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Bradley Mitchell

Are You Liable If Someone Uses Your Wi-Fi for Illegal Activity?

By March 23, 2006

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| Commentary | Say that a hacker or a neighbor is using your wireless home network for some illegal activity. Are you liable for this? Those who say "yes" argue that you own the equipment and the responsibility to secure it from outsiders. Those who say "no" argue that because you are not personally performing the illegal activity, you are not responsible. Past articles on this topic and landmark legal cases have drawn many comments both ways. Think about it, and then let your opinion be heard:

Are You Liable If Someone Does Something Illegal On Your Wi-Fi? -
Vote: Yes or No - Results
January 23, 2007 at 2:36 pm
(1) Larry says:

I pay for by bandwidth and someone who logs on to access the internet is taking something I paid for. So I would consider that an illegal activity. On the other hand, if that person does something illegal on my network that person should be liable, not me. Say someone steals your car to rob a bank. Are you going to be charged for the bank robbery? No. Same for someone who steals my bandwidth to do an illegal act.

Wonderful world we live in, eh?


January 23, 2007 at 2:45 pm
(2) Jack says:

Well, if your car is running with plenty of fuel then you have somewhat created a situation the local police have warned you about many times.

Broadcasting your WiFi in my house, where is that right defined?

January 23, 2007 at 3:57 pm
(3) John says:

Unless you could be proven in a court of law that you were personally negligent in your responsibilities to your Internet Service, like never using a WiFi firewall even though continually recommended to, and even then how responsible are you for someone else using your service illegally without your knowledge. you should be held accountable for sure, to what extent may have to be determined in a court of law.

January 24, 2007 at 10:59 am
(4) Robert says:

Shady area, if so? would the cable company’s, telephone (wired) companys, owners, server owners, backbone owners be liable also if someone uses there hardware for illegal purposes? THINK!

January 25, 2007 at 8:15 am
(5) bello says:

there is no way you can prove it in a court of law that you are not liable or guity because you are the owner of the equipment, you should know about all the activities it is used for.
for example if somebody or a friend sends mesiles from your house (room) to kill another person at the other end, are you guilty or not guilty.

January 25, 2007 at 1:59 pm
(6) Jeff says:

I say it depends. If the owner of the equipment has taken reasonable attempts to secure their equipment then they should not be held liable. But if they aren’t at least using the supplied security features (e.g. WEP) and changed their default password, then maybe they should be held liable.

January 29, 2007 at 5:36 am
(7) Karl says:

I currently have WPA, a MAC filter and various passwords in place to prevent other people from freeloading off of my wifi signal. Despite all that I’ve enabled, I believe all security can still be broken through if a person is determined enough. If a person leaves his front door unlocked while he’s on vacation and someone comes in and uses the house for criminal activity, the owner could be suspected of being an accomplice. Same with a WiFi signal, how can one prove that he didn’t actually LET a criminal use his signal for unlawful ends?

February 2, 2007 at 8:59 am
(8) Dan says:

Think about identity theft. I hope I won’t be responsibe for any crimes committed by the crook(s).

June 21, 2007 at 12:05 am
(9) Brian says:

My opinion is that unless there is a law, regulation or something similar by the government requiring WiFi equipment and WiFi software makers to conform to certain security regulations, I guess I could say “average”, in other words ignorant WiFi users can’t be held responsible for WiFi security they’re not aware of and don’t know how to use.

I’ve read that WEP encryption can be hacked in less than a minute. How many people use WEP instead of secure WPA and WPA2 encryption or even no encryption at all? And how many people know that?

If WiFi security is important enough to hold end-users responsible for any WiFi activity on their own network, well, that would require that end-users have a government “license” or something similar to ensure that they have had training to secure their own WiFi network. Because without that license, you couldn’t rightfully punish ignorance, ignorant people who don’t know how to secure WiFi networks. Why bother with WiFi licenses when the government could just regulate WiFi equipment and software to certain security standards? Which sounds much easier and much more effective than WiFi licenses to me.

July 16, 2007 at 5:05 pm
(10) Josiah says:

To readily diffuse one variant of the fear of freedom some people have expressed here, if everyone, or the majority of people leave their networks open, then unless the criminal is caught red-handed, you, the network owner, could never be falsely proven as having committed the crime or having made the downloads, etc. b/c anyone could have done it. RIAA lawyers have dropped charges, lawsuits wholly because the network was open and couldn’t pin anyone specific.

No one should be compelled to share a network, of course, but certainly, no one should be punished for sharing it, either.

So are federal, state, and local governments responsible for crimes committed on federal, state, or local areas? No. If we want the world to tear down Berlin Walls and socioeconomic barriers, we have to put forth the trust and education, especially ethical/moral education, necessary to open the way for greater and greatest goods, even though any open good is always an equally open channel for bad. If you’re free to move, then you’re free to commit good or bad acts. The idea is to allow all acts, good or bad, and punish the bad ones. America is based on such freedom. In America, and pretty much every country, I am free to murder if I so want–just that it would be a bad act and punishable. (And when we don’t ethically/morally judge acts as good and bad and assign punishment to the bad, then good will fail, not all at once, but truly, inevitably. Removing punishments, like capital punishment, is a step to the downfall of good, or that of order. Without boundaries/laws, such as skin on a body, an immune system, or space between earth and sun, no shape or form or organism or life can exist and everything would be “a compound in one” and existence would cease.) With the freedom/power to do greater good comes the freedom to do greater bad. If we were all frozen like Han Solo, we could be assured of a world without bad things happening, but what is the point of an existence like that?

