[LINK] ACA Posts WLAN FAQs
Mon, 7 Oct 2002 13:42:22 +1000
On Fri, 4 Oct 2002 15:42, Tom Worthington wrote:
> The media reports about "War chalking" are rather silly and
---------- Forwarded Message ----------
Subject: CARLTON VOGT: "Ethics Matters" from InfoWorld.com, Friday,
October 4, 2002
Date: Fri, 04 Oct 2002 12:18:08 -0500
CARLTON VOGT "Ethics Matters" InfoWorld.com
Friday, October 4, 2002
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TRYING TO BUILD A CASE AGAINST 'WARCHALKING'
Posted Oct 02, 2002 11:15 Pacific Time
I've been thinking a lot about "warchalking" recently,
which is strange because until last week I'd never
heard of the word. Warchalking is a direct descendant
of "wardialing," in which people would program their
computers to dial around to find unlisted modems.
In the modern version, "wardrivers" circulate
throughout a community in an automobile -- some have
even upgraded to airplanes -- to find and map
unprotected wireless networks. Warchalkers then make
chalk marks very much like the old hobo symbols,
telling where the networks are and providing other
The reader who alerted me to this practice had decided
that it was immoral and thought that attempts to
justify it were "bizarre." So, of course, I had to
have a look for myself (check out more on warchalking
for yourself at http://www.warchalking.org ). I
don't think the attempts to justify it are at all
bizarre, although they're arguable. But I find myself
unable to make a solid case against it.
Making chalk marks on a sidewalk seems benign enough,
so it would be better to determine whether the
underlying practice -- using an open wireless network
to access the Internet -- is, in and of itself,
unethical. So rather than examining warchalking, I'll
examine that use.
My initial reaction to the idea was the same one I
imagine most people would have -- I was against it.
That probably stems from some kind of a Puritan ethic
buried deep within most of us that it's simply wrong
for someone to get something for nothing. We just
don't like that idea and will come up with all sorts
of reasons -- invent them if necessary -- to prove
that it's wrong.
To examine the ethical thrust we need to start with
several assumptions. We have to assume that those
using someone else's wireless connections are engaged
in morally benign activities. They're not breaking
into someone's system, sending spam, corrupting files,
overwhelming the available bandwidth, or engaging in
terrorist or other criminal activities. If they were,
then we would be having a different discussion.
So, let's suppose someone with a wireless card finds an
open connection at my house. He stops, uses my
Internet connection to check his e-mail and the stock
reports, and moves on. What harm has been done? Who
has been deprived of anything? What he did was most
likely totally transparent to me. Even if I were
working on the Internet, I most likely never knew he
used the connection. The person has deprived me of nothing.
I have already paid my ISP for the privilege of being
connected 24/7. My ISP has been deprived of nothing.
They have their money and what difference does it make
to them if one or two people have used my wireless
network? It would have made no difference to them if I
had invited the person in to use the connection or if
he used it without my knowledge. I can have as many
connections on that network as I desire, or at least
until I decide that multiple users are degrading my
response time significantly.
How is this any different from the case in which I pay
my cable company for digital music? While I'm out, I
leave the music on, and my neighbor -- who doesn't pay
for the digital music -- sits on his patio, which
adjoins mine, and listens to my music. He deprives me
of nothing and deprives the cable company of nothing,
except perhaps a potential customer.
You could probably try to construct a case that someone
using open wireless networks is in fact depriving the
ISP of a customer, but that's highly unlikely. I think
there are very few people, especially those with a
laptop and a wireless card, who would be satisfied
with sitting on the sidewalk surfing the Internet.
More than likely these would be people who already
have their own connection, but use this method when
away from home. So, I think the potential for people
using this as their sole internet connection is
How is this different from someone tapping into my
phone line and using my phone to dial up a connection?
Well, it's significantly different, and a lot of that
difference comes from the physical nature of the act.
In fact, I'd feel differently about someone using my
wireless network if they broke into my house to use
it. That would be wrong for a lot of reasons unrelated
to simply using the network.
But once we put something into the air, we begin to
lose control and claims over it. I would be
hard-pressed to tell people they can't stop on the
sidewalk in front of my house and enjoy the aroma from
the baking bread. I can't claim that they're stealing
the aroma. As long as what they do doesn't impinge on
my enjoying the aroma, or the bread, they are free to
enjoy it too, the same as my neighbor who enjoys my
digital music without depriving me of its pleasure.
Part of the problem is that many people, as well as
businesses and government agencies, have not put
sufficient protection on their wireless networks,
allowing the practice of walk-by wireless users to
flourish. In fact, the Secret Service has begun its
own form of wardriving and warchalking in Washington
in an effort to find government agencies -- especially
critical ones -- with open and exposed wireless connections.
However, as long as the walk-by users aren't accessing
the open Internet connections to do anything harmful
or illegal, I'm having a hard time figuring out why
someone would think it unethical. It would seem that
those people who want to secure their networks can,
and should, do so. Then we could assume that those who
leave their networks available to warchalkers on
purpose -- as some people are reported to do -- don't
really mind sharing their resources with others.
Write to Carlton Vogt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To discuss any of these issues, you can go to the
Ethics Matters forum at
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