Police in London have arrested and released on bail a man they saw sitting on a wall using a laptop. When questioned, he had admitted he was using the householder’s WiFi network to get connected. There was no suggestion he was attempting to hack into any computer systems or steal identities, so what was his offence?
The police view is that dishonestly obtaining electronic communication services is an offense under Section 125 of the U.K. 2003 Communications Act, while unauthorised access to computer material is a summary offense under Section 1 of the 1990 Computer Misuse Act.
Broadband accounts are permanently connected and typically billed in flat-rate monthly amounts unrelated to the amount of traffic used. It doesn’t seem on the face of it he has deprived the broadband account holder of anything of any monetary worth or deprived him of the use of anything that was his to enjoy.
If anything, it is the broadband account holder who has been foolish in leaving his WiFi unsecured. The risks of a passing stranger innocently using it without your permission to access his own email or whatever is trivial compared with the risks of having your computer hacked and your identity or bank and credit card details stolen.
If people realise how wide-open they are to that kind of criminal activity, maybe they will secure their networks and maybe then some good will come of this curious incident.
I was in Corfu town recently, and in the park opposite Liston a company was staging a promotion for it’s wares. There was loud music, a troupe of dancing cheerleaders waving pom-poms, a giant video screen, and a collection of rigid raider speedboats. And on one of the speedboats was a row of fancy silver trophies. The public was milling around and I didn’t see any signs of security, which puzzled me a little. They would never get away with it in England, I thought, those trophies wouldn’t last five minutes before they were nicked.
Now, why is that I thought? The answer came to me quite quickly – they’re on an island, so where would the thieves dispose of their booty? A few more sips of beer and another thought came to me. The reason they wouldn’t get away with displaying valuables openly in England is that thieves have a whole support network. We have a criminal industry here. It’s probably the only growth industry we have. Stolen property is handed on from thief to fence and sold on in pubs and on eBay. What are we doing to break up that network?
There was an account of a court case a few years ago which I read with astonishment. An ‘alleged’ thief was caught red-handed with property he had stolen from a nearby house moments before. The copper saw him and nabbed him. However, the copper hadn’t actually seen the thief leaving the premises with the stolen property, so it couldn’t be proven conclusively that the thief was the culprit. He said he found it under a bush and didn’t know it was stolen property. So he got off.
Now I know about miscarriages of justice, and how many we’ve had, and how bad they have been. That’s the only reason I would never support the death penalty, which I actually agree with. I would not trust our judicial system not to make a mistake. But haven’t we gone too far the other way? Are we not setting too high a standard of proof before a conviction? Given the overcrowded prisons, that probably seems like a ridiculous question, but does anyone believe we are a law-abiding society any more? We’re losing this battle, aren’t we?