When is it illegal to listen. Mapping wifi?

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When did listening become illegal?  After reading this article I got to thinking more about how the concept of wireless is flawed.   http://gigaom.com/2012/05/01/google-wi-fi-snooping-and-the-ever-shifting-creepy-line/

As a technology it uses public airwaves to send data.  This concept works great when the data is suppose to be freely available.  The success of this can be seen with radio and TV.wifi    People are able to receive or connect to these signals and use them.   However, this freely available concept shifts when we are talking about wifi?  Similar waves (not frequency) transmit your wireless signal for your computer or home network.

I’m not saying what Google did was ok or even the way they handled it.  However, if I understand the technical side of this, the Google team was creating street view images (Google maps) and collecting as much data as possible to make the street view useful.  This data included GPS location, images, signals (wifi) and other info.   In the article they do a pretty good job of explaining that if you have Wifi it is your job to secure it and also disable broadcasting if you have an issue with others seeing your network.  Not any different that the local TV station broadcasting on Channel 8 and I want to watch I need to tune to channel 8.  If your WiFi is broadcasting on channel 1 and you broadcast your SSID (like my neighbor) I’m able to see that.    If your wifi is open and I can connect, you as the wifi owner should take ownership.   

Where the line is crossed is when people do inapproparate behavior,  That is the creepy stuff and the snooping.   But the idea that just listening or capturing data is illegal seems strange to me.  I can walk down the sidewalk, open my iphone go to Wifi settings and see lots of wifi SSID’s broadcasted.  I could screen capture and send them to a photo sharing site which shares GPS coordinates.    Is that illegal?

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