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WiFi Piggybacking Arrest - revisited.
June 22, 2006 7:01 AM   Subscribe

Another wifi-related arrest was publicized today. In the past, the only case readily available to researchers involved additional seedy activities that are what really drew the arrest. The coffeeshop and other open hotspots show up on several sites such as jiwire and wifinder which are devoted to helping people find wireless hotspots.

In this case, a coffeeshop noticed someone leeching their WiFi parked in his truck -- over the course of 3 months, without ever entering the coffeehouse and making a purchase. While not yet convicted of anything, he has been arrested for "theft of services," and this could mean the first precedent set for whether or not "wireless piggybacking" is illegal. The case becomes especially interesting for both sides of the ethical debate on "borrowing" wireless. One one side of the judge's opinion will be the fact that the coffeehouse is a public place, not a private home. On the other side, it turns out the man who was arrested just so happens to be a registered sex offender, though this coincidental fact is not technically relevant to the case.
posted by twiggy (259 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Without wanting to enter the debate it needs to pointed out that in cities such as NY, many restaurants have signs up saying No Use of Toilets unless you are a patron. And the restaurant is a public place.
posted by Postroad at 7:04 AM on June 22, 2006


What you didn't point out is that they asked him to stop, and he didn't. At that point, it became trespass, IMO.

Before asking him to stop, they'd have absolutely no case.
posted by Malor at 7:07 AM on June 22, 2006


Postroad: An interesting point indeed. Frequent readers of AskMe know where I stand on the debate as far as stealing residential WiFi, though I tried to be objective in my post.

It is a very interesting case to me in that I'm actually not sure how I feel about this one. A coffeeshop is a public place, and while I believe that the WiFi theivery was unethical, I'm not sure I feel it should be illegal because a coffeeshop knows that its wireless is open intentionally, and it's then their responsibility to take measures to close it off to non customers.

On the residential side of the debate, however, I think taking wireless from people who you're not sure are sharing intentionally is unethical and probably should be considered theft of service. Tech-ignorance shouldn't (in my opinion) be license to steal.

It will be interesting to see where this case goes, and it brings up a strange and even grayer side of the ethical debate with the coffeeshop being a public place. Can this be called "wireless tresspassing"? I think the WiFi cloud belongs to the owner of the router spreading that cloud, but do things change because the cloud spans out over public property?

The whole thing is sure to raise some eyebrows if the case is publicized once it goes to trial. I hope it is.
posted by twiggy at 7:11 AM on June 22, 2006


Malor: You're right, I didn't point that out, and it's an important fact. I guess I was relying on people reading the article to gather that because my post was getting lengthy as it is.
posted by twiggy at 7:11 AM on June 22, 2006


You know what I can't wait for? The analogies.
posted by GooseOnTheLoose at 7:13 AM on June 22, 2006


So, the crime committed was failure to buy a coffee, yes?
posted by mek at 7:16 AM on June 22, 2006


So, the crime committed was failure to buy a coffee, yes?

I can see your perspective, but no. It was a failure to stop using the wifi after being asked to. The coffeeshop basically said "you have no permission to use this", and he continued anyway.
posted by twiggy at 7:24 AM on June 22, 2006


It was a failure to stop using the wifi after being asked to.

The coffee shop had an open access point. If they didn't want people outside the coffee shop accessing it, then they should either lock it down or make sure the radio waves don't leave their store.

This isn't tresspass, and it isn't stealing. It's accessing something that is being given away for free, with no filtering.
posted by bshort at 7:33 AM on June 22, 2006


"The coffee shop had an open access point. If they didn't want people outside the coffee shop accessing it, then they should either lock it down or make sure the radio waves don't leave their store.

This isn't tresspass, and it isn't stealing. It's accessing something that is being given away for free, with no filtering."


Yeah, that's what people tried to say about satellite TV too.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:34 AM on June 22, 2006


This isn't tresspass, and it isn't stealing. It's accessing something that is being given away for free, with no filtering.

That was only true before they asked him to stop using it. At that point, it became trespass.

Suppose, instead of WiFi, we were talking about tables and chairs, which many coffeehouses have outside their front doors so that, when the weather's nice, their patrons can sit outside. If the man in question were sitting down at one of those tables every day, without buying anything from the coffeehouse, even after being asked to stop doing so, wouldn't that be trespassing?

I await responses explaining how WiFi is totally different from furniture and there's no way you can compare them. You know, even though they're both things that are being provided by a business for the free but exclusive use of their customers.
posted by cerebus19 at 7:39 AM on June 22, 2006


This case will be dropped. He stole nothing. They give it away. Wifi is indiscriminate broadcasting. If you fail to lock it down, it is free for everyone/anyone in broadcast range.
This guy should get a lawyer and countersue the police and the coffee house.
posted by a3matrix at 7:41 AM on June 22, 2006


This isn't tresspass, and it isn't stealing. It's accessing something that is being given away for free, with no filtering.

Exactly right bshort. An unencrypted WiFi broadcast is an invitation to anyone in range to log on. There are simple technological means to prevent this if it so desired.
posted by three blind mice at 7:44 AM on June 22, 2006


If he was asked to leave their private property, and asked to stop using the WiFi, I say he's stealing.

And I'm a pretty hardcore pro-open-wifi advocate. He knew he was no longer welcome. And it's fuckers like him that break and abuse the friendly sharing model. I shudder to think about what might be in his activity logs.

This is why I see more and more coffee shops doing Radius+MAC authentication with purchase, often with daily password changes.


It still opens up a very strange and interesting debate. Say I'm on my own private property and there's one or more WiFi signals passing through it? What right do these people have to broadcast into my space? What about broadcasting through my person while I'm in a public space?

Why would it not be in my rights to eavesdrop on, decrypt, or store those signals that pass through my private property?
posted by loquacious at 7:46 AM on June 22, 2006


a coffeeshop is a private place that's open to the public ... that's an important distinction here ... they can ban people from their property

but was he on their property? ... if he was parked in the parking lot, he was ... but it gets a lot trickier if he was parked in the street ... is an invisible signal area that spills over the street property? ... is it unauthorized access if they don't have any authentication to prevent unauthorized access? ... did they tell him he couldn't do it any more in the presence of a police officer? ... (in michigan, you can't charge someone with trespass in a store unless you've banned him in front of a cop and he comes back later)

this seems like a tricky case to me ...
posted by pyramid termite at 7:47 AM on June 22, 2006 [1 favorite]


From a legal perspective, these things are straight forward.

But every time this topic comes up, the discussion ends up getting cluttered by the pirate-fans who apparently believe that property rights are meaningless.
posted by dios at 7:48 AM on June 22, 2006


OK Goose: This is just like if a badger goes swimming in the pool below a beaver's dam. The beaver paid for that pool with his hard work building the dam, and the badger is taking advantage. The pool is public property, the beaver only really owns the dam.
posted by joecacti at 7:49 AM on June 22, 2006


loquacious has it. if you don't want me to use your wireless, don't beam it into my private apartment. you're the one who is trespassing, or rather polluting. if you leave it in my yard, i'm going to assume it is a gift, or trash i can use. it is easy to protect a wifi signal against casual intrusion. not doing so is negligent or intentional.

i liked this from the second link:

olice say Benjamin Smith III, 41, used his Acer brand laptop to hack into Dinon's wireless Internet network.

not only do we get the brand of the laptop, so we know what to look out for (guys with acers are so creepy), but we learn that leeching wifi is "hacking." dangerous confusion, that.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:52 AM on June 22, 2006


From a legal perspective, these things are straight forward.

you might want to cite the appropriate law in washington before you jump to conclusions ... one of the questions i have is whether the wi fi stream is legally considered property in that state ... if the lawmakers haven't addressed the question, i'm sure that you wouldn't want an "activist judge" defining the law for them
posted by pyramid termite at 7:56 AM on June 22, 2006


What right do these people have to broadcast into my space?

To refine this a little: I've been in crowded apartment buildings where there have been way too many WiFi nodes/networks - and most of them on channel 6 and 11. I've seen AP counts in the 100+ range a few times.

So many that it starts actually becoming a quality of service issue - because of the way WiFi works. Not only does the multitude of APs set to factory default SSIDs and channel settings interfere with each other and slow down throughput, but you also often get annoying AP-hopping phenomena where (the average user) doesn't even know what network they're on, or why their speeds suddenly drop to less than 1 mb, or a whole host of problems from quality of service to security.

I can see anti-WiFi wallpaper and window film becoming real popular in the not so distant future.

And hats. Shiny hats. Possibly made out of some kind of thin metallic aluminum foil. Cone-shaped, probably. Nah, too crazy.
posted by loquacious at 7:56 AM on June 22, 2006


I fail to see the analogy to physical things like furniture and bathrooms. Wouldn't a better analogy be people who live next to ball parks and drive-in movies? Those businesses have (correct me if I'm wrong) ZERO recourse against their neighbors "stealing" views of the games/movies. Their solution- build a wall.

Same deal here, IMO. The impetus is on the business to secure their "property".

Now, this case seems a bit complicated in that it's not clear whether they own the parking lot in question. If they do, they may have a case, but if not, I can't see how any court would uphold their claim.
posted by mkultra at 7:57 AM on June 22, 2006


Just to say, I Love Free Wifi is another cool wifi-finding website. You can actually send a text message to it, as well, to get nearby hotspots on your phone.

Check it out, it's pretty useful.

(And, yeah, it's a project that I work on -- but I guess it's relevent to the discussion at hand.)
posted by chasing at 7:57 AM on June 22, 2006


But every time this topic comes up, the discussion ends up getting cluttered by the pirate-fans who apparently believe that property rights are meaningless.

No, that's just how it looks to you. Knee-jerk conflations of physical property, intellectual property, and service rights ignore the very different physical realities of these social conventions.
posted by sonofsamiam at 7:57 AM on June 22, 2006


if you don't want me to use your wireless, don't beam it into my private apartment. you're the one who is trespassing, or rather polluting.

Two seconds of thinking about this will demonstrate that it's not true. What about radio? What about broadcast television? Can I sue the stations to prevent them from broadcasting their signals into my home? No. Now, the reasons why this is true may not be obvious, but it's a simple fact that our legal regime permits this kind of broadcasting, and prohibits unauthorized access.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 8:00 AM on June 22, 2006


The coffeeshop has the option of locking their wifi access and giving out passwords to customers. If they think they're going to win a battle this way, they're mistaken. The publicity from this case only alerts other people in the area to the fact that they don't restrict their wifi access.
posted by bingo at 8:02 AM on June 22, 2006


Twiggy, that news story is just like Christmas in June for you, isn't it?

On the analogy front: Last night I went for a bike ride with Wonderboy. It was a hot Missouri evening and we worked up a sweat. We were delighted to find that the automatic lawn sprinklers had come on in front of the bank. We willfully and knowingly did ride back and forth on the sidewalk to enjoy the cool spray from the sprinklers. On the third pass we went so far as to ride right down the bank lawn to enjoy even more spray.

1) Did Wonderboy and I steal the services of the local bank? 2) What are the legal rights and responsibilities of the local bank, the water company, and the manufacturers of the bicycles employed in this theft of services? 3) What are the additional liabilities incurred by the infamous "third pass" across the bank lawn? 4) If a beaver and a badger were on the lawn as well, how does the liability break down?

Discuss.
posted by LarryC at 8:12 AM on June 22, 2006


From a legal perspective, these things are straight forward.

Dios, I am not snarking or even arguing, but asking: Is there any case law you can cite to support that statement?
posted by LarryC at 8:15 AM on June 22, 2006


There would seem to be a much better case here to press trespassing rather than theft charges.
posted by clevershark at 8:15 AM on June 22, 2006


newspaper account ... it would appear that he was parked in their parking lot as he was doing this ... i'd say based on that, they probably have a case
posted by pyramid termite at 8:15 AM on June 22, 2006


Since I don't drink coffee, I've been "stealing service" from Starbucks nationwide by going to their restroom for years and years now.

I suspect my felony trial will begin soon.
posted by mathowie at 8:17 AM on June 22, 2006


What most people seem to be missing is that this guy was a bit of an ass. Where I live there are plenty of public places (parks, librarys, etc.) that offer free wifi, couldn't he just go though and use the services?
posted by drezdn at 8:18 AM on June 22, 2006


But every time this topic comes up, the discussion ends up getting cluttered by the pirate-fans who apparently believe that property rights are meaningless.
posted by dios at 9:48 AM CST on June 22


oh my god...

i.. agree.. with.. dios..

[heartfailure]
posted by twiggy at 8:18 AM on June 22, 2006


If someone asks you to stop using something they own, how can you rightfully say, "No! You stop letting me use it or else I can legally use it as I please! Pbbbbbth!"

If someone asks you stop picnicing on their lawn, can you say "build a fence to keep me out?" No. And for those of you who say that this analogy doesn't hold because the radio waves leave the coffeeshop, do you think you lose your property rights if your property leaves your home or your person. You don't (think about the stolen sidekick).

It seems like a simple concept: just because you can do something, that doesn't give you the right to do it.

Oh, and for anyone who says "keep your radio waves inside the premises", you are neglecting the fact that the laptop is sending radio waves back into the coffeeshop. But that's a moot point, because the right to use someone else's property after being denied permission has nothing to do with radio waves.
posted by adzuki at 8:19 AM on June 22, 2006


Two seconds of thinking about this will demonstrate that it's not true. What about radio? What about broadcast television? Can I sue the stations to prevent them from broadcasting their signals into my home? No. Now, the reasons why this is true may not be obvious, but it's a simple fact that our legal regime permits this kind of broadcasting, and prohibits unauthorized access.

What? I can't listen to radio or watch television that's broadcast into my home without authorization? First I've heard of it. I clearly have been stealing from WRWK, the Home of Classic Rawk.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:19 AM on June 22, 2006


And for those of you who say that this analogy doesn't hold because the radio waves leave the coffeeshop, do you think you lose your property rights if your property leaves your home or your person. You don't (think about the stolen sidekick).

If you leave your TV sitting out in the street, you can't complain if someone comes along and takes it.
posted by mkultra at 8:21 AM on June 22, 2006


Dios, I am not snarking or even arguing, but asking: Is there any case law you can cite to support that statement?
posted by LarryC at 10:15 AM CST on June 22


Property law has been fairly well established for several centuries now. New forms of property don't alter the underlying principles.

Theft is theft. Trespass is trespass.

Of course, I don't have any Washington caselaw, nor can I cite you to any relevant statute to cite to you; I can only tell you the analysis under typical property law. Thus, you can take that as a sign that my prior statement is baseless, if you so choose. On the other hand, most of the completely baseless speculation going on here isn't even informed by property principles--as is typical in these kind of discussions.
posted by dios at 8:22 AM on June 22, 2006


I'm with pyramid termite-- I think this might turn on whether the guy was on their private property and asked to leave.

The most apt analogy, to me, is sound waves coming from a concert. Well, maybe that's not right, because enjoying music doesn't impinge upon the music producers, while using bandwith could. And yes, it's easy to require a code, but the fact that it's easy to buy a lock for a bike doesn't mean that an unlocked bike in a public place is free for the taking. So, I am resolutely undecided on this.

I guess Gooseontheloose had it right-- it's all about the analogies.

dios, can you help me understand why this is clear-cut?
posted by ibmcginty at 8:23 AM on June 22, 2006


cerebus19 writes "If the man in question were sitting down at one of those tables every day, without buying anything from the coffeehouse, even after being asked to stop doing so, wouldn't that be trespassing?

"I await responses explaining how WiFi is
totally different from furniture and there's no way you can compare them. You know, even though they're both things that are being provided by a business for the free but exclusive use of their customers."

Most places you need a permit from the city to block a section of sidewalk for this purpose giving you authority over the space. This comes up every year here at stampede when business owners get pissed that they can't charge for seating on the sidewalk in front of their businesses or even stop people from standing there.

dios writes "the discussion ends up getting cluttered by the pirate-fans who apparently believe that property rights are meaningless."

Of course the trolls have to clutter it by somehow equating things you can kick with things you can't.
posted by Mitheral at 8:23 AM on June 22, 2006


I clearly have been stealing from WRWK, the Home of Classic Rawk.

You are authorized to pick up WRWK.

You are not authorized to descramble satellite TV, or to listen into other people's cell phone conversations, even though both of these things are easy to do.

If this seems silly, well, the FCC is pretty arbitrary.
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:24 AM on June 22, 2006


Well, shoulda previewed.

That said, "theft is theft, tresspass is tresspass" doesn't help me that much-- can you elaborate? Why is this theft? There was no intent to permanently deprive anybody of anything, was there? Does there need to be?
posted by ibmcginty at 8:25 AM on June 22, 2006


Yeah, that's what people tried to say about satellite TV too.
For what it's worth, free-to-air signals are legal for consumers to use without cost. The difference between most pay satellite channels and FTA is encryption. So your analogy is cuts both ways.
posted by sequential at 8:25 AM on June 22, 2006


The coffeeshop has the option of locking their wifi access and giving out passwords to customers. If they think they're going to win a battle this way, they're mistaken. The publicity from this case only alerts other people in the area to the fact that they don't restrict their wifi access.

What if they want to run a coffeeshop without hassling their customers with passwords?

Yeah, they have to accept that some people will use it without buying anything, and I think they do accept it. But if some guy parks a van and uses it as his main internet connection, and they figure it out, shouldn't he have to stop after they ask? I cannot believe that the answer to this problem is forcing your customers to use passwords, that the guy has a right to use it simply because it's open.

In any case, I don't think the shop is trying to stop all access. I think they're trying to stop abuse. If more people drop by to use the access, I bet they'll appreciate that because they may end up buying something.
posted by adzuki at 8:27 AM on June 22, 2006


I await responses explaining how WiFi is totally different from furniture and there's no way you can compare them. You know, even though they're both things that are being provided by a business for the free but exclusive use of their customers.

At the margin, it's much more likely that using the furniture provided by a business will exclude paying customers from using it.

Now, if you want to argue that those customers will never get back the ten seconds of their lives that they unnecessarily wasted because of the degraded bandwidth, I suggest you start filing civil suits, in an attempt to monetize and recover the time lost due to traffic accidents.
posted by Kwantsar at 8:28 AM on June 22, 2006


Does the company pay for the wifi services? Yes. Do they exclusive ownership of that wifi service by virtue of them paying for it? Yes. Do they have the right to permit people to use the service that they own? Yes. Do they have the right to not have people they have not intentionally authorized interfering with their personal property? Yes.

Does this guy know that the coffee shop owned the wifi service? Yes. Did he intentionally go and take for free something that he did not pay for? Yes. Did he intentionally interfere with the personal property of another? Yes.

This is theft; conversion. This is trespass to chattel.
posted by dios at 8:28 AM on June 22, 2006


shouldn't he have to stop after they ask?

Seems like this is the crux. This case does not involve someone who just happened to be using the wifi, he had been asked at least once to stop.

Without knowing all the details, I'd imagine the property owners would have been happy if, after being asked, he had just come in and bought a cuppa while using the internet.
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:30 AM on June 22, 2006


If you leave your TV sitting out in the street, you can't complain if someone comes along and takes it.

