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Is it illegal to use a neighbor's wireless internet?


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17-May-2008, 11:19 AM #1
Is it illegal to use a neighbor's wireless internet?
Is it illegal to use a neighbor's wireless internet?
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17-May-2008, 11:34 AM #2
I've often wondered, but think about this...if the person in front of you on a train is reading the paper, and you read it over his shoulder, have you broken the law? He paid for it, and didn't give you express permission to use it... Of course, if they didn't want you to use their service they could have set up a secured network.
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17-May-2008, 11:34 AM #3
Depends where you live.
Here in the UK it is illegal to use a neighbours wireless without their consent.
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17-May-2008, 11:56 AM #4
And there's the rub. How do you know you have consent? Yes, you can walk over to your neighbors and ask everyone of them if the wireless network you intend to connect to is theirs and if you can connect up to it. But wireless can extend pretty far from a source which isn't immediately near you. There are lots of free hot spots which allow you to connect up but how can you tell?

At least the laws here in the US are very ambigious in reference to this. The federal government has practically deferred such rulings down to the state/local levels. The state/local laws are no better. Beyond the issues with violating an ISP's TOS, I'm of the opinion that there's not much in any laws which would apply to anyone accessing an unsecure wireless network. Again, it's my opinion. Plus discussions of this type in troubleshooting (or how to) with connecting to an internet pipe not directly yours is taboo.

ETA: All bets are off if you are hacking a wireless network with encryption enabled.

Last edited by zx10guy; 17-May-2008 at 12:47 PM..
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17-May-2008, 05:03 PM #5
It is also illegal under the terms of service for virtually all ISP's to share the connection with non-family members, so the question of permission is somewhat moot here.
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18-May-2008, 03:36 AM #6
it may not be you breaking the law, but if you are accessing someone else's wireless, you are with 99.99 certainty an accomplice to someone else breaking the law, as John pointed out. If I have a wireless network at my home, and its unsecured, it's not even within my right to offer it to you to use, freely or otherwise. I would be breaking my terms of service contract with my ISP. The newspaper analogy follows the same line of thinking, the person who bought the paper for himself to read may own his copy, but that does not give him redistribution rights of any sort. Because the information in the paper is copyrighted, he can no more "legally" give you the paper when he's done with it than he could plagiarize the work within it. If someone knowingly does something that inadvertently causes someone else to break a law, they can be held accountable under certain circumstances.
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18-May-2008, 08:41 AM #7
It's against the law in the US, period. No wiggle room.
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18-May-2008, 10:25 AM #8
Quote:
Originally Posted by jmwills View Post
It's against the law in the US, period. No wiggle room.
Show me the specific laws that apply to this.
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18-May-2008, 11:48 AM #9
[edit] United States
Laws vary widely between states. Some criminalize the mere unauthorized access of a network, while others require monetary damages or intentional breaching of security features. The majority of state laws do not specify what is meant by "unauthorized access". Regardless, enforcement is minimal in most states even where it is illegal, and detection is difficult in many cases.[18][1]

Somes portable devices, such as the Apple iPod touch, allow on-street-hopping on open Wifi networks as a basic feature, and even use it for user geolocation.[specify]


[edit] Arrests
In St. Petersburg, 2005, Benjamin Smith III was arrested and charged with "unauthorized access to a computer network", a third-degree felony in the state of Florida, after using a resident's wireless network from a car parked outside.[19][20]

An Illinois man was arrested in January 2006 for piggybacking on a Wi-Fi network. David M. Kauchak was the first person to be charged with "remotely accessing another computer system" in Winnebago County. He had been accessing the Internet through a nonprofit agency's network from a car parked nearby and chatted with the police officer about it. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a fine of $250 and one year of court supervision.[21][22]

In Sparta, Michigan, 2007, Sam Peterson was arrested for checking his email each day using a cafe's wireless Internet access from a car parked nearby. A police officer became suspicious, stating, "I had a feeling a law was being broken, but I didn't know exactly what". The man explained what he was doing to the officer when asked, as he did not know that the act was illegal. The officer found a law against "unauthorized use of computer access", leading to an arrest and charges that could result in a five year felony and $10,000 fine. The cafe owner was not aware of the law, either. "I didn't know it was really illegal, either. If he would have come in [to the coffee shop] it would have been fine." He was eventually sentenced to a $400 fine and 40 hours of community service.[23][24] This case was featured on the Colbert Report.[25]

