Use of Free WiFi Hotspots Illegal in UK?

The police have arrested a man for using a free wireless internet hotspot (an unsecured domestic WiFi broadband router in Chiswick, London).

Previously it had been considered this was not illegal, since under the Computer Misuse act 1990 section 1.1, the misuse has to be "unauthorised"; which has been tested in court to mean that there was an authorisation system and that it was circumvented, for example using a username and password for which the perpetrator was not authorised. With unsecured WiFi, there is no authorisation system at all, it does not ask for a username or password, and so using it did not fall under the Computer Misuse Act.

Now the police have quoted the much more vague and untested Communications Act 2003 section 125.1 "dishonestly obtains an electronic communications service" for this new charge. "Dishonestly obtaining" hasn't been tested in court so far, and it will be alarming if it turns out that this is weaker than "unauthorised".

The problem is that many people run unsecured wireless internet hotspots deliberately for the benefit of the community (such as my free public hotspot), whilst others run them accidentally and unknowingly due to their own ignorance. My deliberate public hotspot does not ask for a username nor password, it is just open. It is impossible for a passing user to determine in advance whether an unsecured hotspot is deliberate or accidental.

Since broadband is cheap and plentiful in the UK, I would like to see all UK WiFi routers shipped by default without authentication, but with a firewall, throttling and a secure VPN turned on; so that any passing user can access the external world wide web [1] at a limited speed [2], but only authorised secured users can access internal file shares, printers and use all internet services at full speed.

[1] Port 80 (HTTP), 443 (HTTPS) and 53 (DNS) only
[2] One eighth of the maximum bandwidth, shared across all unsecured users

Public Domain - Andrew Oakley - 2007-08-23

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