Wireless internet in the city.By Emilie Bourque and Elling Lien
You: A laptop user on the move.
The problem: It’s 2 in the morning, you don’t have internet access at home, the library’s closed, and you need to send an e-mail to your mom before the sun comes up.
Do you… go to a friend’s house? What if your friend lives across town? What if they don’t want you hanging around at 2 am?
Do you… go to a café? If you can find one open. Cafés are places you can jump online, and they’re great if you love lots of cups of coffee and the occasional scone, but if you’re not into the mugga, or the café is closed, you’re out of luck.
Do you… walk around your neighbourhood carrying your laptop like a fly-fishing rod, trying to pick up a free signal to piggyback on? (Actually, these days, if you live in a relatively dense neighbourhood, you’re pretty likely to find a number of unencrypted Wi-Fi wireless signals that reach inside your own house.)
If you were to choose the last option, Canadian law would pipe up in the back of the room:
“Internet piggybacking is in the criminal code of Canada,” it would huff. “Section 342.1—‘Unauthorized use of computer.’ It’s tucked in there right under ‘forging or falsifying credit cards.’”
And it’s true.
According to Canadian law, piggybacking on an unprotected Wi-Fi signal without permission is quite a lot like if someone were to steal a wallet that’s left on a table. That said, no one in Canada has ever been charged with “stealing” a wireless internet connection.
People who argue the other way believe it’s not like taking a wallet, but more like reading a newspaper over someone’s shoulder.
Hunting for a wireless internet signal is what internet folks call “wardriving.” According to the website wardriving.com, this is a term coined by Pete Shipley. It’s a reference to “wardialling”—the act of dialing random numbers with a modem attempting to find a computer to connect to—brought to popular attention by the movie War Games.
And as much fun as it might be to drive around town with your new MacBook, someone has come up with a better idea: www.709scene.com/hotspots/ is a database of open access points in and around St. John’s from restaurants, to the airport, to individual homes.
“It started out as me just wanting to play around with Google Maps,” says the site’s owner, Mike Wyatt. But as he began mapping out free wireless locations, he was curious to see if other people would take to the idea of adding their favourite public hotspots, or their own home networks.
On the site, there are close to 50 hotspots listed, including both businesses and people’s home addresses. Some people who have added their own home address have included messages:
“If you can get the signal from the street then feel free to connect! :)” Others even invite users to drop in and say hi.
Why would someone offer up their home account for simply anyone to use? Well maybe they like the idea of being able to use other free networks when they are in other areas of the city. Maybe some just haven’t stopped sharing since they learned it was nice in kindergarten.
Either way, as Wyatt puts it, “it’s a really big convenience for everyone else.”