I explained to him how to restrict access to his shared files, and within a few days his shared folders no longer appeared on the network.)

In my own lab, shared resources are only shared with computers that ask for permission and also pass the correct user name and password combination. Certainly anyone accessing these files without the express permission of my PI would be doing something morally wrong, and would have had to crack the password security to gain access, which would be legally wrong as well (illegal, unauthorized access).

Clearly the technology involved in computer networking (wireless or not) has in place common standardized protocols that are used to permit or deny access to resources. (I doubt a lawyer worth his or her degree would have a hard time getting even a jury of imbeciles to agree with that, despite what some here have claimed.) Just as clearly, some people, either purposely (like Dinon) or through ignorance (like the PI sharing his backup server), will share resources freely with other computers. Some who access these resources will do so responsibly, and some will not. In this case, Dinon knowingly left an access point open, unsecured, and broadcasting availability. I really doubt that Smith will end up being convicted of anything, unless some evidence of misuse (ie, illegal activity) committed via the access surfaces. There's no proof of illegal activity in this case, no evidence has been stated in any of the linked articles, and as such Smith hasn't been charged with anything other than "illegally" accessing the network. Given the intentional lack of security on the WiFi point, if that charge holds water I'd be very, very surprised.

On some networks, like my campus network, we are required to accept a Terms of Use statement prior to connecting; I've never heard of an ISP that doesn't do the same, and even many HTTP and most FTP sites have similar statements that load upon access (as previously mentioned upthread). It would be nice if there was some easily configurable method of doing so over WiFi. If you are going to purposely leave your AP open for all to use, some standard click-to-continue statement detailing what you will or will not allow on your shared network would help protect the AP owner from legal action due to illegal activity on the part of the users.
posted by caution live frogs at 6:52 AM on July 8, 2005


delmoi screamed: Yes, he spesificaly [sic] said that he left it open for people in his neighborhood to use, but got unnerved by creepy SUV guy.
. . .
caddis read the fucking article.


That is rich. Next time you scream at someone to read the f***ing article perhaps you should read it yourself first to prevent making a fool of yourself again. He did not specifically say he left it open for his neighbors to use. As thedevildancedlightly said, it is more likely he left it open because he didn't think his older neighbors would use his WiFi. In any event, he did not "specifically" (or even "spesificaly") say that he left it open for people in his neighborhood to use. [He did say he knew how to turn on security so you are right that this is not about his ignorance. Why this got you screaming I don't know. Just substitute "sloth" for "ignorance" in my prior comments.] The point is important as if he had given some people permission to use his WiFi it would be more reasonable for the SUV guy to assume that he also had permission.
posted by caddis at 6:57 AM on July 8, 2005


fenriq writes "My thinking is that access to unsecured hotspots should be allowed so long as the use of those spots is legal (i.e. not using a hotspot to spam, steal IP or hack systems)."

Agreed.

caddis writes "Given the number of WiFi points without encryption, and the number of VCR players that always flashed twelve O'clock, the bulk of the population will likely not recognize your subtle technical argument (i.e. your geek argument)."

Licensing of WiFi equipment, it's the only way. People should have to get internet liceneses too, keep out the rif-raf.

caddis writes "My point is that the guy in the SUV knew he was stealing or wrong or whatever, as evidenced by his laptop closing behavior when approached."

Or maybe he didn't want random people seeing his wall paper?
posted by Mitheral at 7:25 AM on July 8, 2005


If you break the plane of an open window or door, that's breaking and entering. It's not a matter of being impeded by a lock. It's a matter of intentionally and knowingly crossing a threshold and going into a structure into which you were not invited. I think the anaology works here. A threshold was crossed. Someone entered a "structure" uninvited. They didn't accidentally pick up stray broadcast signals. This was a network, was it not? -- a cohesive, defined unit -- a system, a structure, a "house" that someone built.

