Arrested over ‘web squatting’
Feb 23 2008 by Ben Guy, The Journal
TWO men have been arrested on suspicion of “wi-fi squatting” after allegedly logging on to another person’s internet connection illegally.
The arrests took place last Sunday when police were called to a home in Tweedmouth, Berwick, Northumberland, after a woman had reported two men behaving suspiciously outside her home.
It is believed to be one of the first cases of its kind in the North.
The two men, aged 21 and 22, are alleged to have been “piggy-backing” on her internet connection, which means they were using their own computer’s wi-fi capacity to access the woman’s internet service, allowing them to use the web for free.
A Northumbria Police spokesman said: “A householder reported two men sat in a car outside her home using laptop computers.
“It emerged that the two local men were using the woman’s wireless broadband connection to check their emails.
“Both were arrested for dishonestly obtaining a communications service and are on bail pending further enquiries.”
Wi-fi is short for Wireless Fidelity, and allows people to connect to the internet without cables.
There are thousands of legitimate “hotspots” across the country, often in cafes, where people can legitimately log onto the internet using a wi-fi connection. Fast food restaurant McDonald’s announced last year that its 1,200 UK outlets would get free wireless internet access, with customers able to go online via their laptops, compatible mobile phones and games consoles.
Under the 2003 Communications Act it is illegal to use another person’s service provider to access the Internet.
Last Sunday’s arrests are thought to be among the first in the region for the offence, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail or a fine.
Berwick Neighbourhood Inspector Sharon Stavers said it was important that computer owners who use wireless networks ensured their security systems were up to scratch.
She said: “This is a very unusual offence and it appears the two men were doing nothing more sinister than checking their emails and getting some time on the internet for free. However, this is an offence and people pay good money to have the internet in their homes.
“It is worth reminding people who use a wireless connection to ensure they follow the manufacturer’s instructions when setting it up. They should make sure that all the security systems are in place to keep their computers safe.”
The practice of illegally logging on to another person’s connection has led to “war chalking”, where people draw symbols on walls or pavements to let others know a wireless connection can be made from there.