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Michigan Man Charged for Using Free WiFi

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the watch-where-you-wardrive dept.

The Courts 848

Nichole writes "Sam Peterson II was charged with unauthorized use of computer access for using a coffee shop's free WiFi. He is facing a 5 year felony charge and a $10,000 fine but apparently got off lucky and received only a $400 fine and 40 hours of community service because he was a first time offender. 'it seems few in the village of Sparta, Mich., were aware that using an unsecured Wi-Fi connection without the owner's permission--a practice known as piggybacking--was a felony. Each day around lunch time, Sam Peterson would drive to the Union Street Cafe, park his car and--without actually entering the coffee shop--check his e-mail and surf the Net. His ritual raised the suspicions of Police Chief Andrew Milanowski, who approached him and asked what he was doing. Peterson, probably not realizing that his actions constituted a crime, freely admitted what he was doing ... [the officer] didn't immediately cite or arrest Peterson, mostly because he wasn't certain a crime had been committed.'"

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848 comments

So using this logic.... (5, Interesting)

ip_freely_2000 (577249) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239043)

...people who can sit outside a baseball stadium or concert from some vantage point and watch the game/performance for free are also commiting a felony.

Re:So using this logic.... (5, Funny)

joebok (457904) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239185)

No, not at all - no computers are involved in analog baseball. However, if you were watching somebody play Head to HEad Madden '07 on their PSP on the bus, then they could cart your ass off to jail.

Re:So using this logic.... (1)

raydobbs (99133) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239285)

According to the Baseball franchise, this puts you NEXT on the wall for execution

Re:So using this logic.... (0, Troll)

Goaway (82658) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239353)

No, "this logic" is the letter of the law, which says that what happened here was illegal, and what you suggest isn't.

You're welcome.

Re:So using this logic.... (5, Insightful)

MrNaz (730548) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239613)

Oh well that makes the totally unreasonable nature of what happened OK then. I'm glad that I'll only ever be arrested for things that are illegal so as long as I'm not a terrorist criminal pirate general bad guy I'll be fine. I'm also glad I can trust the government to keep the letter of the law such that it only makes bad stuff illegal.

I like it here in your little fantasy world. I'd stay, except I'm not a total bloody retard.

Re:So using this logic.... (3, Insightful)

paeanblack (191171) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239453)

...people who can sit outside a baseball stadium or concert from some vantage point and watch the game/performance for free are also commiting a felony.

That analogy holds right up to the point you send your first packet to their network. After that, you are no longer a passive spectator...you are playing in a completely different ballgame, with completely different rules.

When you ask yourself "am I allowed to use this network?", "I don't know" does not equal "yes". The onus is upon you to verify that you are not trespassing before proceeding. In this particular case, it doesn't initially appear that any malice was involved. $400+40hrs sounds a little steep, but not in the realm of the unreasonable.

Re:So using this logic.... (3, Interesting)

Mockylock (1087585) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239477)

It's also like a company dropping money on the ground in front of their store and arresting anyone who picks it up.

Re:So using this logic.... (5, Insightful)

mcrbids (148650) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239487)

...people who can sit outside a baseball stadium or concert from some vantage point and watch the game/performance for free are also commiting a felony.

No. In your example, there's no computer involved.

Really, there are two contradictory laws at stake, here.

1) According to the FCC, it's perfectly legal to receive ANY BROADCAST TRANSMISSION. I can set up a radio receiver and pick up whatever happens to be in the air. This includes wifi broadcasts, which are really nothing more than a cordless phone combined with a MODEM.

2) But, it's also illegal in most areas to "access computers or computer networks without permission". They stand in contradiction to each other. The part that's odd here is that the WIFI spot announces itself as unencrypted, sort of like a welcome sign. How did this guy not have permission to access the network?

I personally think that wireless networks, even those that are being broadcast in unlicensed spectrums (like wifi) should be illegal to access if the "digital doorknob" is locked. If you have to enter in a password or decryption key, even a weak one like WEP, it's illegal to access. But, if it's open/unencrypted, then you should be free to act with impunity.

