The legality of using unsecured Wi-Fi

At the end of an article about how it is possibly dangerous to have an open wireless router (watch out for criminals and police who bust down your door at odd hours!), an interesting issue is raised: is it illegal to use someone’s unprotected Wi-Fi?

Luchetti is not charged with using his neighbor’s Wi-Fi without permission. Whether it was illegal is up for debate.

“The question,” said Kerr, “is whether it’s unauthorized access and so you have to say, ‘Is an open wireless point implicitly authorizing users or not?’

“We don’t know,” Kerr said. “The law prohibits unauthorized access and it’s just not clear what’s authorized with an open unsecured wireless.”

In Germany, the country’s top criminal court ruled last year that Internet users must secure their wireless connections to prevent others from illegally downloading data. The court said Internet users could be fined up to $126 if a third party takes advantage of their unprotected line, though it stopped short of holding the users responsible for illegal content downloaded by the third party.

Sounds like an interesting legal area to explore. The article includes comments from one person who intentionally leaves their Wi-Fi unprotected in order to provide a “common good.” And the case from Germany suggests that one could hold the Wi-Fi owner responsible for any issues rather than the person who misused another person’s wireless access.

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