Mostly that's because you have no one to complain against. If your son leaves his bike in the street, the neighbor's boy doesn't get to take it and keep it.

If you leave your cellphone in a taxi, and someone takes it and starts using it and you figure out who it is, they have to give it back. The cellphone is considered stolen property.
posted by adzuki at 8:31 AM on June 22, 2006


To the "open signal = mine mine mine" crowd:

Who does the connection between the wireless router and the internet belong to? You're borrowing that, too.

To the "bad analogy, wifi != furniture" crowd:

You're also saying "you're tresspassing by broadcasting WiFi into my personal space!" -- you can't have it both ways. Wireless signal is either tangible or it's not (it's not, incidentally). You wanna sue satellite and radio companies for sending waves your way too? Incidentally, XM, Sirius, Dish and DirecTV are not free!

Want a more fair analogy?

You own a bike. Out of ignorance you leave the bike unlocked outside of a store you walk into. Does the fact that this bike is not locked mean it's OK for me to take it for a spin and bring it back? No - it's stealing, which is illegal.

I understand how badly the "open source" (which I support) / "open sharing" (which I like in concept) community really wants people to share their wifi. However, to say that "an open signal is an invitation for me to use it" is complete crap.

When 50 year old Bob buys his WiFi router at Best Buy and sets it up, he's not inviting his neighbors to use his Comcast internet connection - he's just ignorant to the concept of security, and it is open by default.

Further: Bob's TOS with Comcast says he can't share his connection with non residents of his home.



To LarryC: Your water analogy fails to address the concept of a two way street. Water, like wifi signal, is incidentally spraying over public property. However, to "get" the wifi signal, you must configure your network card to listen to that SSID, and you must also transmit packets back. However: Are you stealing someone else's water? YES, YOU ARE!. You're just stealing so little of it that it doesn't feel unethical.

Let's make your analogy more fair: What if you brought 5 gallon buckets and kept filling them up, taking a total of 100 gallons of water home? Just because it inadvertently sprays some onto the sidewalk, it's not stealing?
posted by twiggy at 8:31 AM on June 22, 2006


Say I'm on my own private property and there's one or more WiFi signals passing through it? What right do these people have to broadcast into my space? What about broadcasting through my person while I'm in a public space?

This is actually an answered question going back to early 20th century law. Farmers noticed their livestock was getting spooked by the first airplanes flying overhead, and they took an airline to court, asserting that their parcel of land that delineated their farm "extended vertically up to the heavens".

Thankfully, forward thinking judges realized that air travel would be impossible if you had to ask every property owner that you flew over if you could fly over or not, and the greater good won out.
posted by mathowie at 8:32 AM on June 22, 2006


Monju, what about radio and TV? If they send an unencrypted broadcast into space, I am within my rights to listen or watch freely, am I not? That's the price of sending those waves into my home. It is not necessary to analogize service with physical property to make this case. Your signal is in my home. Either remove it or I will use it if I want to.

If the signal is encrypted and that encryption is hacked, it's a different story. I'm not saying it's the actual physical presence of the waves per se, but the physical presence of an OPEN signal. My laptop connects to the first strong open signal it finds. Why should it be my responsibility to go through and check which ones are mine and which are not? It's the broadcaster's responsibility to protect it.

The drive-in movie analogy is nice. Or the ballpark. You want to arrest anyone who passes by on the highway and dares to watch the screen or the game while stopped at a red light?

I am a strong believer in the sanctity of intellectual property rights for creative work. I'm not a pirate. I see this as a very different situation. You leave your hose running on my property, I won't bother watering my grass. And if my property floods, I'm going to sue you.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:32 AM on June 22, 2006


If you leave your TV sitting out in the street, you can't complain if someone comes along and takes it.

This statement is true in the sense that "you who left your TV out on the street and expected it to be there tomorrow are a dumbass".

This statement is false from both a legal and ethical standpoint.

When you show up and see a TV in the street, the TV is not legally yours to take. Maybe it fell off a truck, maybe it was left there temporarily by someone who was carrying it and got tired and was in pain (outlandish? maybe, but possible).

The person who takes the TV is, in fact, a theif.

The person who left it on the street expecting it to still be there may be a dumbass, but that doesn't mean the TV wasn't stolen.
posted by twiggy at 8:35 AM on June 22, 2006


I don't even see that it's a question of radio waves. If he was doing anything useful, then he was using the decidedly non-wireless parts of their network too.

The laws for radio interference are old and straightforward: for open frequencies, you have to accept whatever interference you receive (you don't have a right to freedom of interference), and you can't interfere (you don't have a right to generate interference). You're free to intercept a radio broadcast even if the radio station doesn't want you to, but you're not free to block baby monitors.

But the problem here isn't that he was receiving or transmitting, it was that he was using their uplink to the Internet after being asked to stop. I doubt he'll go to jail or get fined, but I also doubt he'll be told he's free to go back and continue using their Internet connection either.
posted by mendel at 8:36 AM on June 22, 2006


Thanks for that, mathowie. Yes, we distinguish air and mineral rights from land rights. And as I recall, the airwaves over which radio signals are broadcast are considered public property. But a radio wave occupies three dimensions. Jesus, there are wifi signals in BED with me. I'm not even supposed to kiss them good morning?

The people who care about this are the ISP and bandwidth providers. If they want to monetize their rented airspace, and make their customers comply with their restrictions, it's their problem to figure out how to do that. My neighbor who leaves her/his wifi signal open may well be stealing her/his ISP's bandwidth. But I'm not. I'm using what someone is beaming into my apartment.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:36 AM on June 22, 2006


dios - has washington state defined access to wi-fi property? ... the state first has to define what property is, before one can be charged with stealing it

for all we know, the "service" the man is being charged with stealing is parking in the parking lot ... i think that based on the man's location, they have a fairly good case

if he'd been parked out in the street, this would be a much trickier thing

unlike you, i actually bothered to look for some additional information to contribute to this discussion ... do you think you could do the same without just making vacuous ex cathedra pronouncements?
posted by pyramid termite at 8:37 AM on June 22, 2006


Like I was saying before, dios, I'm not convinced it's a criminal theft-- the intent to permanently deprive the rightful owner is not immediately clear.

You are much more convincing on the tort of trespass to chattels.
posted by ibmcginty at 8:38 AM on June 22, 2006


So upon reflecting on this case, the guy was asked to leave the property and he did, and he was asked to then leave the parking lot and stop using the wifi and he didn't. If they own the parking lot he was sitting in, I think normal trespass law will apply and the wifi won't even have to be factored in.

If he was say, on a public sidewalk far enough away that it was clearly off their property but he could still get their wifi signal, I would say there isn't any law on the books (yet) that could be used against him, and this is why we are seeing all the FM/TV analogies thrown out.

Was he being an asshole? Clearly. Is it against the law? Not yet. Is he the worst type of user you could have of your wifi? Yeah, pretty much.

I don't want to defend the guy because he was asked to leave. Personally, if I was the shop owner at that point I would close down my open wifi and find an easy way for customers only to access it (sort of like how the gas station has a key to the restroom only customers get). But I sincerely hope open wifi case law isn't written because of this douchebag that was being a nuisance.
posted by mathowie at 8:38 AM on June 22, 2006


It must be remembered that open wifi hotspots ACTIVELY send out a beacon alerting any compatible machine of their presence and sending out the specific information necessary to establish connectivity. The router reaches outside physical property bounds on it's own. It does not need to be coaxed.

find an easy way for customers only to access it

For instance, just write the day's password up on a chalkboard inside.
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:40 AM on June 22, 2006


I wasted my time and found out the statutes he violated. Under the Revised Code of Washington, this guy could be guilty of violating the following statutes: 9A.52.110; 9A.52.120; and something under 9A.56.
posted by dios at 8:41 AM on June 22, 2006


And obviously, I am not referring to a case where someone a) is on the physical property of the wifi network owner and b) has been asked politely not to use the service (though actually, I don't see what that has to do with anything).

You need to place a no trespassing notice on your physical property. Perhaps cafes and such need to post "no wifi leeching" signs prominently within, say, a 300 foot radius of their facility, or add it to the name of their networks.

But really, if you don't want to share, don't make your signal public. How complicated is that? If you make your signal public, then limit its range to your business. Or issue a daily password to your customers. Or notify people that their MAC addresses are logged and that their traffic is subject to inspection -- most people would refrain from using public wifi anyway if they knew the risks THEY took by doing so. Few seem to be aware of this.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:41 AM on June 22, 2006


And for those without Westlaw access, you can see the Revised Code of Washington here.
posted by dios at 8:43 AM on June 22, 2006


Few seem to be aware of this.

LOL. Ohh man, is wifi insecure. So much fun.
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:44 AM on June 22, 2006


dios-- There's no way he violated RCW 9A.52.110, Computer trespass in the first degree. That's about "access to a computer system or electronic data base of another," and requires that "the access is made with the intent to commit another crime; or The violation involves a computer or data base maintained by a government agency."
posted by ibmcginty at 8:45 AM on June 22, 2006


every time this topic comes up, the discussion ends up getting cluttered by the pirate-fans who apparently believe that property rights are meaningless.

Yeah, I meant to add an up yours to that comment too. Don't condescend to me. Come on my property against my will and I have no problem having you arrested. Use my open wifi, however, and it's my fault. It's an attractive nuisance.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:45 AM on June 22, 2006


ibmcginty: as I said, he *could* be guilty of that. I don't know what he was doing with the wifi. It is possible he was violating some other law while surfing (underage porn? downloading music? violating his parole?) that could raise it to the first degree. I don't know the facts to know if there is any evidence of that, or whether Washington permits prosecution with lesser, included offenses. However, since you argued that one, should I suppose you concede, then, that he could be guilty of the second degree which doesn't have that requirement?
posted by dios at 8:48 AM on June 22, 2006


120 is also about "access to a computer system or electronic data base." Does using wireless amount to access to a computer system? It seems to me that this statute is about accessing others' data, not using wireless, but I might be wrong.
posted by ibmcginty at 8:48 AM on June 22, 2006


I wasted my time and found out the statutes he violated. Under the Revised Code of Washington, this guy could be guilty of violating the following statutes: 9A.52.110; 9A.52.120; and something under 9A.56.

I wasted my time and read the statutes.

9A.52.110 - Not even close. Access wasn't made with intent to commit another crime. Violation doesn't involve computer/database maintained by a government agency.

9A.52.120 - Only if his lawyer is terrible. You'd be hard pressed to get reasonable people to consider it trespass if unmodified consumer PCs can "trespass" without even clicking anything.

Something under 9A.56 - I'm guessing that he's not guilty of Theft of livestock, extortion, or anything else there. Unless, of course, his lawyer is awful.

Dios just likes to argue. He knows this is not a clear-cut violation. Ignore his pointless blathering.
posted by I Love Tacos at 8:50 AM on June 22, 2006


ibmcginty: read the definition section. It's usually the first section in a chapter. It defines the necessary terms.
posted by dios at 8:51 AM on June 22, 2006


ibmcginty: as I said, he *could* be guilty of that.

dios: by the logic you just used to defend your previous post, you could be guilty of terrorism, child molestation and statutory rape.
posted by I Love Tacos at 8:52 AM on June 22, 2006


dios-- interestingly, 9A.56.020, Theft, doesn't require that the deprivation be permanent. So I take it back-- you are probably right that he could be guilty of theft.

The statute: "To wrongfully obtain or exert unauthorized control over the property or services of another or the value thereof, with intent to deprive him or her of such property or services."

Does use of bandwidth deprive the rightful owner of his property? I think it does.
posted by ibmcginty at 8:53 AM on June 22, 2006


Of course, if penalties were at all proportional to damages...
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:54 AM on June 22, 2006


Even if there's a crime that can stick, the whole thing is an enormous waste of taxpayer dollars.
posted by I Love Tacos at 8:56 AM on June 22, 2006


fourcheesemac, I agree that the analogy to an open radio or television signal does not bolster the case that access to an open wireless network is theft or trespass. I was only responding to the claim that merely broadcasting the signal, open or closed, without permission of the owner of the physical property though which the signal passes is trespass. That is clearly not the case.

I don't have strong feelings one way or the other about the legality of accessing an unsecured wireless network, mostly because cases haven't been tried yet. I'm comfortable agreeing, however, that standard property law principles suggest that accessing an unsecured network is probably actionable as theft or trespass. The common law is built by analogy, and how we frame the issue is largely going to determine the legality of access. As I see it, there are two potential analogies that could describe accessing a wireless signal broadcast from a coffee shop: (1) listening to an open radio signal, or (2) sitting at a table in the coffee shop.

The radio analogy is tempting, if only because the technology seems so similar. I think, though, that upon examination the analogy breaks down. The radio signal is merely a broadcast, and does not require access to any network to utilize; any suitable receiver can pick it up. A wireless network, however, isn't the same. A user of the network isn't merely passively receiving the signal, the user is actively accessing the network and sending packets of data back through the coffee shop's system. This might not seem like a big deal, but these are the same principles that allow an email provider like AOL to sue spammers for trespass and theft of computer resources.

I think the wireless network is more like a table in the coffee shop. The door is open and the tables aren't cordoned off, but nonetheless, non-customers aren't permitted to simply loiter at the tables without buying anything. Likewise, the wireless network is provided for the benefit of customers, not the general public, and the presence or absence of security doesn't change that fact. The coffee shop's case is only strengthened by the fact that they requested that this guy stop access, but I don't think the case necessarily turns on that fact.

Keep in mind that this analysis is only under general common law principles, and not Washington criminal law. dios points out a few sections that might apply, and I think 9A.52.120 might be a reasonable fit: "To wrongfully obtain or exert unauthorized control over the property or services of another or the value thereof, with intent to deprive him or her of such property or services." Unauthorized access is unauthorized, whether security measures are in place or not. I doubt there are any cases that have interpreted any of those statutes in this context, though.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:00 AM on June 22, 2006


The television analogy is bad. The issue is not that you have left your television out in the street and somebody has stolen it. The issue is that you have left your television out in the street, turned on, and somebody is watching it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:01 AM on June 22, 2006


If you leave your TV sitting out in the street, you can't complain if someone comes along and takes watches it.

(Fixed your analogy)
posted by bashos_frog at 9:01 AM on June 22, 2006


damn you to hell, astro zombie. ;-)
posted by bashos_frog at 9:01 AM on June 22, 2006


Question:

If you know that:

1) by "borrowing" my wifi, you are implicitly making me break my terms of service with my ISP

and/or

2) by "borrowing" my wifi, you are using not only my "open" LAN, but also my WAN, which is wired, which is paid for, and which is not yours

How is this not stealing unless you have my explicit consent?


I totally understand and respect the "you're a dumbass for leaving it open" argument, and think people should take more ownership over their technology. However, I still don't see how someone's ignorance of technology gives you license to use their resources that they pay for without their permission.
posted by twiggy at 9:02 AM on June 22, 2006


dios-- you will find that the definition section does not always define every noun in the chapter. In this instance, "computer system" is not defined-- not too surprising given that the term is only used in a few recently added statutes.

In such a case, we turn to case law to see how courts have interpreted the term. I'm not up to doing it myself right now, but that is what the attorneys in this case will do.
posted by ibmcginty at 9:02 AM on June 22, 2006


But really, if you don't want to share, don't make your signal public. How complicated is that?

It might not be complicated, but what if it's not what the business wants to do? A public signal is easiest for the customers to use, and the employees don't have to deal with password questions or chalkboards. Why should they have to make it more difficult for their customers? There is a reasonable alternative -- people who are asked to stop leeching the wi-fi must stop.
posted by adzuki at 9:03 AM on June 22, 2006


Theft is theft. Trespass is trespass.

Tautology is tautology. Satellite TV signals are encrypted. Although it is easy to break the encryption, doing so demonstrates an intention to steal.

It is common sense that the burden to protect the signal minimally lies with the broadcaster (and the ISP). This comes up often, but it's worth recalling that a computer "asks" a wifi router for permission to join a network. Just say no if you want to.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:03 AM on June 22, 2006


I'd like to hear a response to my ballpark/drive-in analogy...
posted by mkultra at 9:04 AM on June 22, 2006


by "borrowing" my wifi, you are implicitly making me break my terms of service with my ISP

WTF?

Does this mean that by drowning in your pool I am implicitly making you commit negligent homicide?

Or does it mean that you should've (been legally required to) put a fence up?
posted by bashos_frog at 9:04 AM on June 22, 2006


First, he was asked to cease and desist - he didn't. He's guilty.

IMHO, wifi glomming is unethical, but should not be illegal (attractive nuisance, etc.).

But more insidiously, we can now expect laws making wifi glomming illegal solely because he was a registered sex offender. "Oh noes, won't somebody think of the children!".
posted by DesbaratsDays at 9:05 AM on June 22, 2006


a computer "asks" a wifi router for permission to join a network.

No, first the router asks the computer if it would like to join. Then the computer responds affirmatively to this request with a request of it's own, to acquire an address. The router obliges, since it was the one to offer in the first place.
posted by sonofsamiam at 9:07 AM on June 22, 2006


WiFi is designed to default to an open state - failover between open APs is built into the protocol.

I think it's fair to say that if you have a protocol that's designed to be open, and you run across an open AP running that protocol, "the owner is happy to let me use it" is a fair assumption.

However, if you've been asked to stop... then stop.
posted by Leon at 9:09 AM on June 22, 2006


Yes, exactly.
posted by sonofsamiam at 9:09 AM on June 22, 2006


It is common sense that the burden to protect the signal minimally lies with the broadcaster (and the ISP). This comes up often, but it's worth recalling that a computer "asks" a wifi router for permission to join a network. Just say no if you want to.

Are you saying that the owner of the router's explicit denial of permission is trumped by the wi-fi router that says "yes" to every request?

This is the difference between access and authorization. The wifi router grants access, but the access is unauthorized. Just because a computer grants access doesn't make the acccess authorized -- or else all hacking is legal because the computer system let the intruder in.
posted by adzuki at 9:10 AM on June 22, 2006


I think it's fair to say that if you have a protocol that's designed to be open, and you run across an open AP running that protocol, "the owner is happy to let me use it" is a fair assumption.

I would agree with this if you had to open it up manually.

However, most people are not you! Most people know nothing about technology, and if they plug it in and it works right out of the box, they just go "whoa! I am technical wizard man! it works!" They have no idea it's open to the public -- it doesn't occur to them -- so they are not "happy to let you use it" -- they're just ignorant.

Ignorance is not license to steal someone's resources.
posted by twiggy at 9:17 AM on June 22, 2006


WTF?

Does this mean that by drowning in your pool I am implicitly making you commit negligent homicide?

Or does it mean that you should've (been legally required to) put a fence up?


This analogy amounts to the chewbacca defense - it makes no sense or parallel whatsoever. Besides, by drowning yourself in my pool, you were clearly trespassing on my property. By not putting a fence up, I haven't invited you to use my pool, it's still mine.