This is how we interpret things more physically. AFAIK here in California, if you approach my house and the front door is closed such that you have to turn the doorknob to enter it, it's illegal to enter without a specific invitation. (EG: "Come on in" sign, me hollering for you to, whatever) But if the door is open, you can enter with impunity - having the door open can be considered an invitation to enter.

(IANAL, etc)

So why would wireless networks be any different? Don't want people accessing your network? Put up a password/encryption key. Otherwise, your door is open, and people can (and probably will) enter.

PS: More than once, I've trolled middle-class neighborhoods for a hotspot in a pinch. It seems that the best neighborhoods are the straight-up middle class ones - lower classes don't tend to have high-speed connections, upper classes tend to hire tech weenies to set up their networks, and they usually secure them. But the guys in the middle buy their Linksys routers at Best Buy, take them home, plug them in, they work, and they stop there.

Re:So using this logic.... (2, Interesting)

fumblebruschi (831320) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239685)

In fact the Chicago Cubs sued their neighbors for precisely that reason. There are buildings near Wrigley Field where you can sit on the roof and see the field (I believe Wrigley is the only ballpark where that's possible) and the Chicago Tribune, which owns the Cubs, has tried for years to get the city to force their neighbors to take down the seats on their roofs. No success yet.

fp? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19239063)

fp?

Re:fp? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19239103)

FAILURE

Criminal? (1)

Mateo_LeFou (859634) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239071)

If this were a civil offense and not a criminal, wouldn't they have to prove damages?

Felony == criminal (5, Insightful)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239383)

Unauthorized computer access is a crime, as it should be. This particular instance, however, probably should not be. It wasn't just an unsecured access point, it was deliberately unsecured to provide free wi-fi, and even the store owner didn't think the guy had comitted a crime. He probably should have realized that "free wi-fi" meant "free if you come in to the store, and hopefully buy something". The penalty handed down by the judge it says is because he had no record, but I would bet it's also the judge realizing that he wasn't being malicious, he just made a mistake that didn't really cost anyone anything.

This is an example of why mandatory minimum sentences are bad. It's done to "get tough" on criminals, but all it does is force judges to "get stupid" and not be able to apply any judgement to cases like this one.

Re:Felony == criminal (4, Insightful)

techmuse (160085) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239751)

Even worse, the guy now has a felony conviction on his record, which will probably make it very hard for him to get many jobs, loans, or anything else where they do a background check on you. He's basically had his life ruined because he was using a free service that the coffee shop was willingly providing (and advertising!) as a free service for anyone who wanted it!

I feel safer. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19239083)

Thank you for maintaining the peace, officer.

This is madness (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19239111)

THIS IS SPARTA

Inconsistant article (4, Interesting)

JamesD_UK (721413) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239123)

Something in the summary doesn't make sense. "Free WiFi" implies that this was a service provided by the coffee shop but the rest of the article reads as if it was simply an open wireless network that the coffee shop was using for their business. From reading the article it appears to be the later case and the man simply assumed that because the network was open the cafe was providing it for their customers.

Re:Inconsistant article (2, Informative)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239343)

No. This is what the coffee shop owner told a TV station, FTFA:

"I didn't know it was really illegal, either," she told the TV station. "If he would have come in (to the coffee shop), it would have been fine."


So it seems this service was provided by the coffee shop. IOW, in Michigan, it is a felony to sit outside a coffee shop or other establishment with "Free WiFi" without buying something.

Re:Inconsistant article (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19239783)

*** open the cafe was providing it for their customers. ***

Ah, there's the rub! Keyword being customers. Sitting outside in your car, never going in, and being a "customer" sorta brings it to the point, doesn't it?

"unauthorized use"? (4, Interesting)

tedshultz (596089) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239135)

"unauthorized use" sounds like a tricky term to me. Every day people need to guess if they are authorized to be somewhere or not (I assume I'm allowed in an unlocked store during business hours, I assume I would be unwelcome if I broke in at night). I usually use the assumption that people are willing to share their wifi if it is unsecured. That's exactly what I do at my home by leaving an old access point open outside my firewall. I realized that I'm taking on a little liability to let my neighbors use my wifi, but I figure the goodwill is worth the risk.

