Wi-Fi Network Criminal Liability

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What happens if someone Engages in Illegal Activity using my Wi-Fi Connection?

Generally speaking, you should not be held liable if another person engages in illegal activity while using your account in an unauthorized manner.  Police authorities should be able to trace the exact source of the illegal activity in order to apprehend the proper suspect.

For example, if a neighbor hacks into your wi-fi account without your permission, and then engages in illegal activity using your account, it is likely that you will not be held liable.  However, if you did authorize their use of the wi-fi network, or did not secure your wi-fi with a password, it is possible that you may become involved in whatever criminal charges are brought against your neighbor.  

A recent case in 2011 illustrates this point.  A New York resident had his house raided by the police because they suspected that he was downloading child pornography.  However, the resident was not responsible for the activity, but rather his neighbor who was logged into the man’s unsecured account.  While the resident was not found guilty, he was still involved in the legal process because he did not protect his account with a password. 

Am I required by Law to Password-protect my own Wi-Fi account?

Laws do not require a person to password-protect their wi-fi accounts.  However, it is certainly worth it to take the time to set up a password for your wireless internet connection so that no one can use it without your authorization. 

As the case above illustrates, it is very important that you protect or secure your wi-fi account by using a password.  A password is usually sufficient to deter a person who is looking to piggyback on a person’s wi-fi account.  If they find a wi-fi connection that is secured with a password, most piggy-backers will simply change locations until they find an open, unsecured wi-fi network. 

If you are unsure of how to set up a password for your wi-fi system, there are several websites and videos online that can teach you how to secure your wi-fi.  Also, when you received your wireless router, you should have received instructions regarding security and passwords.  You can also call your internet provider for more details.

Password-protecting your wi-fi is a crucial step that can help you avoid possible criminal charges and/or unnecessary involvement with police as they round-up piggybackers. 

What are “Wi-Fi Scams”?

A popular wi-fi scam occurs where a person or persons set up a fake wi-fi service for the purpose of gaining access to the computer files of persons who use the connection.  Such scams are illegal and are punishable according to criminal laws.  

Since people who log onto a wi-fi connection may view each other’s computer files, it is easy to copy, save, and alter the files of a person who is using the same wi-fi network.  This allows the person who is running the wi-fi service to obtain the personal information of the users, such as bank account information, passwords, and e-mail transmissions.    

For example, a scammer might send out a network signal for free, unsecured open wi-fi connection and entitle it “Free Public Wi-Fi Access”.  Computer users may then be enticed to use the wi-fi connection, thinking that it is a legitimate public access point.  However, once they log on, the persons running the wi-fi account will then tap into the various computers that are logged onto their wi-fi connection. 

So, it is not advisable to log into a wi-fi account if you are not acquainted with the person or company who owns the account.  Even if the wi-fi is named “Public Wi-Fi”, you should not use it without verifying that it is legitimate- it could simply be a front for illegal internet activity. 

Do I Have any Privacy Rights when using another Person’s Wi-Fi Account?

Courts have held that persons using the wi-fi account of another do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy for their internet activity.  This is especially true if the person uses another’s account without their permission.  Therefore police may lawfully monitor your internet activity if you are logged on to another person’s wi-fi without their permission.

Many hackers and persons who conduct illegal downloads will often try to conduct their illegal activities using another person’s wi-fi connection.  However, by doing so they forfeit their privacy rights since they are not authorized to use the wi-fi connection. 

In short, the best thing to do is not to use unfamiliar wi-fi accounts, and to secure your own wi-fi connection with a strong password.

Do I Need a Lawyer for issues with Wi-Fi Laws?

If you have been involved with criminal charges in connection with wi-fi laws, you should speak with a criminal lawyer immediately.  Your criminal attorney can help determine what the laws of your state say regarding wi-fi activities.  Be sure to take all the necessary steps to protect yourself when using a wi-fi connection. 

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Last Modified: 05-04-2011 03:48 PM PDT

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