Is stealing wi-fi really stealing?

by Peter Nowak, CBCNews.ca

The arrest of a man in London for "stealing" wi-fi signals raises some intriguing questions, some brought forth by the BBC. In a nutshell, the fellow got busted by police for connecting to somebody else's unsecured wi-fi network with his laptop. He's at least the third person in London to be arrested for using an internet service without permission. He may have contravened the British Communications Act of 2003 and the Computer Misuse Act.

How this progresses through the courts is going to be very interesting.

So far, nobody has been reported to have been arrested for the same thing in Canada, which is good because it would probably spark a legal mess. The crux of the issue is that anyone who sets up a wi-fi network has the option of encrypting it to keep out freeloaders. Sure, these protections can be cracked fairly readily, but not by the average Joe. Nevertheless, if the person setting up the network chooses not to encrypt it, it should be fair game for whoever wants to connect to it.

Some organizations and companies, such as airports or cafes, have set up public wi-fi hotspots that are free for anyone to use, which is bound to further confuse the matter. After all, how is the user supposed to know whether the wi-fi network they're connecting to is free and open, or if its administrator has simply forgotten to encrypt it?

Should the onus of keeping people out be on the network provider? Click on the Comments link below and share your thoughts.