Re:"unauthorized use"? (1)

raydobbs (99133) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239421)

If I remember my Business Law classes correctly, a public business like a store or coffee shop is expressly permitted for all to enter unless you have specifically been prohibited to enter. Hence the store cannot simply file trespassing charges against a person arguing they had no right to be there during business hours - they would have to formally remove them from the premises for something like shoplifting or other gross violation - then if that person re-enters the premises; then they ARE trespassing as they have been expressely prohibited to enter the store.

Oh, BTW - IANAL. Just a business administration major.

You're kidding, right? (5, Insightful)

Gorshkov (932507) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239143)

Ok - let me get this straight.

He didn't know he was breaking the law
The COP didn't know he was breaking the law
The STORE OWNER didn't know he was breaking the law

So how exactly did he wind up getting a $400 fine, community service, and a diversion sentence out of it?

Common sence tells me that there's nothing for him to "divert" - I suspect if you had just TOLD him he was breaking the law, he'd have said "oops - sorry - I won't do it again"

What a waste of resources.

Re:You're kidding, right? (1)

jandrese (485) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239199)

Yeah, I was wondering who needed to meet some arrest quota that month.

Re:You're kidding, right? (5, Insightful)

ronadams (987516) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239307)

So... Kent County was prosecuting for something even the owner of the business didn't care about? From TFA: "This is the first time that we've actually charged it," Kent County Assistant Prosecutor Lynn Hopkins said, adding that "we'd been hoping to dodge this bullet for a while." I fly the BS flag. This "bullet" could have been easily dodged, but Kent County wants its free money.

Re:You're kidding, right? (2, Insightful)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239759)

I fly the BS flag. This "bullet" could have been easily dodged, but Kent County wants its free money.

Exactly. The GP called this a "waste of resources", but the only one who is out anything is the guy, for whom I guarantee the $400 is only the beginning of his expenses. He's probably also paying court fees, paying fees to whoever tracks his community service (probation officer, maybe, though TFA doesn't mention probation), and paying fees to enroll in whatever a "diversion program" is.

They may have actually been reluctant to prosecute cases like this before. But now that they have, and tasted the sweet green blood of a new revenue source, expect them to vigorously pursue this kind of case in the future.

Re:You're kidding, right? (1)

Hoi Polloi (522990) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239399)

Finally, FINALLY, someone is thinking about the children!

Thank god the state of Michigain pursued this crime. Now if Al Qaeda thought it could steal WiFi from America's coffee shops well, think again Osama!

Re:You're kidding, right? (5, Interesting)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239507)

This whole issue is starting to bother me greatly. Sure, if it wasn't an open AP, it would be stealing. If free Wi-Fi wasn't so common an average person might know better. Even in the case of it not being offered to customers, how are you supposed to know? That is tantamount to telling a police officer that you left a bag of $20 bills on a park bench yesterday, and when you went back to get it today it was gone. If you had locked it in the trunk of your car, that would be different. Lets make it more palatable; Say you left a bag of candy bars on a park bench where 100s of children play daily. When you go back the next day to retrieve it, it's gone. What would the police say? Naturally they would hide their laughter until you turn your back to them.

If public parks are paid for by citizens of that municipality, are people from out of town allowed to use them? Free means free. I was under the impression that if something is only free to customers as a marketing ploy, you have to do something to keep it from those who are not customers. How is this a crime? If a store offers free candy bars to the first 1000 shoppers on Saturday morning as a marketing ploy, have you committed a crime if you take one of the candy bars but don't buy anything? I think that we need to ensure that businesses advertise that they have either FREE Wi-Fi or Free-to-customers Wi-Fi to clear this up. Once it is posted (like no trespassing signs) there is no longer any question about whether it's a crime or not.

Re:You're kidding, right? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19239511)

- I suspect if you had just TOLD him he was breaking the law, he'd have said "oops - sorry - I won't do it again"

Umm, sorry, ignorance is not an acceptable excuse for breaking the law. He either did or didn't.

Re:You're kidding, right? (5, Insightful)

Gorshkov (932507) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239753)

Umm, sorry, ignorance is not an acceptable excuse for breaking the law. He either did or didn't.
You're right ... but that's also besides the point. You can also be charged for licking an ice cream cone on Sundays in some jurisdictions, thanks to laws that were passed in the 1800s ..... but how far do you think the local DA would get if he actually tried to prosecute it?