My remark on ISP Terms of Service is fact, and not some completely far fetched analogy:

It is against almost all ISPs' terms of service for the end-user to share his/her connection with anyone who does not live at the billing address.

You are therefore willfully causing that person to break their TOS by using their WiFi, regardless of the ethics or your opinion on whether or not they "meant" for you to be able to borrow it.
posted by twiggy at 9:22 AM on June 22, 2006


twiggy: So the presumption is to be that the property owner did not intend for the access point to be open?

Then why is the default option on all laptops to automatically connect?
posted by sonofsamiam at 9:24 AM on June 22, 2006


How is this not stealing unless you have my explicit consent?

twiggy, you are conflating issues with your personal home network and a coffee shop in a public place, so 1) it wasn't violating any terms of service and 2) Coffee shops don't normally run sophisticated wired networks. It's just a DSL line connected to a wifi point.

Ignorance is not license to steal someone's resources.

Twiggy, I wouldn't use the term "stealing" here, as the previous 80 comments have been debating whether or not it is true.
posted by mathowie at 9:24 AM on June 22, 2006


from 9A.56.020 -

(2) In any prosecution for theft, it shall be a sufficient defense that:

(a) The property or service was appropriated openly and avowedly under a claim of title made in good faith, even though the claim be untenable;


i think one could argue that the initial access(es) to the wi fi network are covered by this ... however, once he was asked to stop, his claim is no longer in good faith, and then he can be charged

it's a lot easier to settle these arguments with some facts, which is why i asked for them

(i'm leaving aside the question of whether was was stolen had nominal value ... they were giving it away, after all)
posted by pyramid termite at 9:25 AM on June 22, 2006


twiggy: That's a fair point. But if you use the law to gut the utility of the protocol like that, how do I as an end-user tell the difference between "open AP" and "neophyte AP admin"?

Going that route leaves everyone poorer, IMO.
posted by Leon at 9:26 AM on June 22, 2006


Then why is the default option on all laptops to automatically connect?

Because engineers aren't lawyers.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:26 AM on June 22, 2006


Thank god.
posted by sonofsamiam at 9:28 AM on June 22, 2006


Because engineers aren't lawyers.

I hope to god the judge in this case is technically savvy and forward thinking enough not to impose new open wifi = stealing laws. It sucks when new laws result in changes to technology.

Engineers aren't lawyers and that's a good thing because we've stumbled upon all sorts of amazing things that weren't defined by law but engineers came up with an interesting use and didn't have to ask anyone if it was legal to do it first. See also: wikis, the world wide web, usenet, instant messaging, etc.
posted by mathowie at 9:31 AM on June 22, 2006


When the question comes up that unlocked networks are invitations to use it, people argue that the network may be unlocked b/c of ignorance. But what if the user connecting is connecting b/c of their own ignorance of how to properly connect to a wireless network?

Many laptops will connect to what ever open wireless has the strongest signal (the user doesn't have to do anything). So in this case, why should the owner of the laptop have the responsibility to verify he's connected to a network he has permission to, but not the responsibility of the network's owner to ensure non-permissioned users can not connect?

Question for those who feel a person has the right to connect to an unlocked network: What rights does the owner of the network have? Can they monitor your web surfing? Can they connect a monitor inside the coffee shop to display what pages you are surfing? What about provide transcripts of any unsecured http requests you send (including username/passwords)?
posted by Crash at 9:35 AM on June 22, 2006


sonofsamiam: twiggy: So the presumption is to be that the property owner did not intend for the access point to be open?

Then why is the default option on all laptops to automatically connect?


The default option is that because the programmers / engineers concern was not ethics, but ease of use.


mathowie: twiggy, you are conflating issues with your personal home network and a coffee shop in a public place, so 1) it wasn't violating any terms of service and 2) Coffee shops don't normally run sophisticated wired networks. It's just a DSL line connected to a wifi point.

You're right, I'm conflating the two for a reason: If you read the article, it's explicitly stated that they asked the person to stop using the Wifi and he didn't stop. The parallel here is that the person doesn't have permission from the connection's owner to use the network. In this case, it's even stronger than the "stranger's home network" case, because he was explicitly told there was no permission.
posted by twiggy at 9:38 AM on June 22, 2006


When I stop and think about it, it's amazing how much of what goes on in the tech business is technically illegal, although not always necessarilly damage-causing. I guess it is not that different from other business, but it's the only business I know much about.

Setting aside all the more obvious shady service reselling and software piracy that goes on, I don't know how many times I've violated software patents and the DMCA just to do simple things that needed to be done.

Can they monitor your web surfing? Can they connect a monitor inside the coffee shop to display what pages you are surfing? What about provide transcripts of any unsecured http requests you send (including username/passwords)?

Yes. They own the network. Unless they have a policy posted stating otherwise, you can assume that they watch what you do.

Aside from that, any wifi traffic is easily interceptable by other patrons.
posted by sonofsamiam at 9:40 AM on June 22, 2006


Can they monitor your web surfing?

Sure!

Can they connect a monitor inside the coffee shop to display what pages you are surfing?

Yep. They can even include a "Porn Alert" that pops up whenever I hit some adult entertainment.

What about provide transcripts of any unsecured http requests you send (including username/passwords)?

That seems unreasonably dickish. I'd say this one should be legal, but anybody who does it should be kicked in the nuts.
posted by I Love Tacos at 9:40 AM on June 22, 2006


I hope to god the judge in this case is technically savvy and forward thinking enough not to impose new open wifi = stealing laws.

The judge wouldn't be making new law. As I said above, property law has been fairly well settled for centuries. That there is a new form of property doesn't change the underlying principles. The only question is applying the principles to the new form of property. I wouldn't call that "making new law."

For instance, the Washington Code added things to be explicit about the application of the laws to computers. However, they didn't really need to do so. The old laws covered it fine. The new provisions merely state that "yes, these old laws apply to computers too." The underlying law of theft or trespass hasn't changed.

This is why property law can be centuries old. The principles exist. New circumstances arise where a new form of property exists, but that doesn't make the principles change. It is just a matter of applying the old principles to the new facts.

But a general underlying rule could be constructed: if Person A has something of value, typically Person B cannot knowingly take, diminish, borrow or use that thing of value in conflict with Person A's property interest in that thing.
posted by dios at 9:41 AM on June 22, 2006


When the question comes up that unlocked networks are invitations to use it, people argue that the network may be unlocked b/c of ignorance. But what if the user connecting is connecting b/c of their own ignorance of how to properly connect to a wireless network?

Your question sounds totally compelling at first -- but here's why it doesn't break down the "ignorance" argument:

There's a difference between leaving your network open out of ignorance, and using someone else's network out of ignorance. The difference is that while leaving it open makes it easier for me to have my TOS broken by other people using it, I haven't broken my TOS by explicitly saying to someone who doesn't live at my billing address "go ahead and use it!" A lot of people in this thread would argue I've "implicitly" said that, but that's beside the point.

On the flip side of that coin, ignorantly using my network is the actual cause of my TOS being broken. It's the actual access that breaks my terms of service because you do not live at the billing address.

Does it change the ethical debate? Perhaps a little, but one could argue that just because you don't know the laws of a country you're visiting doesn't mean you're not responsible for breaking them.

What it doesn't change is the factual statement that whether or not you knew it, your access, and not my making it easy for you to get that access, is what caused my TOS to be broken.

Does the ignorant open network owner share some responsibility in terms of "negligence"? Maybe, that one I'll grant you is debateable and it could be argued that he/she does share that responsibility. However, there's no question whatsoever that it is the ignorant laptop user accessing the network that was the true cause of the breach of TOS.
posted by twiggy at 9:43 AM on June 22, 2006


I wouldn't call that "making new law."

Nevertheless, it is. Gross analogies to physical property do nothing to clear up the matter.

If the principles are really the crucial issue, the principles from which property values extend, our innate natural faculties, would most naturally apply in the case of wifi in this sense: whatever signal on whatever frequency is on my property or public property is mine to do with as I wish.

If I am autonomous within my sphere of influence, and you actively beam something into that sphere, you cannot complain if I monitor that signal, for instance.
posted by sonofsamiam at 9:46 AM on June 22, 2006


dios: I know you're a lawyer so it's going to be tough for you to stop being a pedantic fuckwit, but do me a favor and try.

Do you really think that we should spend thousands upon thousands of taxpayer dollars to try somebody for using an extremely small amount of bandwidth?

The value of that bandwidth can be reliably established as near-zero, given that you get it free with a cup of coffee, so it's less than the margin on cup of joe.
posted by I Love Tacos at 9:48 AM on June 22, 2006


Why shouldn't wireless access be treated like any other computer networking protocol? Computer trespassing laws hinge on permission to access a computing resource; this permission usually isn't explicitly negotiated by the owner of the host computer or network and the owner of the client, though. It's negotiated automatically according to the protocol (http, smtp, etc.).

This case is unambiguous, though. The guy was told he didn't have permission, so he was violating hacking laws. He was probably stealing, too, since he was using a service without permission.

I think networks need to be allowed to give access permission automatically, though. Otherwise, computer networking breaks down completely.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:52 AM on June 22, 2006


twiggy writes "Further: Bob's TOS with Comcast says he can't share his connection with non residents of his home."

Or Bob could be running a T1 into his basement to support his amateur porn business. How am I supposed to know either way?

twiggy writes "It is against almost all ISPs' terms of service for the end-user to share his/her connection with anyone who does not live at the billing address."

Maybe in over sold retail agreements, B2B stuff is much different. Besides are you telling me that you've never checked your email or surfed the web at a friend house with an always on connection?
posted by Mitheral at 9:53 AM on June 22, 2006


Otherwise, computer networking breaks down completely.

Exactly. And the default assumption of the law needs to be that, unless otherwise indicated, access is public.

This is just how the internet works, folks. Attempts to apply standard ownership standards to this gigantic, largely unregulable system of relays and bit-copiers are going to be inconsistent.
posted by sonofsamiam at 9:55 AM on June 22, 2006


If there were any security in place at all, there might be some ambiguity. As it is, a completely open network has to be fair game. If they wanted him off, all they had to do was block his MAC... it's not quantum physics.
posted by teleskiving at 9:55 AM on June 22, 2006


I Love Tacos: as much of an asshole as you are to me, you really should avoid asking me to be gracious to you.

But I'll make an effort: all law should be enforced. The only function of the state is to enforce the will of the populace. The law is the will of the populace make explicit. Therefore, the primary function of the state is to enforce the laws, irrespective of the costs. If the people think it is not valuable to prosecute wifi users, then they can have their representatives de-criminalize it.

The "it costs too much to enforce" argument is the weakest yet. And this goes back to my original comment in the thread: this discussion is always devoured by those who want their pirate-views to be permitted. There are people who want to be able to get stuff for free. There are people who want to devalue property so that they won't have to pay for it. Since that is what they want, they will argue this point to the exclusion of sense, because they want to be able to use someone else's wifi for free if they can find it. This isn't about policy or what the law is. It's about justifying personal desire.
posted by dios at 9:56 AM on June 22, 2006


This is a good thread. Lots of good arguments for and against.

Once an unencrypted signal leaves an access point, who in fact owns it? It is out there for anyone to use isn't it?

Is an open, unencrypted access point signal someones property once it leaves said access point?

For me it is hard to imagine this guy getting charged with stealing an open signal. Maybe loitering or tresspassing if he did indeed fail to leave their parking lot.

Being a registered sex offender can't be helping this guy at all either.
Did they go through his laptop yet? Whoever gets to do that I am sure is in for a real treat.



Does the city of Spokane WA still have that wifi MAN going? Off topic, just curious.
posted by a3matrix at 9:56 AM on June 22, 2006


This is why we can't have nice things.
posted by anthill at 9:56 AM on June 22, 2006


Do you really think that we should spend thousands upon thousands of taxpayer dollars to try somebody for using an extremely small amount of bandwidth?

that would depend on whether they're just trying to protect a minor piece of property or persecute a "pervert sex-offender"

put it this way ... i know for a fact that in certain areas the police won't bother with someone who shoplifts a candy bar or grabs a cup of coffee from a convenience store without paying for it ... they'll just tell them to leave and not come back

however, if they suspect him of something else ... especially if he's got a record ... then they just might make a point of searching or even arresting him to see what else they can come up with
posted by pyramid termite at 9:58 AM on June 22, 2006


...whatever signal on whatever frequency is on my property or public property is mine to do with as I wish.

I'll repeat my point from above: a wireless network is not a mere radio or television signal. Accessing the network requires interaction with the network, unlike picking up a radio broadcast. You might be able to make a case for the right to monitor, but the right to access is altogether different.

The value of that bandwidth can be reliably established as near-zero, given that you get it free with a cup of coffee, so it's less than the margin on cup of joe.

No, the marginal cost to the coffee shop of the unauthorized access is near zero, but the value of the service to the coffee shop is that it attracts customers. One can only assume that because the coffee shop provides the service, it doesn't think that the value is near zero.

Therefore, the primary function of the state is to enforce the laws, irrespective of the costs. ... The "it costs too much to enforce" argument is the weakest yet.

What? No. Ever heard of the least-cost-avoidance principle?
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:58 AM on June 22, 2006


How is this not stealing unless you have my explicit consent?

Because you have not been deprived of anything.

New analogy: Using someone's unsecured wireless is like enjoying the shade one of their trees casts over the sidewalk.
posted by LarryC at 10:00 AM on June 22, 2006


You know, if they figured out the guy's MAC address, he could be simply banned from using the network forever. When someone joins mefi and posts a pic of goatse, I don't look up obscure computer trespass crime laws, I just ban the user.
posted by mathowie at 10:00 AM on June 22, 2006 [1 favorite]


The only function of the state is to enforce the will of the populace.

wrong ... the function of the state is to enforce the will of the republic as established and influenced by the elected representatives of the public ... even if such representatives be corrupt or unresponsive to the will or the natural rights of the people
posted by pyramid termite at 10:03 AM on June 22, 2006


Or Bob could be running a T1 into his basement to support his amateur porn business. How am I supposed to know either way?

Not knowing either way is not license for you to make assumptions!! How many times does this have to be reiterated?

Who cares what the purpose of the bandwidth is for? It is not yours, period.

How the hell do we go from "well, it could possibly be meant to be shared" to "that means it's OK to use!"

Just because it's possible it's being shared intentionally doesn't mean it is.


Also, as monju says: Quit talking about the wireless waves as the only thing here - they're just one component of the whole network, which is again, not yours.
posted by twiggy at 10:03 AM on June 22, 2006


monju_bosatsu: I'd be all for getting involved in a discussion of Coase and Law and Economics arguments. However, those are policy arguments. The fundamental, basic function of government is to prove for the life, liberty and property of the populace which it does through the enforcement of laws. The least-cost-avoidance principle is a criterion whereby you can judge the wisdom of a particular law or policy; one can argue that it inefficient for the government to pursue policy X or to enforce law Y. But without regards to efficiencies, the government's job is, at its base, to enforce the laws. They may need to do so in a particular manner. As a philosophical rule, which is theoretical and therefore not concerned with costs, the government function is to enforce laws.
posted by dios at 10:05 AM on June 22, 2006


How is this not stealing unless you have my explicit consent?
Because you have not been deprived of anything.

New analogy: Using someone's unsecured wireless is like enjoying the shade one of their trees casts over the sidewalk.


Lack of deprivation of anything doesn't mean squat. If you take my bicycle that I've left on the sidewalk in front of my house for a ride, and bring it back before I return -- have you damaged me? Maybe not. But have you stolen my bike, if only for a short while? Yes.

The shade of a tree is nothing at all like wireless internet. As with about 800 other analogies, there's no interaction like there is with a network.
posted by twiggy at 10:06 AM on June 22, 2006


...whatever signal on whatever frequency is on my property or public property is mine to do with as I wish.

OK, then whatever wallet is dropped on my property is mine to do with as I wish.
posted by twiggy at 10:07 AM on June 22, 2006


NEWER analogy: Using an unsecured wireless network is like accepting Christ as your personal saviour without having purchased a Bible. Plenty of interaction there! Discuss, you heathens, discuss.
posted by LarryC at 10:08 AM on June 22, 2006


OK, then whatever wallet is dropped on my property is mine to do with as I wish.

Bad analogy. Figure out why, duh.
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:11 AM on June 22, 2006


But without regards to efficiencies, the government's job is, at its base, to enforce the laws.

But that begs the question, doesn't it? I know you've made your case that the law is clear here, and although I tend to agree with your descriptive conclusion of the current state of the law, the underlying normative question remains: what should the law be? This normative question is even more critical now, precisely because the law in this area is unsettled. You can argue that the purpose of government is to enforce the law "without regards to efficiencies," but first the government, and by extension, the people, must decide what the law is. And certainly, normative principles like efficiency are relevant there.

As applied to this case, the relevant question is who bears the burden of securing access: the user or the network? The least-cost-avoidance principle suggests that the burden should be on the party who can bear it at the least cost. At that point, arguments about how the technology works are relevant, and if the cost to the owner to secure the network is smaller than the aggregate cost to the users to ensure authorized access, the burden should arguably be on the owner.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:12 AM on June 22, 2006


Using an unsecured wireless network is like accepting Christ as your personal saviour without having purchased a Bible.

no, actually, it's like purchasing a bible for your own personal use when the church prohibits it and insists that they are the only ones who should have access to it

people actually were executed for that, too

*rolls eyes* - i'm lost ... does anyone have a map i can download?
posted by pyramid termite at 10:17 AM on June 22, 2006


the underlying normative question remains: what should the law be?
posted by monju_bosatsu at 12:12 PM CST on June 22


I would agree whole-heartedly with that view. And I would give the answer that I give to every question about what the law should be: it should be what the people will it to be as expressed through their legislators. If the people decide that wifi-use should be exempted from property laws, then they articulate that desire through the old mechanisms of our representative democracy.

But "what the law should be" is a prospective question. "What the law currently is" would be the question in analyzing whether this person's arrest was appropriate or whether the government should have arrested him or prosecute him.
posted by dios at 10:19 AM on June 22, 2006


People, forget WIFI, Internet, etc.

Do I have the right to use my neighbor's phone line, because his cordless set uses the same frequency/code of mine?

Long before internet it was a common passtime to walk around the neighborhood with a cordless handset searching for "open hotspots".

Since I'm on public property, using a handset that I own, and I'm not doing anything to hack into someone's phoneline but punching the power switch of my handset, It's no theif, is it?

I doubt anyone can say it's NOT thief.
posted by cardoso at 10:28 AM on June 22, 2006


And I would give the answer that I give to every question about what the law should be: it should be what the people will it to be as expressed through their legislators.

That's a silly answer, because it both continues the beg the question on one hand, and fails to answer it at all on the other. First, of course we live in a democratic society, so the law should reflect the will of the people, yada yada yada. But that doesn't tell us which choice would be better. That's the question that has to be asked: If you were advising the legislators about how to vote, what would you recommend? Responding that whatever the legislators decide will be the law is a non-answer. Second, we're generally talking about common law property rights, rights that aren't decided by legislators. These are rights that are developed and adjudicated by the judiciary. Sure, the legislators could override the common law, but if we're talking about common law principles, i.e., the centuries-old property law, then we're not talking about legislation.

