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Dutch courts: Wi-Fi 'hacking' is not a crime

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A Dutch court has ruled that hacking into Wi-Fi connections is not a crime providing any connected computers remain untouched. However Wi-Fi freeloaders would still lay themselves open to civil proceedings.

The unusual ruling came in the case of a student who threatened a shooting rampage against staff at students at Maerlant College in The Hague. The threat was posted on 4chan, the notoriously anarchic internet image board, after the student broke into a secure Wi-Fi connection. The unnamed student was caught and convicted of posting the message but acquitted on the hacking charge.

The miscreant was sentenced to 120 hours of community service.

Reports are vague on how the student hacker was tracked down, but it may well be that the denizens of 4chan got the ball rolling by reporting the threats to police, something that happened in a similar school massacre threat case in Michigan back in February.

The Netherlands has a computer hacking law that dates from the early 1990s and defines a computer as a machine involved in the "storage, processing and transmission of data". Since a router is not used to store data, a judge reasoned, it fails to qualify as a computer – and thus the computer hacking law isn't applicable. The ruling, which surprised legal observers in The Netherlands, means that piggy-backing (or leeching) open wireless networks is not a crime: though civil proceedings against leechers would still be possible, so a free-for-all is unlikely.

Most countries have laws the apply to hacking into computer networks as well as computers but not, it would seem, The Netherlands. The Dutch attorney general has decided to appeal the verdict in the case, a process that may take several months. ®

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