Here, we have a specific case where neither the perp, the cop, NOR the store owner were aware of the existence of the law - it seems to me that "justice" would have been much better served by just *informing* everybody about the law, so that it wouldn't happen again.

The point of law is NOT to prosecute people, or put them in jail - it's an agreed-upon set of rules that we agree to follow when we join a society, so that society can function smoothly. Prosecution - and subsequent punishments - are intended to be coercive measures to enforce compliance with these rules.

If ever there was a case of "This time, I'll let you off with a warning", this is it.

Re:You're kidding, right? (1)

seanadams.com (463190) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239555)

This law was put in place to criminalize hacking into someone else's system - that's what the "unauthorized" bit is about. Since securing a wifi network is a trivial matter of checking a box and entering a password, NOT doing so should be viewed as giving implicit permission to use it. Is there any reason not to put a password on it if you really don't want others using it?

On top of that, this wasn't like someone's private network. This was specifically put in place so that visitors to the coffee shop could use the internet. How does not paying for your cup of coffee make it "unauthorized"? Was there a big sign out in the driveway saying "unsecured wifi network only for customer use."

If they really only wanted customers to use it, they could have just put the WPA key on a sign at the cash register with a notice saying "for paying customers only". Then someone would actually have to go out of their way to connect to it without permission.

I bet this guy had a really bad lawyer.

Woo ! (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19239151)

frist psot !

This is ridiculous (5, Insightful)

tstubbendeck (782349) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239159)

This is the same as if the guy was using the restroom without purchasing anything. While this may be considered rude by some it hardly qualifies as a crime and classifying it as a felony reeks of ignorance. If I were this guy I would be so frustarated I would probably spontaneously combust.

Re:This is ridiculous (5, Insightful)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239515)

Yeah, maybe he should have realized that "free wi-fi" probably meant "free wi-fi if you come into the store and hopefully purchase something", but that's a distinction even the store owner didn't think was a matter of law. I mean, should he be charged with a crime for using the free parking spot, since it's pretty clear that the store only has the parking spot so people can park and come in the store?

Okay, hands up. (1)

acherusia (995492) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239163)

Who else is using a coffee shop's free WiFi to check Slashdot?

Re:Okay, hands up. (1)

Isaac-Lew (623) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239449)

*raises hand*

Well, I'm actually in a Panera, which also has so-so sandwiches, salads, soups & baked goods in addition to coffee. However, I did have to click on a splash page from what I assume is their proxy server before I could access the internet.

Windows XP just connects... (5, Interesting)

Docboy-J23 (1095983) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239167)

If I recall my experiences using windows XP, doesn't it just automatically connect to any unsecured wireless connection that it finds? I would bet that most people don't even realize they're stealing somebody else's internet bandwidth, since chances are their OS isn't even showing a connect dialog by default.

Re:Windows XP just connects... (1)

Goaway (82658) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239407)

Those people probably don't freely admit to a police officer that they were doing it intentionally, though. You know, kind of makes a difference, that.

Re:Windows XP just connects... (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239433)

If I recall my experiences using windows XP, doesn't it just automatically connect to any unsecured wireless connection that it finds?


Which might be a defense if you weren't driving up to a place you knew had unsecured wifi for customers and taking advantage of it. (Of course, if you didn't know that the policy was "for customers", that might be a defense to.)

Re:Windows XP just connects... (1)

Jarjarthejedi (996957) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239473)

I agree, why is it a crime if the person has obviously taken no measures to secure the wifi? If you're not even going to password your wifi then I don't see how I can be charged for using it.

This is a really dumb judgement. The law completely ignores the fact that this wifi was so open as to be auto-connectible (yes, windows does do that with unsecured wifi) and so shouldn't be even considered for a crime, no one in the area knew it was a crime, and the fine is way over what would be considered reasonable.

I'll bet that if you go and look at this law you'll find it was passed partially as a result of someone mentioning pedophiles using other peoples wifi. No law with that high of a fine for that small of a crime could be passed without some "Think of the Children"ing...

