An interesting arrest in London has recalled the debate of whether using unsecured Wi-Fi networks is ethical or not? See story here. Piggybackers are described as individuals that 'piggyback' onto unsecured Wi-Fi networks. Some for good other for more nefarious purposes.
Though this case is in London, similar cases have been seen across the United States. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is the typical law used to prosecute piggybackers. Is piggybacking wrong? Legally it is wrong in the United States. What about ethically?
Here is a parallel. I drop a dollar on the public sidewalk outside my home. I, for the purpose of this parallel, do not notice the dollar and keep walking. Is it stealing if a person were to pick up the dollar? My opinion is no. However, it appears that wireless signals constitute a different body of thought.
In the current legal framework the wireless signals of a Wi-Fi network remain private. Why is it that Wi-Fi signals necessitate a seperate law? WiFi signals are nothing more than electromagnetic waves eminating from a source. Why does this medium have different ownership privelages?
The questions abound in my mind about the ethics surrounding the piggybacking of WiFi signals. Though I understand the potential business loss to ISPs if wireless signals were shared, I do not see the harm that is caused to the ISP's subscriber. At least in most cases in the United States, ISPs charge Internet fees based on access speeds, not on data amounts transmitted. Thus the piggybacker would not cause any direct financial loss. But may circumvent paying the ISP for Internet access.
With the right and privelage to use Wi-Fi signals also comes a responsibility to use those signals responsibly. In my opinion, if the Wi-Fi signals and network are not responisbly secured to prevent unauthorized access, then the individuals that piggyback onto the Wi-Fi network should not be prosecuted.
There is no simple answer to the ethical question. Though a way to stop the situation from arising would be to require that Wi-Fi signals be secured when the wireless device is installed. Another method to mitigate piggybacking is to require that Wi-Fi access points be secured by default from the factory.
6 hours ago