If you stick your head in my window and say "hi, neighbor" or poke your head in the open door and say "knock-knock," I probably won't mind. In fact, most people wouldn't. But be advised that if I want to be a jerk about it, I can file B&E charges. (I'm not talking about criminal intent here, which could bring additional charges. I'm just talking about simple trespass -- not felony.) The law is on my side -- even if I leave my windows and doors open.
posted by Possum at 7:39 AM on July 8, 2005


The law is not on your side in this case because there was no trespass.

There was a device on someone else's property that responded to your signal. Unless you committed a crime in the transmission of that signal (cracking a password, violating a FCC regulation) then you have done nothing illegal.

That's how this stuff works, folks. If you set up a device in your home that runs unattended, you'd better know what the hell it does.
posted by sonofsamiam at 7:46 AM on July 8, 2005


Possum: No, you can't. You can't file breaking and entering charges if the residence is not secured (unlocked). Sorry, dumbass.

Caddis: Jane, you ignorant slut. If he knew that he could have secured his network, but didn't because he thought no one would use it, he still has to take responsibility for the fact that he didn't secure his network. Jesus, I know you want to dance around that with your "Well, you can't convince me with your highfalutin' logic and tech-no-logic," but that's bullshit.
He's BROADCASTING a signal that says "USE ME!" A computer notices the signal, and sends one back that says "CAN I USE YOU" and the WiFi broadcaster says "SURE YOU CAN!"
To reiterate the grocery store analogy (which was apt, despite being another fucking analogy in this shitpile): There's a sign that says "Free Food." A guy comes and eats all of 'em. While the store can call him a dick and ask him to leave, they can't charge him with theft because they INVITED HIM TO EAT THE FOOD. Just because it would have been polite to go in and ask if he could use the broadband, just as it would have been polite to ask if there was any limit on the number of samples one could eat, doesn't mean that it's illegal. If it's illegal to be impolite, lock me up for calling you an ignorant ass-gasket.
posted by klangklangston at 8:01 AM on July 8, 2005


klangklangston,

Check your law books. And check your manners, too. (There's no need to call people nasty and unoriginal names -- unless, ya know, you can't actually defend your ideas in a fact-based, intelligent debate. You are an embarrassment to Metafilter and the Internet at large.)
posted by Possum at 9:04 AM on July 8, 2005


Great. Another story out of Florida that makes my skin crawl.

This prosecution will fall flat, I hope.
I bet this guy complains about his taxes, too, when he calls the police rather than just encript his wireless access and rid himself of unwanted tapping.

Oh, and Possum, check your SNL skits
posted by Busithoth at 9:30 AM on July 8, 2005


Opening an unlocked door and going into someone else's house is breaking and entering. Walking through an unclosed door into someone else's house is just trespassing. This has nothing to do with using open WiFi connections.
posted by 23skidoo at 9:34 AM on July 8, 2005


Possum, 23skiddoo: No. In either case, with the door unlocked or open, you can be charged with trespass but not with breaking and entering. Mostly because "breaking and entering" seems to imply some "breaking," wouldn't you say? Feel free to reply with law cites if you got 'em. (Further, insurance won't cover losses if your door was unlocked. Had this happen at a restaurant that I worked at, and was glad that I wasn't the one that forgot to lock up for the night).
And if you enter a building with the intent to commit a crime, that's burglary.
Hey, if you don't advance ignorance, I won't call you a dumbass. Shake on it?
posted by klangklangston at 9:57 AM on July 8, 2005


I am willing to concede that using bandwidth someone else has paid for could constitute theft, but this is not true in all cases. Some people do intentionally share their WiFi connections. Not all service contracts allow this, but that is an issue between the subscriber and their ISP. There is plenty of free WiFi out there. What methodology is a user expected to follow to determine whether an access point has been left open intentionally, through ignorance or carelessness, or simply by default? (I have not read all of the 228 above comments, so I apologize if this point has been addressed in detail.)
posted by Songdog at 10:02 AM on July 8, 2005


In fact, having just looked at the actual statutes of my state, the crimes are: Trespass (where you have to be notified that you are not allowed on the property, or otherwise restrained from entering [having to jump a fence, etc.], before you can be charged) which applies to action where someone is on a property without permission that does not intend to commit a crime; Breaking and Entering, which applies when some physical barrier is "broken" (lock [even with misappropriated keys], etc.) and there is intent to commit a "specified felony"; Entering without breaking, when you enter unsecured property without permission with the intent to commit a "specified felony"; and Home Invasion, where you enter a property with the intent to commit a misdemeanor or violate a parole or probation condition.