But "what the law should be" is a prospective question. "What the law currently is" would be the question in analyzing whether this person's arrest was appropriate or whether the government should have arrested him or prosecute him.

Fine, but your confidence notwithstanding, there is no consensus on what the law currently is. I tend to agree that a straightforward application of property principles suggests the result you advocate above, but there's no reason that the application of those principles needs to be straightforward, particularly when analogies to the factual circumstances under which those principles were developed breaks down. That's precisely why the normative questions are so important, and must be asked before we rotely apply the old principles to new factual scenarios.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:28 AM on June 22, 2006


Using someone's unsecured wireless is like a jelly doughnut.
posted by LarryC at 10:29 AM on June 22, 2006


...whatever signal on whatever frequency is on my property or public property is mine to do with as I wish.

So when you're opening your bootleg DVD shop of rightfully recorded open transmitted tv shows?
posted by cardoso at 10:31 AM on June 22, 2006


In my opinion, if we applied IP law consistently with the principles on which physical law was founded, yes.

That of course does not reflect current law.
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:32 AM on June 22, 2006


Responding that whatever the legislators decide will be the law is a non-answer.

It's very much an answer. It's just not the answer that you are looking for, which is what I personally would decide to do. I, personally, have no view on that. I, personally, don't care one way or the other about wifi and its availability. If a majority of people want wifi to be freely available, fine by me; the alternative, also fine.

That's precisely why the normative questions are so important, and must be asked before we rotely apply the old principles to new factual scenarios.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 12:28 PM CST on June 22


It certainly shouldn't be rotely applied. The act of judging requires judgment. But a Court reviewing this should look at first principles and the text of the law and give effect to the law. To my knowledge, there is no legal principle upon which to base the contrary result, in this case. A view of property law and the statutes at issue would lead, invariably, to the conclusion that this is violative of trespass and theft laws. There are no principles that a judge could rely upon that permit the judge to come to the judgment that this fact scenario falls outside of property principles.
posted by dios at 10:36 AM on June 22, 2006


So, late to the, uh, "debate" here, but does it occur to everyone that the case is unlikely to be tried solely on the amount of detail reported in the rather brief news story?

Has no one thought that perhaps the story is, in fact, distorting the basis on which he was arrested? I know, it seems inconceivable that a newspaper could be factually inaccurate or somehow incomplete, but it is a possibility.

He had been doing using the internet access for a month - doing what? For hours a day? Perhaps he actually did use their internet access to break the law. And he parked in their parking lot - if someone sat in their van in a coffee shop parking lot for hours a day even without using wireless internet it would seem pretty creepy and the police would probably get called out.

It seems like a pretty plain case of someone making a nuisance of themselves and the police charging them with whatever it takes to get them to stop. Arrests like this probably happen every day.
posted by GuyZero at 10:47 AM on June 22, 2006


"Can they monitor your web surfing?

>Sure!

Can they connect a monitor inside the coffee shop to display what pages you are surfing?

>Yep. They can even include a "Porn Alert" that pops up whenever I hit some adult entertainment.

What about provide transcripts of any unsecured http requests you send (including username/passwords)?

>That seems unreasonably dickish. I'd say this one should be legal, but anybody who does it should be kicked in the nuts."


I find that to be an interesting view, especially in light of the outrage people are currently expressing here.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:50 AM on June 22, 2006


It's very much an answer.

No, it's not. It's the abdication of the responsibility to choose one or the other of the alternatives. You could easily use the same answer about every legal question. "Does the majority want it? Fine, go for it." The question I'm asking is: Should the majority want it? Why or why not? As I said above, you're simplistic majoritarian response begs that question.

But a Court reviewing this should look at first principles and the text of the law and give effect to the law.

In many of these cases there may not be any "text" to which the court can refer. Certainly there will be if a user is criminally prosecuted, but in a civil case, the cause of action will likely be one at common law. That leaves the court with the "first principles" you suggest. But which principles are those? Ancient latin maxims? Property principles developed in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries? Law and economics principles? What if they conflict. You know as well as I that an offhand suggestion that a court look to "first principles" does little to answer the question of how the court should respond when presented with a case of first impression such as this.

To my knowledge, there is no legal principle upon which to base the contrary result, in this case. A view of property law and the statutes at issue would lead, invariably, to the conclusion that this is violative of trespass and theft laws. There are no principles that a judge could rely upon that permit the judge to come to the judgment that this fact scenario falls outside of property principles.

What about the least-cost-avoidance principle that I mentioned above? That principle is routinely used in tort and contract cases to assign burdens and liabilities.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:51 AM on June 22, 2006


The law is the will of the populace make explicit.

As much as lawyers want this to be true, it is not. Many laws have nothing to do with the will of the populace, and could never survive a direct popular vote.

Bad, unjust and unclear laws exist for a multitude of reasons. The idea that they're all "the will of the populace" is absurd.
posted by I Love Tacos at 11:01 AM on June 22, 2006


I, personally, don't care one way or the other about wifi and its availability. If a majority of people want wifi to be freely available, fine by me; the alternative, also fine.

and yet, you criticize people in this thread for "justifying personal desire" and then maintain that if a majority want wifi to be free, it's alright by you

what about food? gas? medical care? cadillacs?

you cynically defend property rights under the letter of the law and don't seem to care if the law is changed to abrogate these rights

at least the people who are justifying personal desire are honest with what they say ... at least they have some kind of philosophy underlying their arguments

yours seems to be merely, "i'll go along with the crowd" ... which makes me wonder why you bothered with the discussion in the first place ... aside from excercising your legal skills ... not that it didn't help clear some things up ...

it just seems as though you regard yourself as a hired legal hand to do whatever the people (or a client) want ... which is, of course, your job in real life

but there are those of us on metafilter who think we should be more than what we do for a living and actually bring some kind of personal insight and opinion to things ... for a guy that creates controversy, you don't seem to be willing to actually SAY very much
posted by pyramid termite at 11:02 AM on June 22, 2006


The idea that they're all "the will of the populace" is absurd.

Seems to me like the inconsistent applicaton of law is something that people actually want, at least to a certain extent. Most people would not actually want any body of law applied rigorously and universally.

This can take the form of unprosecuted lynchings, or it can take the form of unprosecuted moving violations. The effect of the law is only one of many incentives taken into account by actors.
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:06 AM on June 22, 2006


Property law has been fairly well established for several centuries now. New forms of property don't alter the underlying principles.

This is why cases like these are controversial; the legal system continues to load more and more tortured interpretations onto old laws. The old principles don't actually map particularly well to new forms of property, and that's where the friction comes from.
posted by Western Infidels at 11:08 AM on June 22, 2006


I think the comparison to http requests is interesting. If I create a website intended only for my friends, but I'm too stupid to lock it down, is accessing my website illegal? Assume the server is hosted in my home. The connection is performed without consent, although it may be implied. Accessing the site has a cost, especially if hundreds of people all try to access it simultaneously.

Similiarly, accessing a hotspot is implied consent (in my opinion, I know others disagree). It can easily be locked, and offending users can easily be removed. Of course, if I attempt to circumvent these attempts, I'm clearly in the wrong. If no attempt to block external users is made, I feel this is the same as the http requests above.

If someone doesn't want someone using their service, they could display the users actions for the world to see, share any private information he posts across the network, or just lock him out.

But if the issue is solely about the law, I wonder how many of these small coffee shops actually have B2B licenses, and not just everyday dsl or cable (which request the network not be shared, regardless if the other party buys coffee or not)?
posted by Crash at 11:11 AM on June 22, 2006


pyramid termite: dios exists to argue. He's a lawyer, that's what they do. They also eat, sleep, shit and fuck. But mostly they argue.

I sincerely doubt he cares about any of the things he fights about.

I think most of the controversy comes in because he'll say something like "this guy is guilty of foo", when:
a) he's not clearly guilty (in this case, he's assuming an interpretation of law that doesn't yet exist)
b) foo isn't clearly wrong (in this case, most people believe that there are better, non-judicial ways to solve the problem)

He's just trying to argue some arcane point, because he's a lawyer, and that's what they do.

But most of us just end up thinking he's an incorrigible fuckwit, because he's implying that the activity is clearly wrong (something that is obviously debatable), and that the law is clear on the situation (again, not true).

As far as I can tell, he doesn't have any opinions that he's not paid to have.
posted by I Love Tacos at 11:18 AM on June 22, 2006


mr_crash_davis wins this argument.

... with a nod to dios [aka "I can't believe I agree with that guy"] who claimed this is simply people "justifying personal desire".

People want to protect the network access when it's about their traffic, and use netwrok access when it's someone else's network.
posted by adzuki at 11:24 AM on June 22, 2006


Random reactions:

Should the majority want it? Why or why not? - m_b
I'm undecided on that topic. Whether they should or shouldn't requires a qualitative judgment I am not qualified to make. What the law should be is what I took the topic at hand to be. Again, that is a prospective question. I thought we were discussing whether this person should be arrested. That question is analyzed only in the sphere of what the law is. As there is no principled basis to find an exemption to the extant laws based on the nature of the property, then the guy should rightly be prosecuted. To the extent the thread is about whether our laws should be changed, I have no opinion and take no issue with any views.

What about the least-cost-avoidance principle that I mentioned above? That principle is routinely used in tort and contract cases to assign burdens and liabilities. - m_b

That analysis should not, nor would be, evaluated in determining whether this guy should be prosecuted. In the case of criminal charges, the issue is what the law is. It would be unjust to evaluate a criminal charge based on a subjective and unwritten evaluation of a judicially-preferred principle.

you cynically defend property rights under the letter of the law - pyramid termite

There is nothing cynical about it.

at least they have some kind of philosophy underlying their arguments. yours seems to be merely, "i'll go along with the crowd" - p t

Call me democratic. I live in one. On those topics where I don't have a preference, I willingly submit to the views of my countrymen.

for a guy that creates controversy, you don't seem to be willing to actually SAY very much - p t

You don't say! Here is something for you to marinate on: perhaps it is the case that I don't make policy pronouncement; that the strawman of dios is not based on anything I actually have said but is generated by those who dislike me; that perhaps the assumptions about me and the "controversy" I create has no attachment to any policies I advance.

The old principles don't actually map particularly well to new forms of property, and that's where the friction comes from.
posted by Western Infidels at 1:08 PM CST on June 22


They do map remarkably well given their age. The only "friction" that comes around is when people try to define certain things as "not property" when they clearly are. Real property is land, and that is well settled. Personal property is everything else, and the standards are the same whether you are talking about an ox, a shoe, a television, a table, a computer, the Coke secret recipe, or anything else of value to a person and over which they have exclusive possessory interest.
posted by dios at 11:26 AM on June 22, 2006


Personal property is everything else, and the standards are the same whether you are talking about an ox, a shoe, a television, a table, a computer, the Coke secret recipe, or anything else of value to a person and over which they have exclusive possessory interest.

Which is why we had to develop a whole separate body and theory of law to cover the Coke secret recipe and other perfectly reproduceable things, right?
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:30 AM on June 22, 2006


This case is unambiguous, though. The guy was told he didn't have permission, so he was violating hacking laws.
1) Who told him?
2) Is there any evidence of this?
3) 'Hacking laws'? Could you be a bit more specific? And if he's violating 'hacking laws' why aren't they charging him under them?
posted by kaemaril at 11:31 AM on June 22, 2006


WI: Well there is an alternative and more modern way of looking at this which does not treat the outgoing signal from the cafe as the most important issue, but the incoming signal from the laptop. Much of international communications law is based on the principle that it is a wrongful act to cause intentional and unwanted interference to communications equipment owned by another person, even if that person is located miles away.

Or to turn it around, if I as an operator have been informed that my equipment is causing undesireable interference, I have an obligation to take reasonable steps to minimize that intereference (change frequency, reduce power, check for noise on my signal.)

Crash: Similiarly, accessing a hotspot is implied consent (in my opinion, I know others disagree).

Implied consent is trumped by explicit denial of consent. So just hanging a sign on the door saying "wi fi for paying customers only" is sufficient.

If I create a website intended only for my friends, but I'm too stupid to lock it down, is accessing my website illegal?

Illegal, I don't know. But I think you should be able to have some course of legal (in addition to technical) action against DOS attacks and other forms of interference.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:32 AM on June 22, 2006


Do I have the right to use my neighbor's phone line, because his cordless set uses the same frequency/code of mine?

Best analogy yet. It clarifies that yes, the wireless signal is "available" to everyone, but the service at the other end is being stolen.

There will surely be the argument that "that's why wireless phones have IDs and security - this wouldn't actually happen" -- oh, but it would, and has before. Not all of them have that security, and it's not something most people think about.

Ultimately, it's poor design (done in the interest of ease of use) that routers come open to the public with no password by default. Being unaware of or even complacent about a design flaw does not mean you've implicitly said "here, everyone, take this!"

With respect to the residential debate: If routers came with random SSIDs and WEP passwords by default, and people had to actively do something to open them to the public, I could see the other side of this debate. However, they don't, and the techies arguing that "no password = implicit sharing" are horrendously overestimating the technical knowledge of the general populace.

With respect to the coffeshop debate: Once the coffeeshop has told you "stop using this", you're doing something unethical at the very least, and possibly illegal depending on what precedent is set from this case. I don't see how it can possibly be argued that once the owner of something has asked you not to use it, it's still OK to keep using. The issue here is permission, not technical ability.
posted by twiggy at 11:35 AM on June 22, 2006


>>The law is the will of the populace make explicit.
>As much as lawyers want this to be true, it is not. Many laws have nothing to do with the will of the populace, and could never survive a direct popular vote.


If the law perfectly expressed the will of the populace, lawyers would be unnecessary.

/randomthought
posted by PsychoKick at 11:36 AM on June 22, 2006


the techies arguing that "no password = implicit sharing" are horrendously overestimating the technical knowledge of the general populace.

Here's the thing though: the router is by default configured to be open, yes.

But so is the laptop by default configured to automatically connect.

So, in general, how can you presume ignorance on the part of the router owner, but not on the part of the laptop owner?
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:38 AM on June 22, 2006


dios writes "And this goes back to my original comment in the thread: this discussion is always devoured by those who want their pirate-views to be permitted. There are people who want to be able to get stuff for free. There are people who want to devalue property so that they won't have to pay for it. Since that is what they want, they will argue this point to the exclusion of sense, because they want to be able to use someone else's wifi for free if they can find it. This isn't about policy or what the law is. It's about justifying personal desire."

Yep, everyone who would like to see ubiquitous, ad hoc, community WiFi are nothing but a bunch of "information wants to be free" hacker hippies. It couldn't possibly be that they hope to shape the law to be good for people instead Disney and AT&T.
posted by Mitheral at 11:39 AM on June 22, 2006


My Palm is set up to connect to any wireless access points it sees and to automatically sync my email. Am I committing trespass every time I walk down the street with it?

Obviously not.

Tortured analogies don't prove anything.

This is not breaking and entering, this is not trespass, this is not theft (just like copyright infringement isn't theft), and this is most certainly not "hacking."

If you don't want someone to use your wireless access point then don't allow promiscuous connections. There are easy ways to filter your users. If you don't take advantage of them then it's your own damn fault.
posted by bshort at 11:40 AM on June 22, 2006


KirkJobSluder:Implied consent is trumped by explicit denial of consent. So just hanging a sign on the door saying "wi fi for paying customers only" is sufficient.

If I create a website intended only for my friends, but I'm too stupid to lock it down, is accessing my website illegal?

Illegal, I don't know.

So what happens if I put a sign on my website saying 'This site is just for my friends. Any other visitors forbidden'? What If I check my server logs and find people ignoring that sign, and subsequently visiting other pages on my site? I have to pay to host my site, these unauthorized parasites are costing me money!

Can I have them arrested? If not, why? Aren't they doing the same as this guy was?
posted by kaemaril at 11:42 AM on June 22, 2006


KirkJobSluder - In this specific case, I aknowledge consent was specifically denied (someone knocking on your door and telling you not to use it seems to override any implicit consent). So I agree he shouldn't have continued to use the connection.

I'm more interested in the general case, which is using an open network without explicit consent (for or against). I don't neccessarily agree a sign on the door is sufficient, since users may not have gone near the door, and can be unaware you posted a message. Perhaps a simple program which returns a web page stating the networks rules and TOS to any MAC address trying to access the internet for the first time? That doesn't seem to complex to write, and could easily be implemented by a router.

As for the website request theory, DOS attacks are entirely different due to consent. Yahoo doesn't mind me accessing their news site, but is obviously against me executing a DOS attack. I still think normal access to an open web site isn't any different than accessing an open wi fi network. In both cases, I'm using someone else's equipment, and in both cases the owner could easily prevent me from doing so.
posted by Crash at 11:43 AM on June 22, 2006


Using someone's unsecured wireless is like a jelly doughnut.

How about "Using someone's unsecured wireless is like finding a house running A/C that also has a window open and then putting a fan outside that window so that you draw cool air to your spot on the public sidewalk."
posted by mullacc at 11:43 AM on June 22, 2006


My Palm is set up to connect to any wireless access points it sees and to automatically sync my email. Am I committing trespass every time I walk down the street with it? Obviously not.

I think the whole point of this conversation, bshort, is that it isn't so obvious.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 11:44 AM on June 22, 2006


Crash, if you tell someone to stop accessing your site and they continure to do so, then I think that does have potential to be criminal.
posted by forforf at 11:44 AM on June 22, 2006


You don't say! Here is something for you to marinate on: perhaps it is the case that I don't make policy pronouncement;

as i've hinted, that may be the problem right there

have to go to work, bye
posted by pyramid termite at 11:46 AM on June 22, 2006


As for the website request theory, DOS attacks are entirely different due to consent. Yahoo doesn't mind me accessing their news site, but is obviously against me executing a DOS attack. I still think normal access to an open web site isn't any different than accessing an open wi fi network. In both cases, I'm using someone else's equipment, and in both cases the owner could easily prevent me from doing so.

Why is it any more safe to assume that some random person with an open WiFi network actually wants you to use their connection? It's configured that way by default, and any technical person worth his/her salt knows the average person is an idiot and doesn't read directions. Do you really think most open wifi connections are left that way on purpose? They're mostly run by people who know jack shit about networking and probably have no clue that someone might be able to "borrow" it.

Again: Explain to me how it's ethical to use the connection without explicit consent if you have even 1% doubt in your mind that the open connection may have been left that way unintentionally.
posted by twiggy at 11:47 AM on June 22, 2006


twiggy, defaulting the routers wouldn't change anything. It's not that coffee shops don't have a single employee capable of turning the security on, it's that they don't want to spend time teaching their customers how to connect. Even if routers came equiped with wep by default, public hotspots would turn it off. In fact, I think most people would turn it off, b/c they'd find it easier to turn it off then configure their pc's & laptops.
posted by Crash at 11:47 AM on June 22, 2006


Or to put it another way, if someone uses just the restroom, or a drinking fountain, or sits in the shade of a tree on private property, after they've been explicitly told that they are not allowed, it is probably illegal.