Re:Windows XP just connects... (3, Insightful)

Taimat (944976) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239575)

Yes and no...... Before SP2, yes, XP would connect to ANYTHING it could find. After SP2, it warns you if you want to connect to an unsecured network - so it's needs some kind of response from the user first.... UNLESS.... you have SSIDs are the same. If you said "yes, connect" the the unsecured "linksys" SSID at home, and you go somewhere else with the same SSID and unsecured, you are connected automatically.

Damned if ya do....You know the rest.

Doesn't the provider have any responsibility? (5, Interesting)

TripMaster Monkey (862126) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239183)

It seems to me that blasting unsecured WiFi around is much like having a trampoline that is unsecured. When children come and jump on it without your permission, and injure themselves as a result, the owner is liable, since the trampoline is an "attractive nuisance".

If people don't want everyone on their WiFi, they should have to either secure it with a key or restrict it to the premises.

Re:Doesn't the provider have any responsibility? (1)

Mephistophocles (930357) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239323)

True, in fact it would be funny to try to find a line of legal reasoning that would somehow make the coffee shop owner accessory to the felony. IANAL, but either way I think it's possible that a good attorney could be successful in pursuing civil damages based on the trampoline model you cite. Any attorneys out there think I could be correct?

Re:Doesn't the provider have any responsibility? (1)

JonathanR (852748) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239757)

The question I'd be asking is: What is the procedure for obtaining authorisation for use of the WiFi? I would contend that merely entering the coffee shop does not constitute authorisation, unless there is specifically a sign advertising the WiFi access, and that it is free to customers.

Re:Doesn't the provider have any responsibility? (1)

eln (21727) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239329)

That's why, when creating a nuisance, I try to make it as unattractive as possible. For example, the trampoline in my backyard is covered in a mustard yellow and pea green paisley pattern, and is surrounded by dark brown shag carpeting. No self-respecting kid would ever call that an "attractive" nuisance.

Re:Doesn't the provider have any responsibility? (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239557)

It seems to me that blasting unsecured WiFi around is much like having a trampoline that is unsecured. When children come and jump on it without your permission, and injure themselves as a result, the owner is liable, since the trampoline is an "attractive nuisance".


Yes, and if an adult comes on to your property without permission despite your posted "no trespassing" signs and starts jumping on your trampoline, they are still liable for trespass. The theory of "attractive nuisance" has to do with the ignorance and vulnerability of children, not the idea that failing to physically secure your property gives everyone the right to free use of it.

Re:Doesn't the provider have any responsibility? (1)

Reecie (1030330) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239717)

Yes, and if an adult comes on to your property without permission despite your posted "no trespassing" signs and starts jumping on your trampoline, they are still liable for trespass. The theory of "attractive nuisance" has to do with the ignorance and vulnerability of children, not the idea that failing to physically secure your property gives everyone the right to free use of it.

However, as you cite, if there is a "no tresspassing" sign posted, then the offender is liable for being on the premises in the first place. In this case, AFAIK, there was not a "No Piggybacking" sign in front of the coffee shop. And, since the Wi-fi access was free inside, what's to say that it's not free outside? It's not "indoor-fi" is it?

This shouldn't be a crime (2, Insightful)

JohnnyGTO (102952) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239187)

If someone wants to offer a free exclusive service to customers it should be forced to take at least minimum steps to protect that offer. If they slapped WEP on it and the cops found this guy cracking it in the parking lot then charge him. Otherwise you could arrest me for sitting in the parking lot next to a concert enjoying the music!

On the contrary... (1)

C10H14N2 (640033) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239445)

He could have proven he was not breaking this asinine law if they forced a "Welcome Page" that popped up the magic words "Greeting, user, you're 'AUTHORIZED!'" (You know, much the same thing the protocol is asserting in the background in the first place)

It would seem people now need to post intrusive redirects on every connection blatantly announcing to all concerned parties that, yes, indeed, this free, open, unsecured, SSID broadcasting access point is in fact all of those things, so please concerned officers of the law, move the !@#%# along and find some skateboarders to harass.

Don't talk to cops! (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19239193)

And if you do, always ask them questions if you can, try you hardest not to give them any answers. You are required to show them your ID if they ask. The magic words are "Officer, am I being detained?" If you aren't being detained, tell the officer you will now be on your way, and you have no further business with them. If you are not being detained or incarcerated, they have no authority to hold you against your will.

