Can you be held accountable for illegal acts on your wi-fi connection?

The other day I was thinking about how the recording industry has been going after regular joes downloading copyrighted music online and it got me thinking about a question. I was wondering if you could be held accountable for someone else using your wireless connection, that wasn’t closed or protected, for illegal activities (such as downloading copyrighted music/movies, child porn, performing malicious computer hacking, etc.). It would seem to me that it would be ridiculous to be held accountable for someone else’s bad acts, but if you left your connection open you were partially responsible for facilitating the behavior. Does anyone know the answer?

My neighbors were involved in a case just like this last year. Someone used their unsecured wireless network to download an episode of a TV series, and they (my neighbors) were sued as a result. Nobody in the house was responsible for the download, but they had no way of proving that.

I realize this is anecdotal evidence, but I believe the answer to your question is probably “hell yes.”

Yes, you can be held accountable.
See this thread: Is using someone else’s wireless network illegal?, which started out here in GQ, but got bumped over to GD when the arguing started.

Thanks for the link. I looked through that link earlier but I didn’t see anything specific to what I had asked, but I probably need to read it a little closer.

It seems like they could prove it was your connection but how could they prove that it was you specifically and not someone next door?

Okay, here is another hypothetical. My roommate and I share a wireless connection that is in my name. I use the connection for legal uses and he uses the connection for illegal ones (without my knowledge or consent). The Feds conduct a raid of our apartment and find 1000s of illegal songs on his computer and none on mine. Who is held at fault for the songs?

A guy in Florida is currently facing prosecution for doing just this, link here

Thanks for the link, but it isn’t exactly what I am asking. I am asking is it possible for you to get in trouble for something illegal done on your wireless network by someone else. I know that accessing someone else’s network can get you in trouble

This is not exactly what the OP is asking. The Florida case involves a man being charged with unauthorized use of someone else’s wifi connection. And, as far as I have seen, they are not alleging that the man did anything illegal except use the connection. That is, he was not necessarily using the connection to perform an illegal act (like trading child porn) but the fact that he was using the connection in the first place is similar to trespass. See the GD thread linked earlier for lots of argument on whether that similarity is valid.

The OP is asking about a situation where the person controlling the wifi hotspot is held accountable for the actions of people using it. Comparing to the Florida case, it would mean the homeowner, not the man parked outside with a laptop, was arrested for the activity on the connection.

IANAL and can’t address the OP. I’d WAG that you’d be put in the unfortunate position of trying to prove your innocence by demonstrating enough reasonable doubt that you were the one using the connection for illegal purposes. From a legal standpoint, this might be similar to a case where a car’s owner was the obvious suspect in a hit and run even if someone else was driving the car. There might be some illuminating precedent there.

Hmmmm… it certainly has parallels to the hit and run analogy. The only difference that I can see is that it seems more difficult for someone to borrow your car without your knowledge but pretty easy for someone to use your connection. Maybe a lawyer can chime in.

After moving a wireless access point at work, I did a survey to see where it could be seen from. I was surprised at the number of APs I could see, including names like “linksys” and “HPSetup” that were of course unprotected.

I guarantee you could steal my car more easily than you could connect to my wireless router. Does that make it okay to borrow my car?

Certainly you can get in trouble. If, however, you can prove it was done without your knowledge or consent, you could probably manage to avoid any serious penalty.

In the example about the roommate and the songs, it’s the roommate who’s in trouble: he’s the one making the copies, not you.

Absolutely not. I am not saying it would be okay to steal someone’s bandwith or someone’s car. I am just saying that it would seem to be easier to prove that somebody took your car and caused a hit and run than it would be to prove that somebody else downloaded that copy of “Croutching Tiger Hidden Dragon.”

Where does the burden of proof lie? If the state has to prove it, can they subpoena your hard drive as evidence? I’m guessing your IP on a forbidden download counts as “probable cause” to search your house/belongings for the stolen item?

I would think that they would be able to seize any computers in a house if they had your IP as the one for the downloads. I am not sure what would happen if they couldn’t find any of the files on your computer. They know your connection was used but is that enough to prove anything.

I could have downloaded on a PC I removed from the house.

Or you could have simply deleted the incriminating files from your computer.

They could recover them.

I would like to point out that the RIAA was not going after folks that were downloading the music, they went after those that were making the music available to download. A co-worker’s 15 year old daughter was nabbed a few years ago, she had over 4000 songs in her “my downloads” file available for others to download. Cost him $3500 and the hard drive to his daughter’s computer to settle.

How do you protect it, micco? I need to improve our security.