Calls for clarification on Wi-Fi laws

Expert warns internet sharing could land users in court under current legislation
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Expert warns internet sharing could land users in court under current legislation
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An academic has called on the government to reform the current laws surrounding the sharing of wireless internet access.

University of East Anglia IT and internet law lecturer Daithi Mac Síthigh has said that while UK law makes it clear that it is illegal to use a network – unsecured or not – without permission, the law is less clear when it comes to shared access, according to The Register.

He warned that the government must clarify this uncertainty, especially as one of its current policies is ensuring internet access for all.

"Digital inclusion is a government policy and rightly so," said Mac Síthigh. "People may not have broadband in every road, particularly in rural or isolated areas, and costs of a good connection remain high, so sharing internet access is recognised as a great way of filling in the gaps,"

“Shared internet access has potential social benefits, but it’s harder to encourage people to take part if the legalities are unclear," he said.

Citing the second part of the law surrounding illegal use of wireless internet access – 'does so with intent to avoid payment of a charge applicable to the provision of that service' – he warned that there could be confusion as to what people are avoiding paying for.

"As WAP (wireless access point) admins are not known or expected to 'charge' for the use of their networks, it can only be concluded that the offence is not access to the WAP or the home network, but use of the internet connection (i.e. access to the wider network), therefore evading the 'charge' that the ISP would normally require for connection," he said.

"This is still an unusual approach and one that would seem to owe more to a theoretical analysis of market conditions (would the user have entered into a contract with the ISP for a subscription were it not for the free alternative?) rather than the enforcement of the criminal law."