As for the PDA walking down the street, if you pass a place where it can be reasonably expected for you to know that resource was not for your use, and you use it, even if its your PDA syncing automatically with email, then yes I think a strong case can be made that it is illegal.
posted by forforf at 11:50 AM on June 22, 2006


If my neighbour's apple tree has branches that grow over my fence, I can legally pick and eat those apples. Without a password, even.
posted by Rumple at 11:50 AM on June 22, 2006


The last time I checked, no one “owns” those public unsecured, unlicensed frequencies. It is like a public park bench.
Scenerio:
Self righteous pimple faced designer coffee twerp says (metaphorically), “This is my public park bench, you can’t sit here.”
Dude replies, “How about a nice piping hot cup of shut the phuch up.”
Solution:
If you don’t want to share your “free stuff” (with purchase); limit access with passwords. Or force an intro page stating your prejudicial policy of usage preferences replete with cute socio/political slogans and your maniacal business plan to un-ass $3.75 for a cup o Joe and a smile. Or just block his MAC address. Or have him groundlessly arrested for sitting on said metaphorical park bench, publish his name, now don’t forget to tell the world he is a “level 1” sex offender (held accountable and not likely to re-offend) and invite the hyenas to the table. On account of their likelihood to metaphorically burn him, salaciously stone him and morally lynch him (again). For that special touch reacquaint him with a free refill of the traditions of American public opinion, a extra topping of the judicial system (he could not possibly have had enough) and a chocolate sprinkle of spin media.
Vigilante mocha latte, salacious apple scone, anyone? Mmmmm yummm. Oh yeah, have a nice day.
posted by MapGuy at 11:51 AM on June 22, 2006


cardoso said: So when you're opening your bootleg DVD shop of rightfully recorded open transmitted tv shows?

I replied: In my opinion, if we applied IP law consistently with the principles on which physical law was founded, yes.

If I can come back and elaborate a little on this, it is because of my strong beliefs in personal property that I find intellectual property laws problematic.

Prior to IP law, anything I did in my house was my business (roughly.)

However, now, and to an ever-increasing extent, my house contains what is classified as other people's property. Sometimes, this is just media, other times, it is something crucial, like my cell phone. Almost nobody owns their own cell phone, they only own a license to use it. You are not allowed by the TOS to repair or alter it yourself. This is actually a felony.

Suddenly, we find that other people's interests, (say, the phone company and the NSA) take legal priority over my own in my own house.

What is really problematic is that the relationship is not symmetric. I am not allowed to sniff whatever comes over the airwaves onto my property. These large entities can assert their influence into my sphere with these laws, but I cannot reciprocate.

I guess I always have the option to use no phone or internet at home, right?

IP laws constrain physical autonomy to a problematic extent, in my opinion, and the conflict is only going to continue to grow. My "hippy dippy" opposition to (most) IP laws is directly rooted in my strong belief in the original conception of property: one's body, home, and possessions should be one's own.
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:52 AM on June 22, 2006


The last time I checked, no one “owns” those public unsecured, unlicensed frequencies. It is like a public park bench.

*sigh* For the third time (at least), the issue is not the reception of the signal, it's the access to the network and the equipment on which it runs.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 11:54 AM on June 22, 2006


forforf, ignore this specific case, where the person was explicitly told not to use the service. If no one explicitly asks you not to use it, is it ok to use? Do you think consent is implied until revoked, or use is only allowed if consent is explicitly given?

If consent needs to be explicitly given, what constitutes consent? If a coffee shop has a sign saying "We now offer WiFi" or "We have WiFi", is that enough? How do we know it's available to the public, customers, or only customers spending x amount in a certain time frame?
posted by Crash at 11:56 AM on June 22, 2006


Here's the thing though: the router is by default configured to be open, yes.

But so is the laptop by default configured to automatically connect.

So, in general, how can you presume ignorance on the part of the router owner, but not on the part of the laptop owner?


I don't say anything about ignorance on the part of the laptop owner. It's possible the laptop owner is ignorant to what's going on -- but that has absolutely NOTHING to do with the issue at hand.

Let's just look at one specific case: Assume Bob has purchased a router and is technically ignorant. He is not intentionally sharing his network with the public, but as it turns out, he hasnt' put a password on his network. If he knew you were freeloading off of it, he would be upset.

In this case, it does not matter if the laptop owner is ignorant to it or not -- if he/she is using Bob's connection, he/she is doing something unethical (whether it's illegal is up for debate - I believe it is and/or should be, but we'll stick to what we know -- it's unethical).

Now, when you encounter a random wireless connection out in the wild, you have no idea if it's a "Bob", or if it's someone intentionally sharing. If you do not know which one it is, then how can you say it's completely ethical and fine to assume this person wants you to use it, and go ahead and do so? Even if you want to argue that 95% of open wireless networks are left that way on purpose (which I would disagree with strongly since most people are not tech savvy) - saying "well there's only a 5% chance that what I am doing would piss off the person on the other end" does not make this ethically OK.
posted by twiggy at 11:57 AM on June 22, 2006


MapGuy, wrong. As others have pointed out you are not just using the airwaves, you are using their systems.
If the Coffee shop didn't have an access point (who payed for that?), and didn't have an internet connection (who payed for that?) there would be no access to the internet. The coffee shop payed for that, and hence, I beleive, have every right to control usage. That control can be technological or through communication .... but if they make it clear its not for use under conditions established by them, then its not for use.

If they make no mention of any restrictions, than I think reasonable usage is acceptable.

Bottom line, there is a valid argument that by *default* open access can be accessed by anyone, but I see no argument that would allow somebody to use a resource paid for by someone else, that they have been explicitly notified is not for their use.
posted by forforf at 11:58 AM on June 22, 2006


Crash, to explicitly answer your question about access in general. I think this is an open question and subject to interpretation. My personal belief is that it should be assumed to be open unless explicitly identified otherwise, but I can see valid arguments the other way, even though I'm philosphically opposed to the premises behind them.
posted by forforf at 12:02 PM on June 22, 2006


I wonder why router manufactures have not released a router with the option of adding an intro page by default? When a MAC address first sends an http request, it seems easy enough to return an intro page until the TOS have been accepted. If they accept the TOS, add the MAC address to the list of allowed connections. It would be easy enough to add an admin screen allowing the editing of the TOS, and it would end this discussion for all but a handful of people.

If this is such a big issue and there are millions of open hot-spots, it seems like an easy way to charge an extra couple of bucks or set your router apart from the rest of the market. Shouldn't the invisible hand have already solved this?
posted by Crash at 12:05 PM on June 22, 2006


From a while ago, but I can't resist:

Since I'm on public property, using a handset that I own, and I'm not doing anything to hack into someone's phoneline but punching the power switch of my handset, It's no theif, is it?

I doubt anyone can say it's NOT thief.


Theft, perhaps, but it's not thief.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:14 PM on June 22, 2006


twiggy writes "Not knowing either way is not license for you to make assumptions!! How many times does this have to be reiterated?"

Point is Bob is providing equipment that is actively soliciting connections from anyone who walks by, it shouldn't be up to to passersby to verify the downstream link is legal. I tend to trust that when someone is offering me something he isn't trafficking in stolen or otherwise illegal property.

twiggy writes "Also, as monju says: Quit talking about the wireless waves as the only thing here - they're just one component of the whole network, which is again, not yours."

Which someone who sees only the AP has no way of verifying one way or the other. If I'm in the park and someone passing by offers me an apple I don't grill him to make sure the apple wasn't stolen. The coffee shop should be making sure that the AP they are running isn't actively solicititing access to other resources they control if they don't want people to access those resources.

cardoso writes "Since I'm on public property, using a handset that I own, and I'm not doing anything to hack into someone's phone line but punching the power switch of my handset, It's no theif, is it?

"I doubt anyone can say it's NOT thief."


I would. What is the harm?

KirkJobSluder writes "Implied consent is trumped by explicit denial of consent. So just hanging a sign on the door saying 'wi fi for paying customers only' is sufficient. "

Considering the WiFi signal may be usable blocks away I think your sign is meaningless.

twiggy writes "However, they don't, and the techies arguing that 'no password = implicit sharing' are horrendously overestimating the technical knowledge of the general populace."

We aren't, we are stacking the deck against the "take my ball and go home types". We all know the general populous is as ignorant as a sack of hammer heads, anyone who doesn't is invited to spend a week on a help desk. However "techies" developed the internet (including wireless access points). Because the internet requires cooperation and "techies" tend to share1, WiFi was setup to facilite sharing. It wasn't until bean counters and point hair types noticed wireless that anyone thought people were "stealing" wireless access. To my way of thinking it's like complaining that someone is "stealing" park access because they don't pay local taxes. Completely nonsensical. Because of the massive headstart the sharing techies got we might actually be able to do the right thing in this case.

[1] The Bill Gates type tends to be a minority in technical circles.
posted by Mitheral at 12:14 PM on June 22, 2006


Point is Bob is providing equipment that is actively soliciting connections from anyone who walks by, it shouldn't be up to to passersby to verify the downstream link is legal. I tend to trust that when someone is offering me something he isn't trafficking in stolen or otherwise illegal property.

Why shouldn't it be up to you? You're using something that doesn't belong to you. Even following your assertion that open = implicit consent: If someone offers you a pill that you can't identify, and then you fail a drug test at work next week and get fired, whose fault is it for breaking the law? Yours.

If there's even one iota of doubt in your mind that the open connection is/isn't intended for your use, then you're willfully taking the chance that you're breaking ethical code, at the very least, and possibly the law. That's why it's up to you to verify, because it's you who is doing the "borrowing."
posted by twiggy at 12:27 PM on June 22, 2006


Oh, and dios, I guess it's a lot easier to call me names than to address my reply about laws being the will of the populace..

As much as lawyers want this to be true, it is not. Many laws have nothing to do with the will of the populace, and could never survive a direct popular vote.

Bad, unjust and unclear laws exist for a multitude of reasons. The idea that they're all "the will of the populace" is absurd.


And your reply... to call me an asshole. Thanks for helping to prove my point, that you're a hypocritical fuckwit who loves to argue, and doesn't add any content.
posted by I Love Tacos at 12:29 PM on June 22, 2006


coffeeshop owner is too lazy/clueless to password-protect his precious wifi connection; sues stranger. lawyerly hilarity, hairsplitting ensues.
posted by matteo at 12:34 PM on June 22, 2006


twiggy writes "If someone offers you a pill that you can't identify, and then you fail a drug test at work next week and get fired, whose fault is it for breaking the law? Yours."

But the law I'm dismissed for breaking isn't trafficing, it is with possesion of illegal drugs. Which hey, what do you know, I actually did possess the drug.
posted by Mitheral at 12:38 PM on June 22, 2006


coffeeshop owner is too lazy/clueless to password-protect his precious wifi connection; sues stranger. lawyerly hilarity, hairsplitting ensues.

Nice summary. If it was a civil suit, I doubt I'd be annoyed.

It's the use of public resources on this annoys me. The Coffeeshop owner could've solved this by spending $5 for a Mefi username and an AskMe (or by using Google for free).

Instead of doing this, or spending $100 on a cheap consultant, he spent thousands of tax-payer dollars.
posted by I Love Tacos at 12:38 PM on June 22, 2006


Using an unsecured wireless network is like wasting an hour of your life reading some pointless argument on the internet.

Wait--no it isn't.
posted by LarryC at 12:43 PM on June 22, 2006


God, Twiggy, you're like the Idiot Pope, boldly offering pronouncements based on a defense of the ignorant when you only really have any authority if we've already accepted your moronic first premises. How's that for an analogy?

"If you do not know which one it is, then how can you say it's completely ethical and fine to assume this person wants you to use it, and go ahead and do so?"

Asked and answered counselor.

The Router and the Laptop; A Passion Play

Router— Hey, hey, hey, Laptop! I'm open! You can use me! Totally cool!
Laptop— Ok. Jesus, it's the internet! Awesome!
Twiggy, dressed as Abadea— But how shall we know that the Router acted not with the wishes of the Owner? We can assume nothing, for all men are fools!
Punch (beats Twiggy with stick)— That's the way to do it!
Twiggy— But, but, but... People don't read manuals. Also, I am sympathetic to the gamboling idiocy of the masses for reasons I cannot disclose! Also, TOS is, like, almost law!
Chorus— Twiggy, though you spin and spin, you've yet to argue out of anything other than a general disdain for computer users and several tortured analogies. It's time to admit that you were grandstanding on a largely unrelated point and move onto something else, like circumcision. Else you will be doomed to die, spouting the same retarded blather.
CURTAIN.
posted by klangklangston at 12:53 PM on June 22, 2006 [1 favorite]


i don't know how it falls legally, but for the sake of protecting property, are we not expected to exercise reasonable care to prevent theft of our property? how much protection should the law provide, for instance, for a jewelry store that would leave it's pricy goods easily available to any passerby, even if they ask people specifically not to steal?

also...i'm curious...if the shop requires purchase for use of wifi (my idea: rotating passwords that print out on the receipt), are they in essence re-selling the bandwidth provided by the ISP, and is that something they can do legally? maybe it's already covered in the shop's contract with the ISP, but just wondering...
posted by troybob at 12:56 PM on June 22, 2006


klangklangston writes "The Router and the Laptop; A Passion Play"


That was pretty cool. Internet snark as cruel surrealist theater. I like it.


The Chorus' bit needs reworking, though. Maybe rhyme it, or put it into iambic pentameter.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:58 PM on June 22, 2006


Crash: I'm more interested in the general case, which is using an open network without explicit consent (for or against). I don't neccessarily agree a sign on the door is sufficient, since users may not have gone near the door, and can be unaware you posted a message.

Well, I am talking about the general case here. You can access such wireless hotspots in good faith until you are told you no longer have permission. After that point, you must make good faith efforts to avoid interference with their system.

Yahoo doesn't mind me accessing their news site, but is obviously against me executing a DOS attack. I still think normal access to an open web site isn't any different than accessing an open wi fi network.

I don't think it's any different, and the same rules apply. Websites cretainly should have the ability to seek legal remedy against persons who abuse their services, in addition to technical methods to block said persons. Why? Technical methods are of limited use against a person who intends to disrupt a given service.

forforf: Crash, if you tell someone to stop accessing your site and they continure to do so, then I think that does have potential to be criminal.

Bingo. There is the key. Once you have been informed you are not welcome, you have an obligation to stay away.

MapGuy: The last time I checked, no one “owns” those public unsecured, unlicensed frequencies. It is like a public park bench.

In the absence of allocation, guidelines against causing unwanted interference with services still apply. It doesn't matter if we are talking about my laptop or my garage door opener.

Mitheral: Considering the WiFi signal may be usable blocks away I think your sign is meaningless.

Why? It certainly gives me grounds to ask you to buy a cup of coffee or get out if I see you squatting on my WiFi connection.

Mitheral: Because the internet requires cooperation and "techies" tend to share, WiFi was setup to facilite sharing. It wasn't until bean counters and point hair types noticed wireless that anyone thought people were "stealing" wireless access. To my way of thinking it's like complaining that someone is "stealing" park access because they don't pay local taxes.

You know, many of these issues were hashed out about 80 years ago. If you use a repeater as an analogous example, you have obligations to not hog the frequency, and to respect the wishes of the group that maintains the repeater.

I'm struggling to understand how this basic principle has changed.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:01 PM on June 22, 2006


"Why shouldn't it be up to you? You're using something that doesn't belong to you. Even following your assertion that open = implicit consent: If someone offers you a pill that you can't identify, and then you fail a drug test at work next week and get fired, whose fault is it for breaking the law? Yours."

"Even following the assertion of implicit consent, non sequitor."

Implicit consent to use the resource is granted. Just like a million things already discussed. The way to fix that is to halt the implicit consent. Nothing else you've said has any bearing.

"If there's even one iota of doubt in your mind that the open connection is/isn't intended for your use, then you're willfully taking the chance that you're breaking ethical code, at the very least, and possibly the law. That's why it's up to you to verify, because it's you who is doing the "borrowing.""

No, Twiggy. You're wrong (again) Twiggy. First off, the argument you want to be making is if there is a possibility that the connection is unauthorized that it's against the law, not htat it depends on doubt in my mind. My mind is assuaged very easily. ("If he didn't want me to use it, he wouldn't have left it open, no doubt.")
Second, if there's a reasonable (good faith) belief that it is intentionally open, and that's a very fair reading of the culture of WiFi, then the onus is not on me to go to extraordinary dilligence to prove that the connection is intentionally open. That's just stupid. There's really no other way to put it.
posted by klangklangston at 1:01 PM on June 22, 2006


"The Chorus' bit needs reworking, though. Maybe rhyme it, or put it into iambic pentameter."

Yeah, I shoulda broken out Sartre's version of The Flies to get the right tone.
posted by klangklangston at 1:03 PM on June 22, 2006


are they in essence re-selling the bandwidth provided by the ISP, and is that something they can do legally?

Technically, you're not even supposed to leave your wifi on your cable modem open to the public, purchase or no. It violates the TOS. But of course, nobody really cares, do they? The modem guys who hooked me up didn't.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:03 PM on June 22, 2006


klangklangston writes "Implicit consent to use the resource is granted."

I would say it's explicit. It's all there in the protocol...
posted by mr_roboto at 1:04 PM on June 22, 2006


dios: They [the underlying principles of property law] do map remarkably well given their age.

What does that even mean? My grandmother does a remarkably good cartwheel, given her age. That is to say, she doesn't do cartwheels at all, but then she's really, really old.

Personal property is everything else, and the standards are the same whether you are talking about an ox, a shoe, a television, a table, a computer, the Coke secret recipe, or anything else of value to a person and over which they have exclusive possessory interest.

Clearly, you've made some incorrect assumptions about my position on this whole thing and are now just insulting my intelligence.
posted by Western Infidels at 1:09 PM on June 22, 2006


This raises another issue: am I allowed to 'rent' out some of my broadband to my neighbor should I choose to?
posted by zorro astor at 1:28 PM on June 22, 2006


My remark on ISP Terms of Service is fact, and not some completely far fetched analogy:
...
It is against almost all ISPs' terms of service for the end-user to share his/her connection with anyone who does not live at the billing address.
...
Further: Bob's TOS with Comcast says he can't share his connection with non residents of his home.

Technically, you're not even supposed to leave your wifi on your cable modem open to the public, purchase or no. It violates the TOS. But of course, nobody really cares, do they? The modem guys who hooked me up didn't.


Ughhhh... Ok, twiggy doesn't understand that Comcast's Terms of Service are not legally enforceable the way he thinks they are. I posted about this in the MetaTalk thread last time everyone went all apeshit over a Wi-Fi arrest that had very little to do with Wi-Fi.

