So, a dude in Florida has been charged with a felony for using someone else’s wireless network:

Police say Benjamin Smith III, 41, used his Acer brand laptop to hack
into
[emphasis mine – RMcMP] Dinon’s wireless Internet network. The April 20 arrest is
considered the first of its kind in Tampa Bay and among only a few so
far nationwide.

Don’t you just love that “hack into” up there?  Lordy.  Sensationalize much?

Now, lest you take me wrong, by no means am I endorsing driving around
suburban neighborhoods and making use of the Wi-Fi of a stranger. 
(What a great title for a trashy techno-romance:  The Wi-Fi of a Stranger.  Must remember it for the Plot Dare forum on NaNo this year.)  I decline to endorse it not because it’s some great evil, howeverRather, I think it’s just kind of tacky
It’s like letting your dog drop a huge steamer in your neighbor’s lawn
and failing to clean it up because it’s more convenient than walking
the dog your damn self. 

See, here’s the thing:  the concept of “stealing” Wi-Fi is not
unlike the concept of “stealing” air.  Am I stealing something
when I stand in my yard and breathe oxygen that might otherwise have
meandered across the invisible line that marks the border of my
neighbor’s property?  If I stand too close to that invisible line
and breathe for all I’m worth, am I taking something from them? 
The wireless signal that extends beyond those golden, holy boxes with
labels like Linksys and D-Link is effectively unlimited.  Yes,
there are constraints – LAN speeds and the bandwidth available via a
given means of accessing the interwebulons beyond that – but c’mon, who
is ever, and I mean ever, pushing 100 Mb/s across their
wireless LAN?    Seriously.  Get real,
people.  I don’t care how many substitute electronic cocks
someone’s got strapped to his geek belt and how many TiVo’s are on the
network and how many computers they have in the basement, the bottom
line is that it takes a whole lot of users before one more
makes the difference.  So get real with the metaphors and the
similes and the whatevers.  It is not theft, because it is
impossible to steal that of which there is an effectively infinite
supply.

This tweaks me so bad, first of all, because the “real” threat – and
it’s not much of one, frankly – is not the theft of a signal but its
pollution.  Second, it gives me an opportunity to point out
needless corporate greed draped in the cloak of self-righteous
indignation.

So, what’s the real threat?  The article (and the “victim”) get it
quite right:  that someone could use your network for activities
you don’t want carried out on your network:

The technology has made life easier for high-tech criminals because
it provides near anonymity. Each online connection generates an
Internet Protocol Address, a unique set of numbers that can be traced
back to a house or business.

That’s still the case with Wi-Fi but if a criminal taps into a
network, his actions would lead to the owner of that network. By the
time authorities show up to investigate, the hacker would be gone.

“Anything they do traces back to your house and chances are we’re going to knock on your door,” [Special Agent Bob] Breeden [head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s computer crime division] said.

That’s true.  If you have an unsecured wireless network, anybody
can use it to do anything they can do with any network, including
whatever bad things you can imagine.  The interwebs are a dark and
dangerous alley, kids, and every bum has a knife up his sleeve, etc.,
etc.  I mean, yes, the risk is there – if I were a child
pornographer, I could think of few safer(-ish) ways to get a fix than
by driving around the corner and sitting outside the home of the nice
old lady with the wireless network her granddaughter set up for her
last Christmas.  So yeah, that danger is there, I guess, but I’m
pretty sure it ranks right up there with being hit twice by lightning
while under a rain of frogs.

But you know what?  Were I a child pornographer I could also
simply sneak into your house and plant porno tapes in it.  I could
tuck them away at the backs of long-forgotten closets and you’d never
be the wiser.  If only there were a way to keep strangers from
entering your home.  Something – maybe something built into the
door – that could be used to make sure (within a reasonable margin of
failure) that only those who should have access to your home actually
enter it.  Something simple, preferably…. Gosh, I’m just not
sure I can think of anything.

Oh yeah, they’re called LOCKS and KEYS.  Even this article points that out:

For as worrisome as it seems, wireless mooching is easily preventable
by turning on encryption or requiring passwords. The problem, security
experts say, is many people do not take the time or are unsure how to
secure their wireless access from intruders. Dinon knew what to do.
“But I never did it because my neighbors are older.”

And whose fault is that, again?

What really bothers me about this whole thing, though, is the attitude
presented by at least one source for the article:  that even if
you do it with their permission you’ve still committed a crime:

“It’s no different if I went out and bought a Microsoft program and
started sharing it with everyone in my apartment. It’s theft,” said
Kena Lewis, spokeswoman for Bright House Networks in Orlando. “Just
because a crime may be undetectable doesn’t make it right.”

Um, actually, no it is not theft to borrow a neighbor’s network with permission.  That’s kind of what permission is.  The article is a bit murky as to whether they’ve asked her whether it’s wrong to use a neighbor’s connection without permission or whether it’s wrong to use a neighbor’s connection with permission, but it certainly seems, from context, that the situation she’s discussing is one of sharing a wireless connection with permission. 
No, sorry, survey says: XXX.  If I let my neighbor borrow my
wireless signal, it’s no different than letting him borrow the lawn mower.  If her point is that I paid for the right to use the cable modem and no one else
can do so, then I guess I’d better stop letting Bascha and Katastrophes
fire up their machines when they’re DM’ing over here for a night of
D&D, right?  I guess they’re not allowed to borrow my computer
to check their email, either.  And what are they doing in my chairs?  Did I get permission from my Chair Service Provider to let them sit their asses down?

Sorry, Ms. Lewis, but you don’t get to put me in a panic over the scary, scary war-drivers and tell
me what to do with my network in my own home.  Just fuck right
off.  It’s absurd to think that they can tell us what to do with
our own networks, but there you go.  They’re pissed at the idea
the neighbors might skip getting a cable modem altogether if they know
that whenever their grandkids are over to visit they can borrow my
signal, or that I might tell Mr. Saturday he should feel free to stop
by with a laptop whenever he’s out looking at houses in my
neighborhood.  That’s just plain fucked up.

Ultimately, that’s really what gets my goat.  This jackass who
thought it would be smart to set up shop in front of someone else’s
house and use his wireless signal is just that:  a jackass. 
That’s tacky.  That’s just so lame.  This is 2005, buddy, get
a coffeeshop.  I mean, puh-leze.  But to arrest him on felony
charges is equally absurd, and to turn it into an opportunity for some
mouthpiece for an ISP to claim that borrowing a neighbor’s network with
their permission is outright theft borders on the insane.

OK, I’m done now.  It just really put a burr under my saddle. (more…)