In Dicta

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Is Wi-Fi Property?

"Police have arrested a man for using someone else's wireless Internet network in one of the first criminal cases involving this fairly common practice.

Benjamin Smith III, 41, faces a pretrial hearing this month following his April arrest on charges of unauthorized access to a computer network, a third-degree felony.

Police say Smith admitted using the Wi-Fi signal from the home of Richard Dinon, who had noticed Smith sitting in an SUV outside Dinon's house using a laptop computer.

The practice is so new that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement doesn't even keep statistics, according to the St. Petersburg Times, which reported Smith's arrest this week."

I don't condone anyone stealing anything. However, this raises the question of whether a Wi-Fi signal is actually "property" that can be stolen. Analogizing from television signals and other electronic communications protocols, it seems clear that Wi-Fi (and other wireless network protocols) should be regarded as property.

Also, note that the defendant in this case was charged with "unauthorized access to a computer network," and not burglarly. Thus, in this case, the discussion of Wi-Fi as property is moot. But what about in states that don't have such a statute? Does anyone think a court would convict a Wi-Fi "burglar" of common-law burglary?

(Story via Yahoo! News.)

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