September 20, 2002

Warchalking? Theft?

BBC NEWS | Technology | Wireless hitchhikers branded as thieves

"This is theft, plain and simple," wrote Nokia in its advisory.

Actually, it's not. Even if you go by the theory that using someone else's wireless network is theft... warchalking can be at most called "vandalism", and since it's chalk, most places don't even consider it that. Chalk washes off in the rain.

Now, skipping the technicalities... using open wireless points could be called theft -- but only if you believe that a) degraded use of something is theft; or b) the charge for access gives exclusive rights to access.

Degraded use is killed right away, because degraded use is not theft -- total loss of access is theft. This probably falls somewhere in between destruction of property and vandalism. As a second aside, degredaded use is probably not going to happen often anyway -- when's the last time you saturated a T1 reading e-mail?

Charging giving exclusive rights is an interesting idea... but because this is being broadcast to the world, you can bring up the "general broadcast" theory that American TV uses. Because TV is broadcast without regard for who pays, despite the fact that it costs TV networks money to broadcast their signals, you can do things like use any TV to see their signals without charge, and record TV signals without charge for private use. Hence you should be able to listen to someone's network without punishment -- because they're broadcasting it. Hence you *should* be able to use someone's network without charge for private use -- because again, it's being broadcast.

Now, that last one's a bit of a stretch, and I'm no lawyer. But, it's an interesting legal problem.

Posted by Ted Stevko at September 20, 2002 06:22 PM