Under Comcast's TOS, you have to obtain Comcast's permission for each machine in your home network to use your internet connection. In fact, you're not allowed to do ANYTHING with the signal that comes in through your cable modem without Comcast's permission. This includes running any sort of wireless home network, or even an a wired LAN. Comcast considers any of these configurations to be "Theft of Service" (From Comcast's TOS: Theft of service is the unauthorized interception and/or receipt of any communications service offered over a cable system without the consent of the cable operator)
posted by SweetJesus at 1:34 PM on June 22, 2006


. Sometimes, this is just media, other times, it is something crucial, like my cell phone. Almost nobody owns their own cell phone, they only own a license to use it. You are not allowed by the TOS to repair or alter it yourself. This is actually a felony.

That is absolutely, positively, not true.
posted by bshort at 1:34 PM on June 22, 2006


More, possibly all, Mefi invective should be presented in passion play format. That was nice. (I have nothing else to add that hasn't been presented 10, possibly 20, times here already.)
posted by furiousthought at 1:34 PM on June 22, 2006


That is absolutely, positively, not true.

I would love to be corrected. I was under the impression that cracking any protections on a phone that you do not yourself own would violate the DMCA, since the software on the phone is copyrighted by the company.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:37 PM on June 22, 2006


troybob: i don't know how it falls legally, but for the sake of protecting property, are we not expected to exercise reasonable care to prevent theft of our property?

Reasonable care was exercised when he was told to buy something or find another access point.

klangklangston: Implicit consent to use the resource is granted. Just like a million things already discussed. The way to fix that is to halt the implicit consent. Nothing else you've said has any bearing.

Why isn't telling the person, "please sir, our seating/restroom/wifi access is reserved for customers" also sufficient?

Or to put it another way, why is wifi categorically different from other services that potentially could be used by anybody? If a business does not want people loitering or using their restroom, are they SOL unless they put locks on the door and assign card keys?

klangklangston: Second, if there's a reasonable (good faith) belief that it is intentionally open, and that's a very fair reading of the culture of WiFi, then the onus is not on me to go to extraordinary dilligence to prove that the connection is intentionally open.

And if someone tells you that it's not open, then the onus is on you to stop using the service.

Before we go all Cory Doctorow on this, we are not just talking about a laptop that logged in for 15 seconds at a stop light. We are talking about hours a day over a period of three months. At what point do we tip the scales from "network effects" to "parasitic freeloading?"
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:40 PM on June 22, 2006


You own your cell phone.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:40 PM on June 22, 2006


Reasonable care was exercised when he was told to buy something or find another access point.

given the technology, reasonable care would have obviated that conversation
posted by troybob at 1:49 PM on June 22, 2006


You own your cell phone.
I don't own any of the software on it, though, right? I guess I purchased the physical object, which they sold at a loss.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:52 PM on June 22, 2006


"Why isn't telling the person, "please sir, our seating/restroom/wifi access is reserved for customers" also sufficient?"

Um... It is. By telling the person that, the implied consent is removed.

"And if someone tells you that it's not open, then the onus is on you to stop using the service. "

Yeah. That's the remedy. But they have to tell you that it's not open.
posted by klangklangston at 1:54 PM on June 22, 2006


I was under the impression that cracking any protections on a phone that you do not yourself own would violate the DMCA, since the software on the phone is copyrighted by the company.

You own your cell phone.
posted by bshort at 1:55 PM on June 22, 2006


According to this, the phone's software might not qualify, but modern phones have so much functionality, I have a hard time believing they won't be covered under the DMCA.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:57 PM on June 22, 2006


I guess I purchased the physical object, which they sold at a loss.

I'm not sure how true the whole "sold at a loss" thing is. If there's a loss, it's certainly not a large one.

I bought a high-end, unlocked, retail boxed phone, with no contract, and it cost me $80 more than the same (locked) phone with a 2 year contract requirement.

My vendor didn't sell me anything else, so there was clearly some margin in there, as well.

The way I see it, the "loss" couldn't be more than $50, which is a joke given that cell phone plans run $50-$100+/month.
posted by I Love Tacos at 2:12 PM on June 22, 2006


troybob: given the technology, reasonable care would have obviated that conversation

Technology can make a lot of these conversations unnecessary. The business in question could just minimize its presence to a walk-up or drive-up window. Or even many business could just be replaced by carefully locked vending machine. But many businesses find that ease of access to things like restrooms, chairs and tables tend to attract customers. So these conversations and social contracts become a necessary compromise between security and profit.

The fact that they could have used alternate means to secure the connection is utterly irrelevant. Most of those means can be easily subverted, (buying a coffee once a month, just looking in the window at the chalkboard, or grabbing a recepit from the trash.) The business owner has the right to specify how his or her services are used, and pick his or her preferred method of enforcement. Locking the bathroom and welding the key to a 3-foot length of pipe is one way, wifi encryption is another way, asking freeloaders to leave is a third.

klangklangston: Yeah. That's the remedy. But they have to tell you that it's not open.

Sorry, I thought you were arguing a different postion. My mistake.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:13 PM on June 22, 2006


God, Twiggy, you're like the Idiot Pope, boldly offering pronouncements based on a defense of the ignorant when you only really have any authority if we've already accepted your moronic first premises. How's that for an analogy?

"If you do not know which one it is, then how can you say it's completely ethical and fine to assume this person wants you to use it, and go ahead and do so?"

Asked and answered counselor.

The Router and the Laptop; A Passion Play


No, you're an idiot, because you're breaking things down into internet terminology with router saying "hey I'm open!" and you don't understand the human element of things.

In the case of the router, the manufacturer defaulted the router to "HEY I'M OPEN!" mode. This doesn't mean that by being unaware of this fact, every HUMAN user with a WAP is implicitly agreeing with the way his/her router is set up.

If you fail to see the difference between this and the extremely technical "since SSID is broadcast by default, the router is shouting that it's open", then you've got some serious social issues you need to work out.
posted by twiggy at 2:22 PM on June 22, 2006


forforf wrong. Those using unlicensed public spectrum and protocols to “share” access to their paid backhaul connected to an, until now, unrestricted resource (the internet, its like air) have an obligation to or should bear the onus to implement polices that secure/limit usage. Block his MAC address, or force a page with an “I accept the TOS” button thingy, or include a password on the receipt.

klangklangston “Yeah. That's the remedy. But they have to tell you that it's not open.”
The idea that Bob singles you out and says you can’t sit here in a public park eating Bob’s unlabeled apples that fell in public space watching this passion play breathing, until now, free air just don’t fly for me. Remember he wasn’t malingering in the coffee shop or trying to use their potty.
If Bob does not want someone to use Bob’s pipe then specify the TOS clearly without prejudicial bias that all may acknowledge and agree to the terms of use as a condition of use by using both free and built in features to limit that access.

Ok KirkJobSluder “Unwanted interference with services” so you’re saying Bob can park the spectrum and apply random prejudicial bias without an appropriate reasonable ubiquitous policy notice as a condition of sharing? Great, so now I can be arrested for turning on my AP on the same channel as the coffee shop? Not. Oh no wait I had three channels up before the coffee shop opened this morning, arrest Bob.
Oh, and having a guy arrested is also a nice way to limit access. Why bother with securing a connection and tempting subversion when subversion of his utterly irrelevant right to not be pointlessly incarcerated is so much more fun to watch.

Troybob Bingo!
Reasonable care was exercised when he was told to buy something or find another access point.

Ding, Ding, Ding! “given the technology, reasonable care would have obviated that conversation”

Reasonably prejudicial bias was exercised. We will see it on Law and Order as soon as someone gets shot.
Bob manage your apples before they hit the ground or go pour that hot cup and call the ACLU. Done.
posted by MapGuy at 2:29 PM on June 22, 2006


Crash was going somewhere interesting with this: say matt decides, understandably, that **** should not be allowed to access this site anymore...so he sends him a note saying 'you are not allowed to access the site, with or without login'....if **** does not obey this explicit warning...well, he is using matt's bandwidth...he is interacting with the server (it's not simply a one-way broadcast)...he is consuming matt's resources despite explicit instructions otherwise...

...with regard to reasonable care: my question is more like: to what extent should the justice system be required to take on the time and expense to handle cases like this in which the owner of property will not take reasonable measures to protect property? the shop owner knew that someone was accessing the network against policy, and thus knew the potential for that to continue to happen--if he does not take measures to keep that from happening, he is not taking reasonable precautions...

..how would the system handle the matter, for instance, if some guy kept leaving all his cash on his front porch and then called the police every time it got stolen?
posted by troybob at 2:30 PM on June 22, 2006


"If he didn't want me to use it, he wouldn't have left it open, no doubt."

Yes, no doubt. The same should be said for a person leaving his car, bike or house unlocked. Hey, if he didn't want me to use it, it wouldn't just be sitting there unsecured!

Ignorance is not the same as implied consent. There's a huge difference.

Once again:

Bob's router is open because he doesn't know jack about networking. You use his wireless.

1) Do you have permission? No.

2) Who is paying for the bandwidth at the other end of the router? Bob, not you.

3) Are you using any of it? Yes, and even if it's a tiny amount, you're using it, and it's NOT YOURS.


go ahead, klingklang - logically refute any of this. You haven't. Nor have you addressed taking this a step further, where you encounter a random open wireless SSID, and ask yourself "Is this a Bob? or is this someone who wants to share intentionally?"

Feel free to present something other than an ad hominem attack in response. I look forward to it.
posted by twiggy at 2:31 PM on June 22, 2006


If you fail to see the difference between this and the extremely technical "since SSID is broadcast by default, the router is shouting that it's open", then you've got some serious social issues you need to work out.

Feel free to present something other than an ad hominem attack in response. I look forward to it.
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:32 PM on June 22, 2006


I don't understand why you're dismissing the technical argument. In the absence of direct communication with the owner of the access point, the signals broadcast by the access point are all a reasonable stranger has to go on, and those signals say "open for use". The owner may be ignorant, but he does own a piece of equipment that's enthusiastically broadcasting welcome messages.

In the end, this is probably going to require new laws.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:38 PM on June 22, 2006


twiggy, the comparison to the car/bike/etc... isn't valid. A car/bike can not be used by another person until the first person returns it. If the issue was the user using a large percentage of the bandwidth, I guess the comparison can be made. But unless we know that, it's very likely he had little or no impact on the customer/employee's access.

Let's say the coffee shop closes down at night and shuts off their wireless. Now, while the shop is closed, someone in a van or nearby area decided to use a satelite modem connected to their own AP to broadcast with the same SSID & channel as the coffee shop. Would you consider the coffee shop in breach of the law when they open and begin broadcasting on the same channel/SSID in conflict with the previous network?

Again, I present the http request to my server. My web page is not locked down b/c I'm a moron. If you access the page, are you breaking the law? You do not have explicit consent, but most people would consider it implied, because that's how the internet works. Similiarly, if I broadcast my SSID and you or your device connect to it, I consider it implied consent. Only in the case when consent is explicitly not given (such as the news story above) would I think I'm doing anything wrong.
posted by Crash at 2:43 PM on June 22, 2006


Accessing an unsecured wifi connection is like meeting some exotic hot chick at a bar, and being real drunk, and going back to her place or your place or maybe a hotel, and making out, and getting so hot that you are like, ready to explode, and working your way to the bed, and tearing off one another's clothes, then she says "I have a little surprise for you" and HOLY SHIT SHE HAS A PENIS and is not a girl at all, but the rest of her or him still looks like a hot chick, and you are way drunk and way horny, so you have sex anyway, twice, and the next morning your wallet is gone and you don't remember what happened for sure.

It doesn't make you gay, is what I am saying.
posted by LarryC at 2:53 PM on June 22, 2006


Where did internet protocols come from?

They evolved from human-to-human communication protocols. These protocols were devised to guide human communications.

With the advent of computers, you can have an automaton stand in for you and act in your absence.

There is nothing fundamentally different between the router broadcasting it's presence and dialling 1 before the area code. They are both formalizations of human intent, they are protocols.
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:54 PM on June 22, 2006



4cheesemac:
a computer "asks" a wifi router for permission to join a network.
sonofsamian:
No, first the router asks the computer if it would like to join.


correct of course. But I didn't say anything about the sequence of events, and the point you make reinforces mine. I am grateful to be invited to use your router's connection to the internet. But I did ask if it was OK, or my laptop did anyway, in response to your very kind invitation. Our machines seem to get along well. Maybe we can be friends too.

Here's another twist. There are open public wifi networks in many places. My university runs one, open to the world and explicitly so. How am I supposed to tell the difference between one of those and one where I am "stealing" bandwidth if there are no signs, fences, etc.?

I do take the view that what I do using your wireless AP is yours to inspect, if I am foolish enough (or am unconcerned enough) not to encrypt my activities. I use open wireless networks in the full knowledge that there is no reasonable expectation of security for me either. I surf and email accordingly. Anyone who doesn't is a fool.

The airwaves are public property. The technology for reasonably securing your wireless network (and the obligation to meet the terms of service of your ISP) are yours if you run a wireless network. If ignorance is a defense for the owner of the AP, it certainly is for the user of the open network.

Personal responsibility is not a bad first principle. A bicycle in someone's yard is obviously their property. A bicycle left lying in the middle of a public roadway for an extended period of time (a relevant factor not mentioned yet in this debate) can reasonably be assumed to be abandoned and thus available for the taking.

And yes, in some jurisdictions, the fruit on a tree branch that overhangs your property AND DROPS IN YOUR YARD is yours for the taking too.

In the end, no analogy is perfect, just useful to think with. WiFi is its own thing. I see the arguments for the "illegal" case, but don't accept them. It is simply too well known that open WiFi will be used by strangers, and too easy to protect it to a minimal degree that establishes your intention to protect it. There are simply too many possible scenarios in which it would be perfectly fine to connect to any particular open AP. It is harder NOT to connect than to connect given the automatic nature of WiFi transceivers. I don't know the terms of service of your ISP. I don't know whether you are sharing on purpose or not. I have no reason to assume one thing or another. Thousands of people use open APs without being charged with a crime. Thousands open their APs without caring if anyone uses them. The preponderance of evidence, custom, and conditions seems to favor the defense unless and until the law is clarified and enforced fairly and evenly, hardware ships in a default mode that avoids connecting to unknown APs without explicit warnings, and social conventions develop regarding this practice.

The attractive nuisance principle, at a minimum, seems to apply quite obviously.

Finally, on the air conditioner analogy: yeah, you left the AC on, the window open, and I am running a fan to suck the cool air into my property, but the fan is on my property and who is to say you did not intend to cool the surrounding neighborhood when *you* left your window open and the AC running? If I were a good neighbor, I'd let you know about the situation and ask if you minded sharing your cool air.

I have less sympathy for a business in this case than an individual. I can reasonably assume that a business is offering free wifi not only for its immediate customers, but as an amenity to the community to build goodwill and long term custom. Why not? I know businesspeople who do that. As a business, they are responsible for spending whatever it costs to abide by the terms of their agreements with an ISP, the law, and their community's standards. It is not my problem if they don't do so. And they don't have the same ignorance defense if they are explicitly offering free wifi to some members of the public (the ones who buy coffee and sit at their tables, perhaps). They know their network is public. They presumably have an agreement with an ISP that they may offer their bandwidth to strangers. Some businesses let non-customers use their bathrooms too. It is not a crime to use the bathroom at a restaurant and not buy anything. The business has the right to tell you that you can't. They have a right to throw you out if you try. They can even be discriminating about it and let, say, people with children use their bathrooms for free but not winos. Making their policy explicit and enforcing it is their problem, not a matter for police enforcement unless someone tries to take their services by force after being told not to, either personally or with a sign saying "bathrooms for customers only." That is why such signs exist. And then the crime is not theft, but harassment, trespassing, etc. No one calculates the value of the water used to flush the toilet as the basis for whether using a bathroom against store policy is right or wrong. And I've never heard of anyone being *arrested* for doing so unless they have otherwise broken the law in doing so (getting violent, refusing a rightful request to leave the premises, etc.). Any reasonable judge would laugh the case right out of court.
posted by fourcheesemac at 2:58 PM on June 22, 2006


I was ignorant that firing my gun in the city could kill someone. Clearly, those people I shot are stealing my bullets.

"Do you have permission? No."

Yes. From the router. That's no more "technical" than assuming that websites without passwords are meant to be viewed by the public.

Twiggy: BUT WAIT, WHAT IF A MORON HAS SETS UPPED THEY WEBSITE! IGNORANCE OF THE WEB IS NO EXCUSE FOR USING MY HYPERLINKS!

And Twiggy, it's only an ad hominem attack if I was dismissing what you are saying because you're an idiot. Rather, this is the converse— because of what you are saying, I'm dismissing you as an idiot. (Not just an idiot, the Idiot Pope! Getcherself a hat!)
posted by klangklangston at 2:59 PM on June 22, 2006


"How am I supposed to tell the difference between one of those and one where I am "stealing" bandwidth if there are no signs, fences, etc.?"

Simple. Twiggy says that you must never use the internet EVAR. Especially double if it's WiFi, because some poor innocent may have fallen off the turnip truck that morning with his router and broadband, and it would (OMG) make them violate TOS or something.
posted by klangklangston at 3:02 PM on June 22, 2006


Metafilter: it doesn't make you gay, is what I am saying.
posted by Rumple at 3:04 PM on June 22, 2006


The gun analogy is truly absurd. No one gets killed (and there is no risk thereof) by an open wireless network or someone accessing that network. Hyperbole is not helpful here. Guns, cars, toxins, and so forth are subject to a special level of legal oversight because of their lethal potential (same for swimming pools, actually). It is a matter of common sense to distinguish between degrees of harm and regulate accordingly. The issue of whether firing your gun in public is ethical has nothing to do with property lines, once you leave (or your bullet leaves) your own. But if you shoot me from your property and the bullet lands in my yard and not in my gut, I am entitled to your bullet.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:06 PM on June 22, 2006


And in any case, you are responsible for the correct use of your gun. Likewise, you are responsible for the correct use of your internet bandwidth. Leaving your gun lying around your yard can get YOU arrested or sued even if someone has to come on your property to pick it up and fire it. Laws explicitly require people to take reasonable precautions to secure their guns against criminal and non-criminal appropriation alike.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:08 PM on June 22, 2006


klangklangston, my bad for not seeing you used the gun analogy as argumentum ad absurdum. Indeed, it is.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:11 PM on June 22, 2006


hmmm: if the cafe does not secure its internet access, and someone on the street in violation of policy uses that internet connection to commit a crime or terrorist action, can the cafe owner be prosecuted although, unlike a gun, an internet connection is not primarily a weapon (although some mefites attempt to use it as such every day)...?
posted by troybob at 3:16 PM on June 22, 2006


I forget which side I am on. But we are all in agreement that there should be a law and that this guy should rot in jail, right? And $3.75 for a cup of coffee is a sweet deal. And WiFi just rules. And we should be in fear of sitting in a parking lot using a laptop arguing with Pope Twiggy on the internet.

