Preface: The author (Mike B.) of this article is not an attorney at law. Consequently, this brief summary is in no wise a 'get out of jail free card'.

There are federal laws on the subject of hopping on a nearby router to gain access to the internet. These laws specifically state IT IS NOT A CRIME to receive unencrypted transmissions. Consider the following passage from the United States Code on Electronic Communications …

18 U.S.C. § 2511 INTERCEPTION AND DISCLOSURE OF WIRE, ORAL, OR, ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATIONS

2 (g) It shall not be unlawful under this chapter [18 USCS §§ 2510 et seq.] or chapter 121 of this title [18 USCS §§ 2701 et seq.] for any person--

( i ) to intercept or access an electronic communication made through an electronic communication system that is configured so that such electronic communication is readily accessible to the general public;

( v ) for other users of the same frequency to intercept any radio communication made through a system that utilizes frequencies monitored by individuals engaged in the provision or the use of such system, if such communication is not scrambled or encrypted.

The Federal Communications Commission wrote the code to allow for multiple and informal connections on the same router. Because they knew wireless manufacturers would soon market dual band handhelds, commercial cell phones just as able to link up off a router as a cell tower.

Dual Band Handhelds- Equal Access To Routers And Cell Towers

http://www.umatechnology.org/overview/index.htm

Moreover, the Commissioners realized that as packets are destination and source addressed. Two separate users on the same router would never be able to read each others communications.

Digital Communications Packet Anatomy

http://www.erg.abdn.ac.uk

U.S.C. § 1030 offers even more protection to the wireless hobbyist than 18 U.S.C. § 2511. Here the federal government defines criminal activity as access to a so-called “protected computer”.

18 U.S.C. § 1030 FRAUD AND RELATED ACTIVITY IN CONNECTION WITH COMPUTERS

(e) As used in this section

(2) the term “protected computer” means a computer

(A) exclusively for the use of a financial institution or the United States Government, or, in the case of a computer not exclusively for such use, used by or for a financial institution or the United States Government and the conduct constituting the offense affects that use by or for the financial institution or the Government; or

(B) which is used in interstate or foreign commerce or communications, including a computer located outside the United States that is used in a manner that affects interstate or foreign commerce or communication of the United States;

In conclusion, there are no such things as either “theft of services” (sic) or “invasion of privacy” (sic) on the unlicensed wireless network bands. The duty falls to the router owner to either encrypt his signal or exclude unwanted guests by MAC address filtering.

Sources

http://www.usdoj.gov/criminal/cybercrime/18usc2511.htm http://www.usdoj.gov/criminal/cybercrime/1030_new.html (current as of 10 June 2006)

http://www.ncsl.org/programs/lis/cip/hacklaw.htm (Computer Hacking Laws, State by State)

The article above was written by Mike B., and has only been edited in terms of formatting for this site. All credits/kudos go to him. If you wish to view the .doc of this article, click here.