Sheesh (2, Insightful)

spamking (967666) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239205)

If you don't want unauthorized people accessing your unsecured Wi-Fi network, then provide your customers with the access information on a receipt or something. If hotels can do it surely a coffee shop can figure it out.

However, Peterson won't be going to prison for piggybacking. Because he has no prior record, Peterson will have to pay a $400 fine, do 40 hours of community service and enroll in the county's diversion program.

What the heck is a "diversion program"?

Re:Sheesh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19239561)

He will be placed in a pit with some bears. In Michigan they consider that a diversion.

This is silly (4, Insightful)

eln (21727) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239215)

When I was younger, I used to live in an apartment complex across the street from the local University's football stadium. When concerts were played at the stadium, I would sit out on the balcony and listen to the music. Maybe I should have been arrested for that, too.

If a coffee shop wants to limit its "free wifi" to paying customers only, there is plenty of technology out there to do that. Having worked for a company that sold wireless equipment to coffee shops, I can't believe that they would have been ignorant of this fact, as my company and several others probably would have been constantly bombarding them with sales people trying to sell them products that do exactly that.

If a coffee shop has big signs that say "Free WiFi!" and I am able to pick up a clear signal outside of the coffee shop and connect to it, I can't reasonably be expected to know that "free" to them means "to paying customers only" unless it was explicitly stated on those same signs. Even so, what if this guy picked up the signal from somewhere out of sight of the coffee shop? How could he reasonably be expected to know it was not intended as a public access point, unless the SID was something like "buycoffeeorGTFO"?

Re:This is silly (1)

Hoi Polloi (522990) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239519)

Would it have been ok if he had gone into the coffee shop and not bought anything yet still used the WiFi? Does it matter where he is sitting at the time?

On a different subject, if I ran a coffee shop I'd rather have him come in for 20 minutes and leave without buying anything than the people who buy a $2 espresso and camp out for 4 hours.

Re:This is silly (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19239535)

If a coffee shop wants to limit its "free wifi" to paying customers only, there is plenty of technology out there to do that.
In this case the coffee shop didn't care, but the Police Chief considered it "fraudulent access to computers, computer systems, and computer networks" anyway.

from before (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19239231)

From what I recall about this case when it came up before, the man adamantly refused to buy a cup of coffee, even though that's all the shop owners asked of him. They let him know that their wifi was for customer use only (yeah, they should have passworded it or something), and told him that they were going to take this to the cops. Like I said, the man repeatedly refused to buy some coffee, a bagel, etc, even after being politely asked to. It's not like he was completely unaware of the situation. As far as I'm concerned, he deserves the fine and community service.

Re:from before (1)

KarmaMB84 (743001) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239743)

My reading of the original story indicated that the cafe owner didn't know there was a law against the leeching and didn't even go to the cops. This cop just saw him doing it and thought there MUST be a law being broken. He proceeded to ask the guy what he was doing (to get a confession without mention the guy had the right to remain silent!) and then looked up a law to arrest him for. This officer pretty much found a loophole for that pesky Fifth Amendment... feign ignorance, get confession, "look up" law, arrest with previous confession under belt.

Take notice... (1)

djdbass (1037730) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239241)

...all of you who live across the street from a drive in theater. Just because you can see it, doesn't men you can watch it!!!

Re:Take notice... (1)

TheGavster (774657) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239403)

Interestingly enough, domestic surveillance cameras will be justified by saying that they only record what could be seen from public places anyway ... ahh double standards for organizations against individuals.

Keep your mouth shut. (4, Insightful)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239245)

Number one rule when dealing with cops: Never volunteer information that was not specifically asked for.

Question: "What are you doing" (cop probably thought he was looking at porn and masturbating in public) Answer: "I'm working on my computer. How's your day going?" Question: "Great. Have a nice day."

Re:Keep your mouth shut. (5, Funny)

Rob the Bold (788862) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239497)

Number one rule when dealing with cops: Never volunteer information that was not specifically asked for.

Even better, just fondle your WWGD bracelet, ask yourself "what would Gonzales do?", and reply, in your best Steve Martin voice: "I forgot."

