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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Why Wi-Fi 'theft' should be decriminalised

I REFER to the letters by Mr Biala Sameer ('Wi-Fi thief violated rights of subscriber, ISP'; ST, Dec 25) and Mr Karl Hinchliffe ('Can using free Wi-Fi bandwidth be a crime?'; ST, Dec 22) regarding the case of Wi-Fi piggybacking.

I do not think Garyl Tan should be held liable for using the Wi-Fi network of another subscriber, but it is important to clarify the reason for this. The reason is not that it is harmless in most cases, nor is it that the subscriber would not even realise this piggybacking is taking place.

The key point is that the broadband subscriber had chosen to project the broadband access that he had purchased into public space.

The ISP provided broadband access to a point within the subscriber's home. With a conventional wired network, there is no way of accessing this without intruding into the subscriber's home and this would indeed be criminal.

However, by purchasing Wi-Fi routers and powering it up, the subscriber had, in effect, laid 'virtual cables' - by means of radio frequency - into the public domain, as far as his coverage zone extends.

The reasonable assumption is that he didn't mind others sharing some of the bandwidth. Why should the user who accepts this 'charity' be held criminally responsible?

The situation is different from burglary where the user intrudes into private property. If the Wi-Fi network had been secured and somebody hacked into it, then it would indeed be a case of intrusion and should be prosecuted.

There should be a distinction between illegal intrusion by a user and acceptable consumption of property projected into public space by a subscriber. The law should be changed to decriminalise the latter.

Liu Feng-Yuan

Addendum: Also see the views expressed on Brown's blog.
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