Finnish Court of Appeal Rules on Unauthorized Use of Neighbour’s WLAN Connection

Technology has now brought us so much convenience. Many years ago, the only place where I could surf the net was at home. Now, I can even surf the net in a boat.

Recently, the Finnish Court fined a guy who used his neighbour’s unsecured WLAN (commonly known as Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi is actually a trade mark) without his neighbour’s consent.

Source: International Law Office

Contributed by Roschier Attorneys Ltd

June 02 2009

On March 31 2009 the Turku Court of Appeal confirmed a ruling of the District Court of Salo in a matter where an IT professional had repeatedly exploited a neighbour’s unprotected wireless local area network (WLAN) connection without consent.(1) Both courts held that the intentional unauthorized use of a neighbour’s WLAN connection constitutes petty unauthorized use under Chapter 28, Section 9 of the Penal Code and is thus subject to a fine.

As grounds, the Court of Appeal stated, among other things, that although a connection to a neighbour’s base station might be made accidentally, after becoming aware of this situation the unauthorized user must immediately disconnect in order to avoid penal liability. The court also stated that the defendant must have been aware of the fact that the use of the connection was unauthorized and harmful to the subscriber to the connection. The defendant did not have justified grounds to assume that, because the connection was unprotected, implied consent had been given for its use. The court further ruled that the fact that the defendant had repeatedly used the neighbour’s connection indicated that the conduct was intentional.

I did a quick search on the internet and found that Chapter 28, Section 9 of the Finnish Penal Code states as follows:

Section 9 – Petty unauthorised use (769/1990)

If the unauthorised use, when assessed as a whole, with due consideration to the fact that the offence is not conducive to causing significant loss or inconvenience, or to the other circumstances connected with the offence, is to be deemed petty, the offender shall be sentenced for petty unauthorised use to a fine.

Malaysia doesn’t have a similiar section though.

I bet 9/10 internet users in Malaysia have done this before i.e. using an unsecured WIFI connection belonging to another to surf the net. Strangely, this method is called “piggybacking“.

So is accessing an unsecured WIFI in Malaysia an offence? I don’t recall seeing any cases of this kind in Malaysia. The nearest offence we could get is Section 3 of the Computer Crimes Act 1997 which provides as follows:

3. Unauthorised to access to computer material.

(1) A person shall be guilty of an offence if-

(a) he causes a computer to perform any function with intent to secure access to any program or data held in any computer;

(b) the access he intends to secure is unauthorised; and

(c) he knows at the time when he causes the computer to perform the function that that is the case.

Under Section 3, there must be intent to secure access to any program or data held in any computer. So what is the program or data that has been accessed by a “piggybacker”? Arguably, the “piggybacker” has accessed the program that runs the WLAN device and has downloaded data from the WLAN device. The WLAN device is the medium that transmits data and downloads data from the internet. The “piggybacker” then uses his PC/laptop/phone to surf the net using the WLAN connection. Therefore, arguably, data has been downloaded into the “piggybacker’s” PC/laptop/phone .

In Singapore, numerous people had been charged under the Singapore Computer Misuse Act 1993 (which is very similiar with our Computer Crimes Act 1997) for “piggybacking”. With this, I am of the view that piggybacking is an offence under the Computer Crimes Act 1997. Nevertheless, I think there is a counter argument for this. If anyone has any, please share and no names calling please.

But of course, just like running the red light, you’ll get into trouble if someone catches you doing so. Surf wisely people!

p/s on another note, Messrs Richard Wee Lopez is starting a series of postings regarding cyber crime. Check out their first entry here. If anyone of you here gets arrested for cybercrime, you know how to call.

Related Link
Wikipedia – Legality of piggybacking