October 24, 2007 at 12:23 pm
(11) Justin says:

I recall a case a while back on this very thing. It ended with (paraphrasing): As long as you take reasonable security measures, you are not liable. So if you use even basic WEP, you’ve provided a “reasonable to the law” security measure, and are not immediately liable. Also, if your AP still has an SSID of “linksys” (example), they’ll likely consider you an idiot who can’t read directions (owner’s manual), and consider you partially liable. It’s the equivalent of hanging your car keys on a hook by your front door (outside).

And for those who say the burden of proof lies on the accuser to say you’re guilty, that’s only in criminal court. The RIAA takes its victims to civil court, a completely different matter, and they don’t even need “beyond reasonable doubt”, only “enough evidence to say it’s you” (IP address, date, time, etc, are all that’s necessary in civil court. Criminal court the State needs much more proof.)

May 27, 2008 at 10:05 am
(12) Cuppa says:

No. That’s like saying you should get in trouble for someone smoking pot on your property without you knowing. THEY are the ones committing an illegal act, not you, and you shouldn’t be blamed for it.

I know many computer stupid people who couldn’t secure their wireless network even if they wanted to, and they shouldn’t be prosecuted merely because they haven’t been using their computer much.

Even my own Wi-Fi isn’t secure right now (my sister basically owns it and she’s worried about me mucking it up), but my internets are protected by a proxies and McAfee. People should only be responsible for their own actions.

Aside from that, I agree with Josiah completely. ^o^

August 16, 2008 at 3:35 pm
(13) Ed says:

I totally understand your point about if someone steals your car and rob’s a bank you think your not liable however if you left the keys in the vehicle i believe you are responsible.

You are allowing people access to the internet to do what ever they want it is your responsibility what they do on your network.

October 21, 2008 at 12:48 pm
(14) Paul says:

If you don’t take steps to prevent some one from using your wifi then you are Partially responsible for living it open

October 29, 2008 at 11:20 pm
(15) Thomas says:

Hey, WEP can be cracked very easily in under ten minutes – watch the how to video on youtube. Many wireless use WEP and many people do not even know how to lock down their wi-fi so how can people be held responsible for this? This should be open and shut case. Also – who is responsible for the public Wi-fi Access points open to anyone?

September 25, 2009 at 12:28 am
(16) Charles says:

How can someone accuse one of “stealing” their broadband, especially if it is unsecured? I say that the ones who leave their networks unsecured and it travels into my home, they are “trespassing” and I have the right to do as I wish with it. That person has commited a crime as much as I have. Now if that network is secured and I crack it, then I have commited a crime. Get it? The person who leaves their network open commits the same crime as having a drinking party and knowingly allows guests to drive drunk and someone gets injured or killed. Either way, ignorance or not, the host is guilty!

January 19, 2010 at 2:54 pm
(17) Master of the Obvious says:

If Tina Turner were reading these posts, I think she might say, “What’s logic got to do,… got to do with it? What’s logic,..when you’re in US courtroom. The judge can condemn,…based off the jury’s emotion….”
And I have to agree with Tina!!

June 28, 2010 at 10:53 pm
(18) Fascist Nation says:

There are plenty of people in prison for threatening the President through email or downloading child porn who had been hacked.

Neither the cop, prosecutor, jusge or jury cared about evidence showing an outside hacker did the deed. And even if some point they did, hundreds of thousands in debt had accumulated and media hatchet job ruined reputations.

WPA2-AES. Or don’t.

February 6, 2012 at 3:21 am
(19) Joe says:

Hi everybody. we are all right and we are all wrong. Hence the courts. Fact is you secure your property, reducing the risk of theft. You secure your line minimising its unlawfull usage. If you leave your wi-fi open to the world, you make it public. By unlawfull usage, theoretically, you are liable because you permit it to be used indiscriminately. you connive with the crooks. you have open basically your house door so that crooks can come in store their unlawfull products and substances and sell them from their whilst you are peacefully drinking coffee in the next room. ISP providers are responsible if you unlawfully use their services because they have already made sign a contract with a powerful disclaimer. It is a public service with a twist…
Have fun guys and learn to block all your devices. Stop identity theft and help fight Internet crooks and scammers.

June 14, 2012 at 3:07 pm
(20) Naz says:


Some people on here are wrong; you are not liable even if you WIFI are publically accessible. According to the court you need to prove it was not you doing the illegal activity, this can be done by the POLICE searching you computers, mobile phone everything that accesses the WIFI. If the Wireless router has a MAC address of a device that is not in the home, this is a clear indication you have an intruder. Public hotspot are also not liable for any harm caused when someone thiefís their network. The person should however be encrypting there WIFI, I donít know why you would not, people can access you computers because you system will think it a family system trying to access music, however they could access document, internet history and even modify you router to send information to them before sending you to the website you requested. – DAD is a lawyer and Iím a Computer Forensics consultant.

August 27, 2013 at 7:31 am
(21) Salma says:

I don’t think the a person the paids for wife service should get charged for a crime the has been done on there wife! Especially if they didn’t know anything about it !!! My boyfrien uses my computer and wife all the time his at my place… I’m so clueless about computers amd all this if he has done anything serious illigal would I get charge for it for letting him used my pc and service? I hope not!! Because love blinds you and you let them do anything they want because I’m assuming the he loves me and would never do me wrong because you trust them!! I’m very scare thou!

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