Wed 18 Apr 2007
2 Arrested for “stealing” wireless in the UK. I can’t think of a better example of a victim-less crimes. The “victims” were so unconcerned about people accessing their network that they didn’t bother to give it even the minimal security that most wireless access points will automatically prompt you to install. Secondly, absolutely nothing the “perpetrators” did harmed the “victim.” This is a positive externality — this is like me listening to good music coming out of your house. We both benefit from your purchase. It’s better than bad, it’s good!
The only exception would be if the connection burglars were doing something that negatively impacted the owners of the network — such as downloading massive files that slowed their connection. But nothing in the article implies this — they merely saw him sitting in a car across the street with a laptop. If someone cracks your encryption and steals your credit card numbers, then yes, this is a crime. But that’s not what’s happening.
Here’s the crime they were charged with: “dishonestly obtaining electronic communications services with intent to avoid payment.” Imagine a similar crime — I purchase a newspaper and throw it out into the street after I’m done with it. Someone walks by and picks it up, and starts reading it. Then the police arrest him for “dishonestly obtaining paper communications services with intent to avoid payment.” What’s worse, in this example, the original owner of the newspaper has actually lost the ability to use it because there’s only one copy, even if it’s obvious he doesn’t care about it. “Stealing” wireless access doesn’t (normally) impact the owner’s ability to use it.
Even if we grant that this is a crime, is this really an effective use of the British police? Are there really no other more pressing issues? At the very least, we should ban CNN from reporting about it, because it creates the negative side effect that I have to come up with silly analogies for what should be obvious computing situations. “Do it for the metaphors.”