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I want to use a software called Wireshark and its intentions are to collect packets (segments of information) from the WiFi radio spectrum.

However, the Regulation of Investigatory Act 2000 and Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 both say that it is illegal to intercept messages without authorisation.

  • Considering WiFi are on public frequencies, does this mean it's legal to intercept (or in this case, collect packets)?
  • If not, then why does my computer even allow me to (the manufacturers are committing a crime)?
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    Im no lawyer/barrister, but I am sure they will agree when I say that just because you can doesnt mean you should, or that it is legal. As for the manufacturers, its not their fault. I can stab you with a knife, that doesnt make it legal, nor the knife manufacturer's responsibility. – Keltari Dec 22 '18 at 8:35
  • Thank you for the very early comment. Yes, that is true but my definition of "can" is that it's legal. Anyway, I've edited the part where it says that. As of your analogy, it certainly doesn't work because of the intention. – Steve Woods Dec 22 '18 at 8:37
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    Oh and the reason you can do it, is that you might not be using it for illegal purposes. You can capture your own WiFi or have the permission of others. Wireshark cant know if you are breaking the law or not. Which reminds me to say, it is illegal in the US. – Keltari Dec 22 '18 at 8:42
  • So, is interpreting the same as seeing it with your eyes? I mean, IANAL but I've never ever seen a court case for this kind of thing. – Steve Woods Dec 22 '18 at 8:46
  • Thank you very much. What if I accidentally see someone else's message or packet? Nice upvote btw :P – Steve Woods Dec 22 '18 at 8:52
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Wireshark's intentions are not quite as stated in the question - following the link also shows that they (wireshark.org) are quite specific about using it on "your network", and that it's not limited to wifi.

If you were to intercept communications without authorisation, that would be the offence - not whether you used a particular network protocol analyser or even a particular piece of hardware (your computer) to process them. Unauthorised connection of a cable to a physical port could be covered by the same offence. The issue would be with your actions, not with the tool you used.

Keltari's example of the knife in the comments is a good one. I might add that ram raiding a shop is illegal, and cars are not, or that you could use your computer to physically assault someone regardless of the operating system and installed software, but that risks us drifting off into a series of obscure analogies.

It's the actions that are prohibited.

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