I still don't see a crime here.
posted by klangklangston at 10:16 AM on July 8, 2005


[He did say he knew how to turn on security so you are right that this is not about his ignorance. Why this got you screaming I don't know. Just substitute "sloth" for "ignorance" in my prior comments.]

Because you said like 5 or 6 times that he didn't know how to turn on security, which you seemed to think proved he "didn't give permission".
posted by delmoi at 12:06 PM on July 8, 2005


Amazing, the number of otherwise reasonably intelligent folks on this thread making assholes out of themselves.

We have in one corner the theft of services argument, standard legal stuff. In the other corner we have the "but the router *did* authorize use!" crowd.

Look, I'm a geek, I dig the whole wireless protocol as authorization thing. But I'm not so insular as to think all people should be just as geeky as me. And I'm not so arrogant as to say that everybody should know just as much about networks as I do, and if they don't, tough shit plus they're idiots.

Maybe in some ideal world, nobody would be allowed to use computers and wireless routers without having some knowledge of how they work. But in practice, in cold actual fact, this stuff is marketed to everybody, hard, and most folks using this stuff don't have the time or inclination to find out how it ticks.

All this technoweenie superiority about how the guy should have secured his network if he didn't wan't access, neener neener...yeah, sure, technically speaking you're right. You're right...but you're being an asshole.

As a practical matter -- and perhaps a legal one -- the average consumers of wireless routers cannot be argued to have given their knowing consent. The technical side of DHCP and IP protocols cannot be argued to be common knowledge -- unlike "free water" signs or any of the other tired analogies on this thread.

Should consumers of technology know how that technology works? Yes, but at the moment, they don't, and they shouldn't be vilified by the net-hip incrowd because of it.

Should router manufacturers, and ISPs who push wireless technology on their customers with a "have access throughout your house" spiel, have some better defaults and clearer guides? For sure, and this might well happen, in part as a result of cases like this, and perhaps as a result of a hapless "free wireless provider" being investigated / arrested for kiddie porn, p2p, or "terrorist" activity by some asshole non-intruder-cause-he-advertised-free-network.
posted by cps at 12:28 PM on July 8, 2005



If you break the plane of an open window or door, that's breaking and entering. It's not a matter of being impeded by a lock. It's a matter of intentionally and knowingly crossing a threshold and going into a structure into which you were not invited. I think the anaology works here.


No, the analogy is not apt. And even if you think it is it dosn't matter. We are not discussing entering someone's house, we are talking about using WiFi. Analogies simply don't matter and waste everyone's time.
posted by delmoi at 12:41 PM on July 8, 2005


I was irritated when I found someone had been sponging off my wireless network, but mostly with myself for being too lazy to secure it earlier. This case is ridiculous.
posted by teleskiving at 1:15 PM on July 8, 2005


Hey, if you don't advance ignorance, I won't call you a dumbass. Shake on it?

Klang - as usual you speak with great confidence on subjects you know little about. . The exact definition of breaking and entering will vary state to state. In at least one state "breaking" can be as little as "pushing open a door kept closed by its own weight" Sparkman v State, 3 Md.App. 527, 240 A.2d 328, 331. In another "Even the opening of a closed and unlocked door or window is sufficient to constitute a breaking within the terms of statute, so long as it is done with burglarious intent" State v. Sanderson, Mo.App. 528 S.W.2d 527, 531.
posted by Carbolic at 2:33 PM on July 8, 2005


And just for good measure, here are a few from Michigan cases, expert.

The use of any force at all, including the opening of a partly opened door, is sufficient to constitute the element of breaking and entering with intent to commit larceny. People v Finney (1982) 113 Mich App 638, 318 NW2d 519.

