WarXing — accessing publicly accessible networks or systems. You scan for a wifi access point… and come up with your neighbor’s… What are the legal implications?
Attorney Robert Hale has just written an extensive piece on the subject:
Suppose you turn on your laptop while sitting at the kitchen table at home and respond OK to a prompt about accessing a nearby wireless Internet access point owned and operated by a neighbor. What potential liability may ensue from accessing someone else's wireless access point? How about intercepting wireless connection signals? What about setting up an open or unsecured wireless access point in your house or business? Attorneys can expect to grapple with these issues and other related questions as the popularity of wireless technology continues to increase.
This paper explores several theories of liability involving both the accessing and operating of wireless Internet, including the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, wiretap laws, as well as trespass to chattels and other areas of common law. The paper concludes with a brief discussion of key policy considerations.
As a general matter, until the courts and legislatures better define the legal status of Wi-Fi arrangements, the piggy-backing Wi-Fi user should simply stop the practice of accessing others’ open WLANs, absent an explicit agreement or notice. If a Wi-Fi interloper must continue, he or she should avoid heavy downloading activity (music, games, movies, etc.) that has a tendency to overburden the network and may amount to recoverable damages. Similarly, sapping a residential neighbor’s Internet service in lieu of paying for one’s own seems potentially more culpable than accessing signals in a business area while on a lunch break. On the other hand, those for whom piggy-backing supplies the only practicable means of obtaining residential high-speed Internet access may want to seek out services that provide Wi-Fi sharing arrangements, through which ISPs pass through service payments from end users on to WAP operators.
(There’s more in the document — the “conclusion” section starts at page 557)