Police have arrested a man in St. Petersburg, FL recently for using someone else’s wireless Internet network charging him with “unauthorized access to a computer network, a third-degree felony”.
There are many ongoing conversations about this issue. Many want to argue that since the man was only using wifi and not really stealing anything, no real damage was done or law broken. We are not dealing with any gray area of the law here, it is pretty simple. While there is no exact law dealing with this issue the law that should be applied to this matter is as follows. The U.S. federal computer crime statute, Title 18 U.S.C. 1030, makes it a crime to knowingly access a computer used in interstate or foreign communication “without authorization” and obtain any information from the computer. The man was “piggybacking” a WiFi signal to access a device that was providing an Internet connection. Secondly, it seems safe to say that routers, gateways and access points all constitute computers under federal law.
The second objection being raised revolves around if you do not want people using your WiFi access, protect it. The law on this matter seems also simple. A wireless network is private property. Since a wireless network is private property others must obtain permission, form the owner to be on it. Thankfully, one needs not secure their property in order to keep it. Private property must be respected.
We have way too many laws on the book as it is, let’s not write more laws. Let the law be simple. The man did not have authorization to access the computer network. Right or wrong, that’s the law, and he broke it and thus should be charged under the law. If you do not like the law, work to change it.