To constitute a breaking, sufficient for a breaking and entering charge, the slightest force is all that is necessary. People v Kedo (1981) 108 Mich App 310, 310 NW2d 224.

Slightest force is all that is necessary to constitute breaking in prosecution for breaking and entering building. People v Clark (1979) 88 Mich App 88, 276 NW2d 527.

Force necessary to effect entry into building through any place of ingress, usual or unusual, whether open, partly open or closed, is sufficient to support conviction in breaking and entering prosecution where other elements of offense are present. People v Clark (1979) 88 Mich App 88, 276 NW2d 527.
posted by Carbolic at 2:46 PM on July 8, 2005


Great Carbolic... can you dig out some relevant case law for access to electronic networks? Is there anything that relates to machine / router / network protocols, as per Mr.Roboto et. al.'s line of argument ? (Not asking rhetorically... it looks like you have access to legal databases, and I am curious).
posted by bumpkin at 3:28 PM on July 8, 2005


being able to get online in a hotel parking lot or random little restaraunt in the middle of nebraska is great for storm chasers. some places have figured this out (not entirely because of storm chasers of course) and take advantage of the fact that people find that signal and then stop there, possibly eating or renting a room or whatever. i would hate to see people afraid to take advantage of wifi when there are so many that purposely let others use it as a way of attracting them. there needs to be some talk on the subject and get people to start putting up signs in front of their businesses advertising it or something, i guess.
posted by weretable and the undead chairs at 4:06 PM on July 8, 2005


I had a bit of a minor argument with Cory Doctorow about this back when Boing Boing had forums. His position was that any unsecured WiFi network was fair game for anyone to use. I countered that you couldn't know that they had left it unsecured intentionally. His response was, IIRC, basically that failing to secure the router was de facto giving others permission to use it, a position that I found ridiculous, as it is easy to take a wireless access point out of a box, plug it in, and turn it on without having any knowledge of wireless security issues. They don't test your networking skillz at Best Buy before letting you buy the $20 router, you see.

In such an environment, you simply can't assume that people with unsecured WiFi know that they are open to the public. Therefore, people who are willing to share their WiFi must make it clear in their SSID, and people who are looking to to leech some free wireless access must connect only to base stations that are obviously open to all comers judging by their SSID. You can't assume that the owner of a random wireless network will welcome you on their network. Using their network without permission would still rude even if it wasn't illegal, which apparently it was.
posted by kindall at 4:52 PM on July 8, 2005


bumpkin - I'm not at work at the moment so I don't have access to most of my legal research tools. I doubt that anything regarding stealing signals from the air has made it to court or at least not to the appellate level. I think the part of the big deal here is that would be a "case of first impression". The closest thing I can think of is picking up satellite TV signals without subscribing to the service or cable theft but that would be stealing from the provider rather than from the subscriber.

I was just reacting to Klangs belittling another poster for failing to agree with his incorrect statements regarding breaking and entering. I don't see how making use of a stray signal could be characterized as either breaking or entering especially if the culprit wasn't even on the subscriber's property. Not exactly the same but, it seems kinda like collecting water from the gutter in front of a lawn waterers house.
posted by Carbolic at 5:15 PM on July 8, 2005


MetaFilter: You're right...but you're being an asshole.

Whereas brownpau, in the very first comment in this thread, is being an asshole (sort of) without even the justification of being right. As I have said elsewhere: This is one of those issues that is catnip to the adolescent language-lover but which a sensible person grows out of. I too used to enjoy tormenting people with the "truth" about the phrase, but I eventually realized that, whatever its origins in philosophy and petitio principii, I had never seen or heard the phrase used "correctly" except by people making a point of doing so (cf. "hoi polloi"); in current English usage, "beg the question" means 'raise the question,' and that's that.
posted by languagehat at 5:24 PM on July 8, 2005


I applaud brownpau's assholiness in this situation. I had a professor in law school who used the term (in the appropriate manner) all the time and it took me forever to get a handle on exactly what she meant. Now that I've (semi) got it I believe that all should experience my suffering and learn to use the phrase correctly.
posted by Carbolic at 5:46 PM on July 8, 2005


One day a few years ago, I was working in the back yard. When a came around to my open garage, someone had my lawnmower halfway down the driveway! But I guess since I hadn't secured the lawnmower, I should have just let him take it, right?
posted by Doohickie at 6:44 PM on July 8, 2005


Lawnmower guy was on your property. Change the senario to you having left it in the street in front of your house.

