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Crave Talk: Should 'stealing' Wi-Fi be illegal?

Stealing Wi-Fi to gain Internet access is a criminal offence -- as a west London man found out recently. But what do you think?

Most Crave staffers gasped in astonishment when they heard a UK man was arrested for piggybacking a Wi-Fi network. Why wouldn't we? Most of us have done it before -- usually when our home broadband is broken or unavailable. But does it make us criminals? Does the blame lie at the feet of the imbeciles who forget to secure their Wi-Fi network? Should a 'harmless' bit of piggybacking land us with a criminal record?

We're reluctant to say it, but: yes. The man arrested in the most recent case was charged with "dishonestly obtaining electronic communications services with intent to avoid payment" -- an offence under the Communications Act 2003 and a potential breach of the Computer Misuse Act.

He (and the people cautioned for similar offences earlier in the year) was not simply freeloading off a neighbour. These people appeared to be active "war drivers" -- people who deliberately locate and exploit Wi-Fi connections to avoid paying for Internet access. Why else would they be driving around with laptops, car windows obscured by pieces of cardboard? They're crooks; they know it and the law knows it.

Many will disagree. I've heard people blame the owners of said networks for not enabling security. But would you forgive a burglar breaking into your home because you forgot to lock your doors? Is it okay for people to walk off with your garden furniture simply because it is out in the open? If you leave your wallet on your desk at work and a colleague borrows £20 (regardless of whether he returns it) -- is that cool?

Questionable analogies or not, people need to ask the owner's permission before they use something -- regardless of whether those things are easily accessible and regardless of whether the owner will ever find out. Wi-Fi is no different -- just because people are ignorant of security doesn't mean they deserve to be stolen from.

Security is hardly the issue here. A determined hacker can gain access to a WEP- or even WPA-protected Wi-Fi network without breaking a sweat. Even if your Wi-Fi network is surrounded by the digital equivalent of barbed wire, a moat and a human wall of peasants infected with the most lethal lurgy known to man, tenacious crooks will still find their way in.

The issue here is crime. If something isn't yours and you knowingly take it without permission, you're a thief. -Rory Reid