Open Wi-Fi, a national risk

"This is very similar to you walking down the street where a store has apples and oranges, and you grab one and keep going . . . "- Ovum Vice President of Wireless TelecomRoger Entner highlighting the gap between his reality and that of the rest of the world.

Opinions have been flying all over the place about the recent Florida Wi-Fi theft case that was extensively covered in the press in July - you remember, the one in which one Benjamin Smith, 41 (why do they always quote people's ages? I want to know how tall he is, his shoe size, his weight . . . the stuff that really matters), allegedly accessed an unsecured residential Wi-Fi connection while parked outside the "victim's" home.

And your thoughts would be? open Wi-Fi forum

Discss in our

What Smith was doing has never been made clear (he was most likely picking up his e-mail), and indeed, exactly how he was caught is also a mystery, but we do know he wasn't on the "victim's" property.

As to the legality of what Smith was doing, there's a huge gray area over whether unauthorized Wi-Fi use is illegal, but what really staggered me was that Smith was arrested and charged with "unlawfully accessing a computer network." This is a crime that carries a penalty of as much as five years in prison.

As far as I can find out, Smith wasn't hacking - in the accepted sense of the word - into the service. It was more like someone reading a book using the light spilling from someone's porch while standing on a public sidewalk.

Don't like that analogy? Well, we can argue endlessly over what might be a suitable one for using someone else's Wi-Fi connection without permission. But as always, digital technologies make real-world analogies tenuous at best.

There has been a huge amount of commentary about this case (most of it pretty silly) but search as I might I can't, at least as of last week, find out what has happened to Smith. Maybe they let him go with a warning ("don't let us find you Wi-Fi rustlin' in these here parts no more, else we'll tar and feather your PC"), or maybe some idiotic district attorney is working himself into a moral frenzy and planning to request the death penalty. Who knows?

Surreal standards

What I know is that there is a surreal quality to the case and that prosecuting Smith would seem to run counter to what I thought was our society's immediate concerns over national security. After all, Smith wasn't responsible for the open access point.

Just think: If Smith had been a terrorist, he might have been sending messages to Osama bin Laden. The owner of the unsecured Wi-Fi connection then would have been, in fact, guilty of aiding and abetting the enemy.

Smith, who at best is a pawn in the whole affair, is almost certainly not a terrorist. But before him there could well have been a terrorist or gangster or other ne'er-do-well using that same unsecured connection.

Get a grip!

Folks, we need to get a grip here. We need to look at this issue in the bigger picture of national security. The bigger picture means that Smith is not guilty of anything and the owner of the unsecured Wi-Fi connection is definitely guilty. Guilty of gross negligence and guilty of undermining the security of our country.

The same goes for anyone or any company that has unsecured Wi-Fi access. That applies to all those pinko, commie coffee houses, parks and wishy-washy liberals who just don't get it. Free Wi-Fi is a national security risk, an open door for the fifth column. An unsecured Wi-Fi point is simply a foothold for the enemies of freedom, and anyone who owns an open Wi-Fi access point should be prosecuted for treason. And hung.

Of course, that's just my opinion.

Your opinion to backspin@gibbs.com. And check Gearblog.

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