According to The Register, a British court sentenced

24-year-old Gregory Straszkiewicz to 12 months conditional discharge and a £500

fine for "dishonestly obtaining a communications service and related

offences." Straszkiewicz accessed the wireless broadband connections of

multiple residents with the intention of obtaining stealing bandwidth.

Because authorities provided "no evidence he

[Straszkiewicz] had any hostile motive beyond" a free Internet connection,

John Leyden, the article's author, categorized Straszkiewicz's sentence as

"harsh". A point with which I respectfully disagree. Leyden used the

term "borrow" to describe Straszkiewicz's actions. As Straszkiewicz

had no intention of repaying victims for their bandwidth, I contend that

Straszkiewicz stole, not borrowed, the bandwidth.

"It's unclear whether anyone who accidentally jumped

onto another party's net connection (easy to do if a host is using an unsecured

connection with no encryption) might also risk prosecution," Leyden wrote

in closing. Here Leyden appears to liken Straszkiewicz's

premeditated theft to the inadvertent intrusion on an unsecured wireless

network. Despite any technical similarity these two actions have, they are

diametric opposites with respect to motivation and outcome. Straszkiewicz

purposely and repeatedly used someone else's paid Internet connection without


Consider an individual I'll call John. John works in a large

office building that houses several businesses. On day the company's copier malfunctions.

Needing to copy several documents, John asks his boss for instructions. John's

boss arranges for John to make copies at ABC corporation, another business in

the building. John leaves to make the copies. Unfortunately, John mistakenly

enters the office's of BAC company. The BAC's office door is open and the reception

area is empty. John, who believes this to be the right office, walks beyond the

reception area to the copier. While making his copies, John is confronted by a

employee and asked to explain his presence and copier use. Realizing his

mistake, John apologizes and explains the situation. Later, John's company reimburses

BAC for the cost of the copies. BAC company understands John's mistake, accepts

his apology, and agrees to the reimbursement.

Now consider Jane, who also works in the same office

building. Each day during lunch, when most offices are empty, she leaves her workplace

and secretly enters BAC company. Without permission she copies dozens of

documents. Jane's actions are recorded by BAC surveillance cameras. When BAC

employees confront her with the evidence, Jane acknowledges her actions but

refuses to reimburse BAC company.

Both John and Jane entered BAC company offices without

permission. They each made unauthorized copies. But the similarities end there.

John made an honest mistake and offered a suitable reparation. Jane knowingly

and repeatedly used BAC's copier without permission and refused to make

repayment. Jane is guilty of both trespass and theft.

These two scenarios illustrate the difference between

someone who accidentally wonders onto and then off of an unsecured wireless

network and someone who purposefully and repeatedly seeks out and uses unsecured

wireless networks without permission.

While current statutory and case law on Wi-Fi access leaves

many questions unanswered, there are guidelines that business and consumers can

follow. Check out this article on

TechRepublic for more information.