The Community Support police in Chiswick, west London, is determined to stamp out digital villains. Espying a suspect engaged in laptoppery on the public highway, they asked him whether he was connecting to someone else's Wi-Fi. He said yes, so they nicked him. The Computer Crime unit is now analysing his equipment, and has issued a stern warning that this should be a lesson to us all.
We're listening. A straw poll of the ZDNet.co.uk office revealed that around 80 percent of our staff have in the past quietly nipped onto a Netgear here or a Linksys there, when other connectivity failed or was not available. Such enormous levels of criminality are surprising: extrapolating into the general community, we can only assume that the UK is in the grip of a crimewave unmatched in history.
And that's without considering those who have been led astray by Windows XP, notoriously promiscuous when it comes to associating with Wi-Fi networks. If it's connected in the past to something with the same name, it'll happily and silently hook up — and the arcane user interface of the network management applet makes it hard to say no.
Things can only get worse. With Wi-Fi now sprouting from PDAs, mobile phones, even music players and portable games consoles, anyone spotted using any form of device in public must be prepared to answer questions.
We must also face the frightening possibility that hardened criminals will learn to lie. "No, officer, I'm using a 3G data card", "I've connected via Bluetooth to the phone in my pocket", or even "I'm only typing" — all plausible excuses which may wash in the unlikely event that the policeman investigating is a little rusty with wireless stacks.
Something must be done. If it means extra officers, equipped with portable protocol analysers and trained to Cisco Certified Network Professional standard, then so be it. No expense is too great to save us from this tidal wave of evil. The alternative — that people can now and again use a bit of someone else's bandwidth — would be the ruination of our once great country.