Laptop: $799
Free Internet: One cup of coffee
Calling the cops: $0
Legal fees: $6,000
Bitching about the world on MeFi: $5

Having your name plastered all over the place as a sex offender thief and picking up the soap in Jail tomorrow: Priceless
posted by MapGuy at 3:22 PM on June 22, 2006


mmmmm, cappucino . . . .
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:27 PM on June 22, 2006


if the cafe does not secure its internet access, and someone on the street in violation of policy uses that internet connection to commit a crime or terrorist action, can the cafe owner be prosecuted although, unlike a gun, an internet connection is not primarily a weapon (although some mefites attempt to use it as such every day)...?

No, for the same reason your ISP isn't sued when a customer downloads child pornography over their network. I forget the exact term, but you're acting as something akin to a "network carrier" when you broadcast a Wi-fi signal.
posted by SweetJesus at 3:28 PM on June 22, 2006


Mapguy: I forget which side I am on. But we are all in agreement that there should be a law and that this guy should rot in jail, right?

1) No, I don't believe such a consensus has been reached
2) 'Rot in jail'? As in for life or for a very, very, very, very long time? Hell no.

I'd be willing to bet if this goes to trial the prosecution will try to introduce into evidence the fact the guy's a sex offender (class 1, btw, so not exactly a vicious predator...)

I'd also be willing to bet any competent defence lawyer will move heaven and earth to make sure that doesn't happen.

Hmm. I wonder if the store has any evidence they asked him to move on?
posted by kaemaril at 3:53 PM on June 22, 2006


ok, i see...thanks...i thought maybe with the ISP there would be an argument that they take reasonable precautions because they, to some extent, screen their users and can identify them, and also can track their activity (whereas the unsecured wifi connection more easily masks the user's identity), though maybe that's not the case with all ISPs anyway...
posted by troybob at 3:56 PM on June 22, 2006


Yes, but guess what? Faraday cages are illegal.
posted by nlindstrom at 3:58 PM on June 22, 2006


Hmm. I wonder if the store has any evidence they asked him to move on?

one thing this has had me thinking about, though i can't word it well: a sign on a shop is kind of like a contract between the customer and shop owner--if a sign is displayed, the customer, by remaining, implicitly agrees to the policy...can someone who does not enter the premises be bound by such a policy (such as 'wifi for customers only')?
posted by troybob at 4:00 PM on June 22, 2006


(just in case that wasn't sarcasm...) they are?
posted by kaemaril at 4:00 PM on June 22, 2006


Yes, but guess what? Faraday cages are illegal.

My reaction exactly, kaemaril - I certainly hope that was sarcasm. These folks would certainly be surprised, as they sell "Faraday cage in a paint can" and Wi-Fi window film.

This is going to be an interesting case. Indicating that this was "theft of services" would imply that there was a loss on the part of the cafe - the legal definition in most states includes the clause, "...available only by compensation..."

If the services were free, and freely offered, that's going to be tough. The service in question was offered by the cafe - if they're going to use this, they will have to imply that the service was being stolen from the cafe's ISP and that the cafe was merely an intermediary. I find that to be an unlikely defense.

The fun part is trying to explain to the judge, and to the jury, that although it's free, it's only free if someone buys something from within the cafe, even though it's available outside the cafe as well, on public property.

Of course, I'm no lawyer, so what sounds hilariously infeasible in real life could have absolutely no bearing in court. I can't wait to hear "yes, you can freely receive that broadcast at any time, but if we catch you, we'll call it theft."
posted by FormlessOne at 4:17 PM on June 22, 2006


SweetJesus: Under Comcast's TOS, you have to obtain Comcast's permission for each machine in your home network to use your internet connection. In fact, you're not allowed to do ANYTHING with the signal that comes in through your cable modem without Comcast's permission. This includes running any sort of wireless home network, or even an a wired LAN.

Actually, that's no longer the case.
posted by Western Infidels at 4:18 PM on June 22, 2006


I know a guy who has to register as a sex offender because he got drunk and pissed at a football game, which is "indecent exposure." I'm not sure I'm for all "sex offenders" being raped and killed.
posted by klangklangston at 4:43 PM on June 22, 2006


MapGuy: The idea that Bob singles you out and says you can’t sit here in a public park eating Bob’s unlabeled apples that fell in public space watching this passion play breathing, until now, free air just don’t fly for me. Remember he wasn’t malingering in the coffee shop or trying to use their potty. Remember he wasn’t malingering in the coffee shop or trying to use their potty.

No, he was malingering in the parking lot though.

The apples argument fails when you stop passively eating Bob's apples, and start hooking a rope over the branches of Bob's tree to get more apples. Or to be specific, when you stop passively slurping packets out of the ether and start sending packets with the expectation that Bob's relay will pass them on to the destination.

Ok KirkJobSluder “Unwanted interference with services” so you’re saying Bob can park the spectrum and apply random prejudicial bias without an appropriate reasonable ubiquitous policy notice as a condition of sharing?

Well, to a degree yes. It's the nature of unlicensed spectrum that we park our cordless phones, garage door openers, dorbells and wireless routers on a tiny bit of spectrum in the hopes that our neighbors don't have a similar device operating on the same frequency. You don't have to make an announcement as to policy every time you buy a cordless device. You just do it.

Great, so now I can be arrested for turning on my AP on the same channel as the coffee shop?

No, but if you continue to operate in a way that causes interference to other legititimate services, you can face fines or be banned from operating any kind of radio equipment.

Oh, and having a guy arrested is also a nice way to limit access.

It's simple:
1: Business offeres free services (parking/bathroom/couch/chair/table/sugarpackets/internet) for customers on the basis that they will be paid for by other services.
2: Guy uses services without patronizing the business.
3: Guy continues to use service.
4: Guy is arrested.

I don't see how this is unreasonable.

mr_roboto: In the absence of direct communication with the owner of the access point, the signals broadcast by the access point are all a reasonable stranger has to go on, and those signals say "open for use".

Well yeah. In the absence of direct communication with the owner of the access point. In the presence of direct communication with the owner of the access point, you are obligated to listen to his or her requests.

fourcheesemac: The attractive nuisance principle, at a minimum, seems to apply quite obviously.

Only in the case of complete ignorance of what it means:
There is normally no particular care required of property owners to safeguard trespassers from harm, but an attractive nuisance is an exception. An attractive nuisance is any inherently hazardous object or condition of property that can be expected to attract children to investigate or play (for example, construction sites and discarded large appliances). The doctrine imposes upon the property owner either the duty to take precautions that are reasonable in light of the normal behavior of young children--a much higher degree of care than required toward adults--or the same care as that owed to "invitees"--a higher standard than required toward uninvited, casual visitors (licensees).
Is parking in a lot for hours a day over three months and returning when asked to leave the normal behavior of young children?

fourmacheese: Some businesses let non-customers use their bathrooms too. It is not a crime to use the bathroom at a restaurant and not buy anything. The business has the right to tell you that you can't. They have a right to throw you out if you try. They can even be discriminating about it and let, say, people with children use their bathrooms for free but not winos. Making their policy explicit and enforcing it is their problem, not a matter for police enforcement unless someone tries to take their services by force after being told not to, either personally or with a sign saying "bathrooms for customers only." That is why such signs exist. And then the crime is not theft, but harassment, trespassing, etc.

1: It's the job of business owners to engage in physical confrontations over theft of services. I worked risk management for a few years, walking a beat at night over a major campus. And the standard procedure was to call police in regards to any form of criminal activity or tresspass.

2: No signs are needed. Just a polite, "get off my property and don't come back." Period, end of discussion.

3: The crime is theft of services. It's the same crime you would be charged with if you dumped your trash into a business's dumpster or skipped out on a bill at a restauraunt.

troybob: the shop owner knew that someone was accessing the network against policy, and thus knew the potential for that to continue to happen--if he does not take measures to keep that from happening, he is not taking reasonable precautions...

Well, just as with bathrooms, furniture and dumpsters, "reasonable care" can involve a variety of technical and social methods. As an example, some cafes where I live have open access, but will ask you to purchase something or leave if you are are squatting during peak meal times. I see this as perfectly reasonable, and they don't need a sign of dense legalese in order to have that kind of policy.

And here is where I have the a big objection to this logic that you have to tell people in advance exactly what the rules are before you can do anything about people who are obviously abusing your facilities. You don't know what crazy things a person is going to do until they do it. A business owner has the right to refuse service for any reason as long as they comply with state and federal anti-discrimination laws. A laundry does not need to say in advance, "we don't want our patrons to strip down to their underwear and dance polkas while their clothes are tumbling." They can just say, "please leave now" when it happens.

MapGuy: But we are all in agreement that there should be a law and that this guy should rot in jail, right?

I'm wondering if there is more to this story that we have not heard about. I think this is a trivial crime that just should be put through pre-trial diversion and a slap on the wrist.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:55 PM on June 22, 2006


twiggy, the comparison to the car/bike/etc... isn't valid. A car/bike can not be used by another person until the first person returns it. If the issue was the user using a large percentage of the bandwidth, I guess the comparison can be made. But unless we know that, it's very likely he had little or no impact on the customer/employee's access.

See, you want to get all super technical when it's convenient for you, and then ignore the super technical when it's not.

In actuality, you using my bandwidth and me using my bandwidth literally simultaneously is impossible when you take it down to the micro level, which you seem so keen to do when it works for you. We just alternate back and forth between packets so goddamn fast you can't tell the difference.

Furthermore, little or no impact does not change ethics or whether or not "stealing" has been done. Even if I don't notice it, if you're taking something that's not yours, you're doing something bad.

Just because you hold some philosophy that you should be able to take whatever the hell you want as long as there isn't a sign telling you otherwise doesn't make my points "idiotic".

If most routers came with WEP or WPA enabled by default, and someone had to go out of their way to open it to the public, I might say you have a decent argument about it being a "reasonable assumption" that it's meant to be for public use. Fact is, that's not how it works.
posted by twiggy at 5:22 PM on June 22, 2006


troybob: one thing this has had me thinking about, though i can't word it well: a sign on a shop is kind of like a contract between the customer and shop owner--if a sign is displayed, the customer, by remaining, implicitly agrees to the policy...can someone who does not enter the premises be bound by such a policy (such as 'wifi for customers only')?

It would have to be one pretty big sign to cover all possible contingencies.

But I'd argue that such a sign is unnecessary. It is commonly understood that a business has the right to refuse service for a wide variety of reasons as long as the business complies with anti-discrimination laws. This gives businesses a wide range of discretion. I find it hard to argue that asking a person to leave after squatting on their service for hours a day over three months is an arbitrary refusal. And the premises can arguably be expanded to include the parking lot.

FormlessOne: The fun part is trying to explain to the judge, and to the jury, that although it's free, it's only free if someone buys something from within the cafe, even though it's available outside the cafe as well, on public property.

I don't think this is a problem in this case. After all, businesses have the right to tow your ass from their parking spots. Which this guy was using. Funny how everyone manages to forget that little fact.

But looking at the Washington code, I suspect that it falls under 9A.56.262 theft of telecommunications services. If the owner informed him he no longer had permission to use the service, then I don't think he could make a good faith defense.

The other side to the argument that this all would have been moot if access point had been encrypted. It would have been moot if the guy didn't move on after he was told he was unwelcome.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:33 PM on June 22, 2006


If most routers came with WEP or WPA enabled by default, and someone had to go out of their way to open it to the public, I might say you have a decent argument about it being a "reasonable assumption" that it's meant to be for public use.

it would be difficult to prove that someone using an open network (1) knows the default status of router encryption schemes and (2) should reasonably base the perception of public use on that particular bit of knowledge...

...what you are saying is that it is the responsibility of the user to have a higher level of knowledge of common networking practices than the person who sets up the network...

...given that wireless cards and notebooks are set up (perhaps even by default) to automatically detect and connect to wifi networks, it seems someone can make a reasonable assumption that public availability and unrestricted access would indicate a network is meant for public use...
posted by troybob at 5:46 PM on June 22, 2006


Kirk: yeah, in this particular case it seemed a bit silly that the owner was going on about wireless access when it would simply have been a matter of enforcing (assuming it can be enforced) non-customers using one's parking lot after being told to leave...my later arguments are more based on the idea that a network is accessible off the physical premises of the shop, in which case i might argue that the user is not bound by the shop's policy ('one must make a purchase to use the network')
posted by troybob at 5:53 PM on June 22, 2006


Kaemaril Uhmmm yeah, I thought the factious nature of my comments was apparent.
This poor fellow’s civil and personal liberties have been accosted for want of a cup of coffee. There must have been sufficient evidence for an officer to make an arrest based on field interpretation of TOS laws. Found guilty or not the salacious damage has been done. I am less concerned about his soap problems and the legality of using “free” stuff on public property as I am more concerned about over zealous legislation and prosecution of etiquette, good or bad. Has anyone else noticed an erosion of civil and personal liberty?
Knowing what I do about communications systems, and wireless networks in particular, if you don’t want someone to use a bank of “free phones” sitting on public property then secure an appropriate non discriminatory means of agreement prior to their use. Being that those means exist and are readily accessible, in the form of a contract (clicky button), token or benefit of a pass etc. additionally words like handshake and agreement are part of normal network access protocols and are very much constitute consent if they are being adhered to. Confirmation, agreements and denials are simple administrative functions and emblematic of the exercise of proper apparent authority. Very interesting if they walked up to this guy on public property and “knew” he was using an open “free” network and made no attempt to block his access from their part of the network by denying that handshake and agreement.
Apparently choosing instead to escalate and exacerbate the problem with an “I’ll show you” attitude through poor administration and engage the police as their personal bullies.
So the next time the Jack Boots drag you off and stick a finger up your ass for minding your own business and pissing off a coffee store clerk, the sound of the soap hitting the floor will be me laughing.

Hey, you walk up to me in a parking lot and start to tell me what I can and can’t do when I think I am minding my own business and I think you should be minding yours, I will serve that nice hot cup of STFU myself.

KirkJobSluder
Malingering, was he charged with malingering?

The apple argument does work when Bob is throwing “free” apples over the fence then says don’t eat my apples and does noting to stop throwing them at hungry malingerers.

Parking Spectrum: “You don't have to make an announcement as to policy” “You just do it.” Would that be anything like the proper administration and operation of a network? Or the access of unsecured, unlabeled un-administered internet access in apparent public space?
Yup, you park it on “your” property. Don’t throw your “free” apples over the fence if you don’t want me to eat them.

“Causes interference to other legititimate services”
Thank you. Was the capacity of the “free” network exceeded? Was he jamming the network with non compliant radio equipment? Or was he being told what he could and could not do in a public space by someone without apparent authority.

“I don't see how this is unreasonable.”
Pay me $3.75 for something that is free or I will ruin your life. Yeah, I guess you got me there.

“No signs are needed. Just a polite, "get off my property and don't come back." Period, end of discussion.” Would that be like blocking a MAC address?

“3: The crime is theft of services. It's the same crime you would be charged with if you dumped your trash into a business's dumpster or skipped out on a bill at a restaurant.”
Business’s dumpster or apparent public dumpster and remember you probably didn’t fill it up, you just threw away a candy wrapper.

“And here is where I have the a big objection to this logic that you have to tell people in advance exactly what the rules are” Would that be like a Term of Service clicky thing? Yeah, your right there too, lets just make up the rules as we go along. It is more fun and easier on everyone, really, except that guy that Bob doesn’t like.

“as long as they comply with state and federal anti-discrimination laws” I am sure he deserved what he got.

“I'm wondering if there is more to this story that we have not heard about. I think this is a trivial crime that just should be put through pre-trial diversion and a slap on the wrist.”
I agree that there is probably more here than meets the eye which is why innocent until proven guilty, should temper our accusations of his conduct. Nice to know that trivial crimes can make someone the subject of unwanted attention, by the way you dropped the soap.

“It would have to be one pretty big sign to cover all possible contingencies.” Actually it is a small popup page when you access the hot spot. It is proper, a mutual agreement and establishes apparent authority to dictate the behavior of a relationship within that space. A sign in a store window is a behavioral suggestion of etiquette within that space, unless it has a clicky button.
Coffee Bob should be arrested for inciting the public access riots in the summer of ’06. Maybe he and sex thief can work it out in jail over a cup of coffee. Good Night guys.

Great post Twiggy Pope!P
posted by MapGuy at 6:04 PM on June 22, 2006


troybob: ...given that wireless cards and notebooks are set up (perhaps even by default) to automatically detect and connect to wifi networks, it seems someone can make a reasonable assumption that public availability and unrestricted access would indicate a network is meant for public use...

I'll agree that's a reasonable assumption to make.

I don't think that it's a reasonable assumption to make that the business owner wants me squatting in their parking lot for hours at a time, day after day using their network.

Or to describe it another way. Can the owners of Wireless Access Points have a legitimate interest in preventing freeloaders squatting on their network? Can the owners of WAPs make any requests at all of the people using their network?

...my later arguments are more based on the idea that a network is accessible off the physical premises of the shop, in which case i might argue that the user is not bound by the shop's policy ('one must make a purchase to use the network')

Well, as I posted before, I don't think location matters that much. What I'm interested in is the basic ethical principle. Do providers of services have a legitimate interest in demanding certain norms of behavior from their users? What I'm hearing here is that the technical means to access a service provides carte blanche for any form of use, social norms and legal rights be damned.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:13 PM on June 22, 2006


troybob: ...what you are saying is that it is the responsibility of the user to have a higher level of knowledge of common networking practices than the person who sets up the network...

No, i'm not saying that. The user doesn't need to know anything about networking practices, because humans are not supposed to take things that aren't theirs without asking first - it's a basic thing we're taught.. All I expect of the user is a moral compass.


MapGuy: Knowing what I do about communications systems, and wireless networks in particular, if you don’t want someone to use a bank of “free phones” sitting on public property then secure an appropriate non discriminatory means of agreement prior to their use.

Once again, it's the "it's your own damn fault for not securing it" argument. The argument that we should treat fellow members of our community as criminals first, and friends second, and lock everything up tight or be held responsible for its use and/or disappearance. This argument basically admits that taking free wireless is at the least unethical, but justifies it by saying "but the dumbass didn't secure it, so too bad for him".

Being careful and keeping things secure is a best practice, not a requirement of the law. A lack thereof may explain, but does not justify theft.
posted by twiggy at 6:13 PM on June 22, 2006


No, he was malingering in the parking lot though.

I'm thinking he was masturbating in the parking lot.

Because you see, using someones unsecured wifi connection is like mas--

Never mind.
posted by LarryC at 6:25 PM on June 22, 2006


twiggy: i was speaking to your notion of 'reasonable assumption' given your statement about router encryption, which you skirted rather artlessly. i actually agree that theft of service is wrong; i disagree that the use of freely available, unrestricted, wireless network access constitutes theft...but see, you made a concession-- that if router encryption were the default setting, it might be a reasonable assumption that open networks are public--but this concession assumes that the network owner is too stupid to change the default and that simultaneously the unwelcome user is so smart as to base an assumption of public status on router default schemes...