In 2007, Palmer, Alaska, 21-year old Brian Tanner was charged with "theft of services" and had his laptop confiscated after accessing a gaming website at night from the parking lot outside the Palmer Public Library, as he was allowed to do during the day. He had been asked to leave the parking lot the night before by police, which he had started using because they had asked him not to use residential connections in the past. He was not ultimately charged with theft, but could still be charged with trespassing or not obeying a police order. The library director said that Tanner had not broken any rules, and local citizens criticized police for their actions.[26][27][28]


[edit] Legislation
In 2003, the New Hampshire House Bill 495 was proposed, which would clarify that the duty to secure the wireless network lies with the network owner, instead of criminalizing the automatic access of open networks.[29][30] It was passed by the New Hampshire House in March 2003, but was not signed into law. The current wording of the law provides some affirmative defenses for use of a network that is not explicitly authorized:[31]

I. A person is guilty of the computer crime of unauthorized access to a computer or computer network when, knowing that the person is not authorized to do so, he or she knowingly accesses or causes to be accessed any computer or computer network without authorization. It shall be an affirmative defense to a prosecution for unauthorized access to a computer or computer network that:

(a) The person reasonably believed that the owner of the computer or computer network, or a person empowered to license access thereto, had authorized him or her to access; or
(b) The person reasonably believed that the owner of the computer or computer network, or a person empowered to license access thereto, would have authorized the person to access without payment of any consideration; or
(c) The person reasonably could not have known that his or her access was unauthorized.
New York law is the most permissive. The statute against unauthorized access only applies when the network "is equipped or programmed with any device or coding system, a function of which is to prevent the unauthorized use of said computer or computer system". In other words, the use of a network would only be illegal if the network owner had enabled encryption or password protection and the user bypassed this protection, or when the owner has explicitly given notice that use of the network is prohibited, either orally or in writing.[1][32] Westchester County passed a law, taking effect in October 2006, that prohibits commercial networks from being operated without a firewall, SSID broadcasting disabled, and a non-default SSID, in an effort to fight identity theft. Businesses that do not secure their networks in this way face a $500 fine. The law has been criticized as being ineffectual against actual identity thieves and punishing businesses like coffee houses for normal business practices.[33][34][35]
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18-May-2008, 12:29 PM #10
I've spoken about the cases you've cited ad nauseum on other sites. Here's my take and discussion on the cases you've mentioned in this thread:

http://www.eggxpert.com/forums/thread/138935.aspx

Instead of repeating myself again, I'll just refer you to that thread for my rebuttals.

ETA: The last two cases you posted seem to counter your assertion that it's cut and dry with the access of unsecured networks. The Alaskan case shows that prosecution of theft of services isn't easy or they would have done so. The last example illustrates my point exactly. There needs to be a definition about what's reasonable in holding people responsible for unsecured wireless connections. By most people's definitions, you're "breaking the law" if you inadvertently connect to a non-secure wireless connection....despite the promiscuous nature of wireless technology in grabbing/connecting to the first strongest unsecure signal the client sees. Laws definitely need to be specific as any conviction is based on specifics spelled out in law. A good lawyer can easily get a defendent out of any charges with the current laws on the books. Also, owner's of wireless networks are equally culpable for not doing their due dillegence in securing their connections especially since there are no physical boundaries preventing unintended access.

Last edited by zx10guy; 18-May-2008 at 12:41 PM..
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18-May-2008, 02:12 PM #11
So, using your logic it would be okay for me to steal DirecTv signals also? After all they are flooding my property with their signal. All I have to do is modify a card to receive the signal.

And if a bank leaves the vault open, it is okay to steal that too?

Please, theft is theft but in today's socialistic society everything might as well be free. No one wants to work for anything anymore.

Last edited by jmwills; 18-May-2008 at 02:17 PM..
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18-May-2008, 02:18 PM #12
Since this is not a networking issue, I'm going to close this one. Suffice to say that it's a topic that will not be assisted here at TSG and leave it at that.
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