I think the wi-fi stealer may have been commiting some sort of theft I'm just not sure that there are laws on the books that protect subscribers from wi-fi theft. Seems like the provider would be protected under the same laws that get cable thievers. Does the subscriber lose anything by the theft? If it slows down his service it seems like interference with the use and enjoyment of the service he is paying for but I think interference with "use and enjoyment" is a civil claim. If the wi-fi thiever is hacking in and using or accessing hard drive space on the subscribers machine seems like a sort of trespass.

I think the thiever/trespasser is doing a shitty thing I just can't see where he is breaking an criminal law in place to protect the subscriber. Looks like we may need to put a new law on the books.
posted by Carbolic at 7:07 PM on July 8, 2005


By the way "thiever" is not some sort of technical term used by lawyers. I had some sort of brain spasm and replace thief with thiever.
posted by Carbolic at 7:14 PM on July 8, 2005


I owe a bit of an apology, OK, a real apology, to those of you arguing for SUV guy. I hope he gets off, even if he was creepy. I think it is fine to horn in on the neighbor's WiFi, or better yet the neighbor of your host when traveling, or whomever when you are on the road and need a connection, assuming of course that you do not abuse their kindness, ignorant or lazy or benevolent, in leaving the access point open to you. On a legal basis you can make strong arguments either way as I stated in my early comments. However, some folks here arguing for the SUV guy made such pathetically weak arguments I could not help myself from attempting to point out those weaknesses. They seem to take as a given the right to free ride on any open WiFi without acknowledging the property rights aspects of the legal situation. I probably could have done a better job and for that I apologize. I also apologize for the effort itself. Sorry for playing the Devil's advocate. This is a gray area of the law and that is what makes it so interesting. If I had been the property owner I would have probably just changed my SSID to something like "Hey lic. plate numb. (insert SUV guy's tag number here) I just called the cops on you." and then turned on WEP or unplugged the cable modem. I still think the Roboto technical argument re: acknowledgement and response is more interesting than compelling. Kudos to him as he failed to make an ass out of himself arguing about it. As for hoping for some clarification in the law from the courts, how frightening. They will side with the owner, not the interloper, in almost every case. A bad case like this may have the effect of an unfair prosecution which leads to a statute which makes innocent or de minimus WiFi interloping non-criminal.
posted by caddis at 7:55 PM on July 8, 2005


caddis: I feel sorry that you felt the need to apologize, especially that apology.??? But I heartily accept your apology???? And I apologize for that.
posted by Carbolic at 9:43 PM on July 8, 2005


You cannot use, occupy, or borrow their property without consent.

coming from an Iraq Attaq tireless cheerleader, this is one teh week's funniest comments
posted by matteo at 5:02 PM on July 9, 2005


A followup - I found out which neighbor's access point I was using; he said "I was having trouble with it and had to have someone to come out and help me with it." I told him "Well I'm glad it was wide open, I used it for a few hours while my DSL was down, and changed the router name to ChangeYourAdminPassword" He laughed, and said he'd come to me for computer help from now on.

As a thank-you, I bought a gift card to a local hardware store and am giving it to him tomorrow.

I did some wardriving tonight. This is the result (note: GPS coordinates are wrong; it was having issues). This is a quarter-mile-sqare area of Houston (Westheimer/Gessner/Richmond area), and in thirty minutes, I found eighty-five access points. I'd say at least a third of them are wide open.
posted by mrbill at 1:50 AM on July 10, 2005


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