What I'm hearing here is that the technical means to access a service provides carte blanche for any form of use...

i believe this only to the degree that technical means exist (and are standard measures built in to routers) to prevent this kind of theft, and in this case, in the absence of such measures, the novice user is reasonable (in assuming the public nature of the network) because he/she is going to figure it's okay to connect to whatever is available, and the expert user is reasonable because he/she figures that if the owner wanted to keep the network unavailable to the public, he/she would be unable to connect...
posted by troybob at 6:50 PM on June 22, 2006


MapGuy: I agree that there is probably more here than meets the eye which is why innocent until proven guilty, should temper our accusations of his conduct.

Certainly. Hypothetically speaking, Bob the business owner has no need of a sign or an EULA or TOS to deny the use of any services to a hypothetical person spending hours a day mooching off of one of Bob's "free" services intended for customers.

When you walk onto Bob's hypothetical lot, or connect to Bob's hypothetical network, you are a guest of Bob and Bob can (within the limits of civil rights laws) tell you to fuck off and go somewhere else. If you are a good and neighborly person you tip your hypothetical hat at Bob and find somewhere else to park your hypothetical ass. If you are a stupid and stubborn person, you hang around until Bob calls the hypothetical police who will hypothetically ask you nicely to fuck off and go somewhere else. If you are really stupid and stubborn you hang out until the hypothetical police find a reason to charge you, the hypothetical DA offers you pre-trial diversion, and you pay a hypothetical sum of money and spend some hypothetical time in community service.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:58 PM on June 22, 2006


SECURE YOUR NETWORKS OR STFU.
posted by HyperBlue at 7:25 PM on June 22, 2006


i believe this only to the degree that technical means exist (and are standard measures built in to routers) to prevent this kind of theft

You can't have it both ways and believe this about one piece of property but not another.

Technical means exist to lock car doors, bicycles, homes, even gate around an entire property.

That doesn't make someone's unwelcome use of or presence on any of the aforementioned property legal just because those technical means were not employed.
posted by twiggy at 8:14 PM on June 22, 2006


yet, if any of those items--bikes, cars, houses--found their way to my front lawn (the way, for example, a wireless signal might be accessed on my property), i could reasonably assume my use of them would not be unwelcome...

...and lots of things you can believe about one piece of property and not another...a public trash can is open and unlocked, so i can use it, whereas a private trash can is kept in a garage or on private property, so i can't use it; a swing in a public park is fair game, but one in someone's back yard is not...a lot of things out there in public that aren't specifically defined as private...there are places where bikes are for public use...sometimes the very presence of security mechanisms is an indication that something is for private use only...

...but then also: there are a lot of wireless access points that are indeed public and free, and the owners broadcast them for the purposes of allowing others to use them, without restriction, without purchase, without notification, without permission; if a network does not distinguish itself somehow as a private network (via restricting access or some connect message) why shouldn't someone believe it is available for use? sure, with this case there is the point that the guy was on the shop's property, but if he were on publiic property and still within the network's range, he wouldn't be particularly obligated to seek out the owner of the signal and confirm permission to access it--the presence of the unencrypted signal is itself implied permission
posted by troybob at 8:54 PM on June 22, 2006


HyperBlue has it. KirkJobSluder, I concede the point. Next you'll want to talk about adverse possession. IANAL, and thank god for that. I concede I am ignorant of the technical definition of "attractive nuisance" as being specific to theats to persons not capable of assessing risk, usually children. The principle, of course, can be extended mtaphorically, which is still applicable here if either party to the dispute wshes to assert ignorance as a defense (I didn't know I couldn't log on/I didn't know I had to secure my network). People are ignorant of computer risk, mere children, as it were, with respect to their understanding of the dangers they expose themselves to.

Here's an interesting thought experiment. Suppose it was a child who sat outside the cafe downloading pornography (come on, we all would have done it as teenaged boys if we could have, and you're kidding yourself or don't know boys if you think this doesn't happen all the time). Could the store owner then be sued under a tort of attractive nuisance by the kid's parent, for exposing minors to pornography, and then criminally charged as well, even branded a "sex offender," for exposing children to pornography by providing an open network?

The madness is unfathomable. Neither party knows the risks involved, or neither would engage in this activity and both would defend themselves against others by securing networks, encrypting your traffic, etc. It is relatively easier for the owner of the network to avoid risk -- securing a network reasonably is now a simple task - than it would be for the surfer, who would have to surf and email through an SSL proxy, change MAC addresses frequently (merely changing a wireless card, I believe, can do that, right?), and so forth.

So we have to accept the risk of extreme cases -- the illegal websurfer enaged in nefarious activities, and covering his filthy tracks, or the devious network owner who sits at a screen all day writing down all the passwords and credit card numbers he can get -- to have a civil society, in which the owner of a cafe doesn't care if a passing neighbor checks her email on the network, but can reasonably object and throw off the network someone who abuses the privilege. I've worked in restaurants. We let people use the bathroom if they looked nice, and were desperate, or if they were polite about it, or if they sometimes were customers, or if they looked like someone who might become a customer.

Technology could solve these problems and created trusted zones, reasonable obstacles to entry -- the requirement to ask literally if you may connect, etc. Other approaches (like MeFi's $5 one-time fee) could be a solution. Charge a low yearly membership to your coffeeshop's wireless service. Normal people aren't going to need that more than a couple of hours a week. Some will need more. You set limits, and enforce them with bandwidth metering, etc. The barrier is low to enter, but the fact that there is a barrier, a human interaction, would be a real solution. Of course, this means it's no longer "free" -- it could be ridiculously cheap - $10 a year, or something -- to join my shop's network club, but I bet it keeps you coming back just the same when you need to surf and juice up.

What we really need is universal, secure, metered wifi, subsidized for the southern half of the digital divide, and run as a public utility -- and regulated the way they used to be and should be again, post-Enron. But since we don't have pie in the sky and rainbow stew for dinner, we instead have this strange patchwork of possible ways to get online, which some of us need to do or really want to do at all sorts of times, often with a laptop and not a damn blackberry on a proprietary network. We have WiFi devices. (Though the coming of high speed cellullar wireless service is changing this, it is still expensive as hell and slow too.) We can't always even FIND a boingo or t-mobile hot spot, or belong to only one network, etc. (Again, the level of cross-network privileges is getting cool. I have connected to a wayport access point in an airport for $7 or $8 and booked a 24 hour session, only to have it STILL work on the same bill in my destination airport. (That rocks, but not as much as the free PUBLIC Sunport wireless in Albuquerque airport.)
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:11 PM on June 22, 2006


Could the store owner then be sued under a tort of attractive nuisance by the kid's parent, for exposing minors to pornography, and then criminally charged as well, even branded a "sex offender," for exposing children to pornography by providing an open network?

Under tort law you can sue for just about anything, but you wouldn't win.
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 10:12 PM on June 22, 2006


There is nothing fundamentally different between the router broadcasting it's presence and dialling 1 before the area code. They are both formalizations of human intent, they are protocols.

You're not too bright, are you?
posted by bshort at 10:58 PM on June 22, 2006


twiggy writes "Technical means exist to lock car doors, bicycles, homes, even gate around an entire property.

"That doesn't make someone's unwelcome use of or presence on any of the aforementioned property legal just because those technical means were not employed."


The difference with wireless access points, however, is that for these, a clear and unambiguous technical means for announcing their public availability exists, as does a standard computer network communications protocol for granting authorized access.

If an owner of such an access point is making use of these technical means to announce the availability of his access point, and his network allows access according to a standard protocol, I will take him at his word.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:05 AM on June 23, 2006


bshort: You're not too bright, are you?

I must not be, because I don't know what you're getting at.
posted by sonofsamiam at 6:08 AM on June 23, 2006


fourcheesemac: Technology could solve these problems and created trusted zones, reasonable obstacles to entry -- the requirement to ask literally if you may connect, etc.

Well, here is another possibility. Is not low power combined with the inverse-square law limiting the practical use of an access point to the store and parking lot not a "reasonable obstacle to entry"?

Normal people aren't going to need that more than a couple of hours a week. Some will need more. You set limits, and enforce them with bandwidth metering, etc. The barrier is low to enter, but the fact that there is a barrier, a human interaction, would be a real solution.

Well, the information we have about this case suggests there was a barrier. Someone noticed a person mooching off of the internet from the parking, and said something to the effect of "don't do that." What I'm reading here, (and this is something that disturbs me greatly) is that the human interactions are meaningless, and "don't do that" shouldn't have any moral, ethical or legal force except as an echo of a technically embedded policy.

Should the owner secure the network? Certainly. The moral questions at hand is should network owners who, for reasons of ignorance or policy, don't secure their network have access to legal and social means for moderating access to their network? Do network owners have any moral interests at all in making demands of users beyond what can be enforced by the technology? Do network users have any moral obligations to network owners in terms of their use? What I'm hearing here is no, no, and no.

Which is really a shame because many issues involving bad behavior on the internet are not easily handled by purely technological means.

These are not questions that were invented in the last few years by pointy-haired bosses seeing a wave of wi-fi access. These are questions that were being kicked around and discussed back in the days of dial-up modem pools and wardialing. There were strong arguments that it was a good idea to be nice to the system owners, because they could always pack up their toys and go home.

mr_roboto: If an owner of such an access point is making use of these technical means to announce the availability of his access point, and his network allows access according to a standard protocol, I will take him at his word.

Certainly, and if the owner of such an access point verbally informs you that his establishment is not your surrogate office, shouldn't you take him at his word?

The existence of a technical protocol does not eliminate the importance of other protocols such as interpersonal communication.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:20 AM on June 23, 2006


The difference with wireless access points, however, is that for these, a clear and unambiguous technical means for announcing their public availability exists, as does a standard computer network communications protocol for granting authorized access.

You have one important word in here which is supremely flawed, and goes straight back to the whole "I am only capable of viewing things on a technical TCP/IP level" problem.

unambiguous is not the least bit accurate in describing the means of announcing public availability.

On a purely technical basis, yes, it's unambiguous to a wireless network card. That does not mean, however, that it's unambiguous to a human.

You can see exposed locks either in an "up" or "down" position in car doors -- if they're up, it's not ambiguous at all that the door is unlocked and therefore technically "open to the public". However, from a human standpoint, this is not the case.

You can say "a car is different!", and it is. The similarity, however, is that the space within the car is owned by the car owner no more or less than the less tangible but still quite real topography of the network that is "hubbed" by the WAP.
posted by twiggy at 6:38 AM on June 23, 2006


The similarity, however, is that the space within the car is owned by the car owner no more or less than the less tangible but still quite real topography of the network that is "hubbed" by the WAP.

That's a terrible analogy.

The area that is "hubbed" by your WAP is not somehow an extension of your home, your business, etc.
posted by bshort at 7:07 AM on June 23, 2006


twiggy writes "unambiguous is not the least bit accurate in describing the means of announcing public availability.

"On a purely technical basis, yes, it's unambiguous to a wireless network card. That does not mean, however, that it's unambiguous to a human."


I think it is. I mean, the standard is well-written and clear as a bell. The IEEE does not do shoddy work.

And, again, the signal provided by the access point is the only information you have to go on, so you might as well trust it.

KirkJobSluder writes "Certainly, and if the owner of such an access point verbally informs you that his establishment is not your surrogate office, shouldn't you take him at his word?"

Oh yeah, of course. I'd never argue otherwise. This particular case is clear-cut: the guy is in the wrong.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:37 AM on June 23, 2006


Twiggy, routers solicit connections, if people don't want others to connect, they can turn this feature off.

Here's the best analogy I can think of:

I leave a bowl of candy outside my office on a small table, and people stop by and grab some. There stealing Twiggy! You must stop them!

Obviously the candy doesn't belong to them, and they know it. For some crazy reason, they think I'm implying they can help themselves to it, but I'm just a moron who leaves candy in strange places. The same thing happens to the candy I leave outside my door on October 31st each year. Kids just come by and take it, often wearing disguises so I can't tell who they are.

Is it my fault that I'm an moron and don't realize it's implied that I want others to share in my candy? I think the answer is clearly yes, I'm too stupid to function in society. Public funds should not be wasted to defend my candy, I should be instructed to put up a sign, secure my candy, or somehow let people know who and who can not eat the candy.

WiFi is exactly the same. It's implied that you can connect and use it until permission is revoked. The internet works the exact same way. Not only can you use their services, but you can make electronic copies of copyrighted works without asking.

In this case, the person was asked not to use it. I believe the cafe owner had every right to ask the person not to use it, just like I believe they can tell someone not to use their parking lot. But in the everyday occurance of someone coming across an unlocked network, they should feel free to use it unless stated otherwise.
posted by Crash at 7:41 AM on June 23, 2006


Wow, Crash, that analogy actually works. And it only took us 248 comments! The hive mind indeed.
posted by LarryC at 8:03 AM on June 23, 2006


Crash is obviously a troll. Quick, someone call him out on MeTa.
posted by mkultra at 8:52 AM on June 23, 2006


KirkJobSluder: Like I said, it would be ideal if the technology worked in such a way that one actually had to ask a human for permission -- either one time or every time -- to join a network.

I have no sympathy for this guy if he kept surfing after being asked to stop, and especially if he did it in a private parking lot belonging to the the shop. If the WiFi coverage extends only to the boundaries of the store's property, that's a great solution, and the store is *perfectly* within its right prohibiting people from parking in its lot without buying anything, or loitering on its property. My entire challenge begins at the property line.

And I too believe that human interaction is prime. These problems don't go back to wardialing. They go back to cavemen sharing nuts and berries. Sharing is a good thing, not a bad thing. It can be and is abused. Abusers ruin it for all of us, but they can be dealt with without criminalizing all attempts to connect to an open wireless access point that is not your own.

bshort, that was just nasty. If you disagree with sonofamian, explain why. Don't just say "you're not too bright" like you're some kind of fucking genius far above the fray. Flagged as noise.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:27 AM on June 23, 2006


No one has yet responded to the question of how a casual wifi user is supposed to distinguish between legitimately open public networks like my university's and "technically" open but actually private access points. It seems to me that this, in the absence of a warning not to continue, would be a slam dunk defense in court. But then, courts are not rational places.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:29 AM on June 23, 2006


In Crash's analogy I think an open wireless router is really more like actually having a sign saying "help yourself to candy".

If we must have an analogy, I think the web site one is best. A web site (on the internet, not an internal network) is available to everyone, it's easy to add at least some level of security, and there is some small cost associated with people using it (bandwidth bill). I regard the actions of the cafe as akin to a commercial business telling someone "stop browsing our web site, you never buy anything" and it's costing us money. Which is fine, but if he persists in coming just block his IP. The idea of the police being involved when there is such an easy technical solution is what bothers me.
posted by teleskiving at 11:37 AM on June 23, 2006


The guy should have just paid $2 for a coffee one day and kept the receipt. :)
posted by -harlequin- at 4:00 PM on June 23, 2006


Crash:

All your whole post did was illustrate exactly the point I've been saying is logically wrong and nothing but technologically elitist from the beginning.

You point out yourself that the router is giving out invitations, but concede that a person who owns the router may not realize that.

You then continue on to essentially say "serves the dumbass right for having his stuff stolen."

Your candy analogy further fails because a dish of candy is a socially ingrained sign for "take one." for the vast majority of [american] humans whether you ask a genius or a moron. Despite that, I would still say "may I have one, please?" before taking one, because I'm apparently a dying breed of people called "polite."

Teleskiving's follow up addition to your analogy fails, because having a sign that says "help yourself" is even more incorrect. Having that sign takes effort and implies knowledge that the owner of said candy knows the sign is there.


A better analogy would be unsolicited phone calls and/or text messages to your cell phone number. You have to pay for inbound calls/messages (be it in "minutes" or cold hard cash). At the very least, the act of saying "I know that numbers 123-456-xxxx are all cell phones, I'm going to make phone calls to them 0000 through 9999 to advertise my product!" is unethical even if there's not an explicit law against it. (as it turns out, in many states there is).

The geeks here really need to get over the highly technical stuff where the router is making public requests. The person is blissfully unaware of these requests 9 times out of 10, and permission from the person is the only way you can ever justify using services being paid for by that person "legally" or ethically.
posted by twiggy at 10:25 PM on June 23, 2006


Your candy analogy further fails because a dish of candy is a socially ingrained sign for "take one." for the vast majority of [american] humans whether you ask a genius or a moron.

A socially ingrained sign is just that: social. And society changes. My bet is the vast majority of [american] humans would use an open wifi signal. And if so, and you admit that to not ask is only not "polite" then over time what is now rude will become normal.

In town tonight there was some guy riding a unicycle and juggling flaming sticks. There was a hat there. You could watch the show and you could throw a buck into the hat. It might be construed as rude to watch the show and then stiff the hat, but it is hardly illegal - even if you were taking up pavement that some more generous soul could have occupied. If the juggler wants to be guaranteed only paying eyes can see him, then he can move his show indoors and sell tickets. Otherwise, he takes his chances.

I still think my apple tree branch hanging over a fence is a good analogy, and one with established legal principles. I can pick his apples and eat them, I can cut the branches off if I want. I can't kill the tree. If the neighbour wants those apples then he needs to get the branches onto his side of the fence.
posted by Rumple at 11:01 PM on June 23, 2006


But twiggy, SOME persons and institutions do in fact grant their personal or institutional permission to use their wifi whenever you want by simply leaving them open. How is one supposed to know whether any particular signal is legitimately public or not if the owner does not secure it in any way? The ignorance you cite of the person who doesn't know his AP is perfectly canceled by my ignorance of whether or not his AP is open to me or not. Anyway, I think the former ignorance is a lot less widespread than you say. This has been well publicized, and any new router you buy comes with all kinds of warnings and advisories to secure your network, and easy guides to doing so. There is no technology in widespread use that can allow my wifi device to determine if the networks it finds to connect to are legitimately open for public use or not. The burden would thus seem to be with the operator of the AP, and there is no ethical mandate for me to ask first if I not only do not know if the connection is public or not, but also don't know where it is coming from or whom to ask permission from.
(I think that is a legit use of a preposition at the end of a sentence, by the way.)
posted by fourcheesemac at 12:52 AM on June 24, 2006


. . . the person who doesn't know his AP is open is perfectly canceled . . . .
posted by fourcheesemac at 12:53 AM on June 24, 2006


twiggy writes "Your candy analogy further fails because a dish of candy is a socially ingrained sign for 'take one.' for the vast majority of [american] humans whether you ask a genius or a moron. Despite that, I would still say 'may I have one, please?' before taking one, because I'm apparently a dying breed of people called 'polite.'"

The AP is screaming to all that can hear "My name is SSID, please try to connect"

twiggy writes "The geeks here really need to get over the highly technical stuff where the router is making public requests. The person is blissfully unaware of these requests 9 times out of 10, and permission from the person is the only way you can ever justify using services being paid for by that person 'legally' or ethically."

You know twiggy I think you need to put your internet connection down. The whole internet works on routers making connection with other routers. The routers on both ends are "empowered" to act for the humans who own them. Just because some of those humans are too ignorant to realise that shouldn't mean we need to toss out the internet. If you really feel that routers can't make those decisions you'd better go back to phones, libraries, dead tree bulletin boards and newspapers.
posted by Mitheral at 8:22 AM on June 24, 2006


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