Re:Keep your mouth shut. (1)

Hoi Polloi (522990) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239763)

Very good advice. When I was in college I was bringing some 6 packs of beer up to a friend's dorm (I was 21) in a paper bag. A younger campus cop stopped me and asked if I was a student. I said yes and showed him my card and said I was just carrying some beer and that I was legal. He actually told me, "You don't have to tell me what is in the bag unless I ask." so I quickly said "Ok, it's just some groceries." And that was the end of it. He must've been new enough to not be jaded yet.

Open == Implied Permission? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19239251)

I thought if the WiFi spot was completely open, no encryption, no required login, no nothing, then it implied that the offerer was giving permission without a user needing to come up face-to-face and ask "hey, may I use your internet?"

Re:Open == Implied Permission? (1)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239349)

I thought when people put food in the office frig without their name on it, it was fair game. Untill I schnorffed down that tray of Exlax brownies...

Open access point==permission? (2, Insightful)

D-Fens (176301) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239281)

The fact that the access point was unsecured implies tacit permission. Technology exists to give temporary tokens to users in a coffee shop setting(one-time password on your coffee receipt). Discuss.

Re:Open access point==permission? (1)

peterprior (319967) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239595)

Indeed - as it's been said before on slashdot, his DHCP client said "can I have an address to access / use this network please?" and the Access Point replied with "Sure - here you go".

I'd call that authorised access.

Re:Open access point==permission? (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239635)

The fact that the access point was unsecured implies tacit permission.


No, it doesn't. Any more than the fact that your door is unlocked or your window open is "tacit permission" for me to come in and take a nap on your bed.

Wrong (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239775)

You analogy shows a complete lack of understanding what goes on here.

If I stand on the street and yell at you "Can I come in" and you respond with "Yes", I can go into your house.

That's what is happening here. You are broadcasting "I'm Open", I say "Great,can I come in" and you are saying "Yes."

You could say, "yes, but you need to be on my list" or "No" or "Sure, what's the secret word?"

But if you jsut say "yes", you HAVE GIVEN permission.

Fair or not, your responsibility... (3, Insightful)

nick_davison (217681) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239289)

it seems few in the village of Sparta, Mich., were aware that using an unsecured Wi-Fi connection without the owner's permission--a practice known as piggybacking--was a felony
Whether it's something we see as fair or not, the law considers it your duty to familiarize yourself with it or accept the consequences of not being familiar with it.

I'd argue against it but, frankly, without it, Paris Hilton's, "Like, uh, I'm rich! My nail buffer said I could like totally keep driving with a suspended license. I, like, had no idea that was bad." would have been a valid defense.

Re:Fair or not, your responsibility... (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239569)

True, but it's a private wi-fi, offered for free. Clearly there was nor eason to suspect it's illegality. Quite frankly he probably could ahve won.

I am going to use a home analogy. I am doing so to make a point, not equate the two.

It is illegal to enter my home, but if I stand at the door and say "Come on in." It would not be reasonable to think that if you came in you would be charged with breaking and entering.

Re:Fair or not, your responsibility... (1)

Bearpaw (13080) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239649)

Whether it's something we see as fair or not, the law considers it your duty to familiarize yourself with it or accept the consequences of not being familiar with it.

I'd argue against it but, frankly, without it, Paris Hilton's, "Like, uh, I'm rich! My nail buffer said I could like totally keep driving with a suspended license. I, like, had no idea that was bad." would have been a valid defense.

In general, that's true, but I gather that most judges don't expect everyone to be thoroughly familiar with laws and legal ramifications. It's worth noting in this case that the cop reportedly wasn't sure whether he was breaking the law, while pretty much any cop would know that it's not legal to drive with a suspended license.

(I'm not saying that the cops knowledge is the deciding factor, only pointing out that knowing the law isn't always as straightforward as your Hilton example.)

Something doesn't add up here. (3, Insightful)

ewhenn (647989) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239325)

How can he be charged with a crime for using a FREE service. If I put a drinking fountain in front of my house and put a sign up that said "FREE water", how could I charge someone with criminal unauthorized use if they came up and took a drink? It kinda sounds like the guy got the shaft to me.

It's not clear from the article... (2, Insightful)

PHAEDRU5 (213667) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239333)

Was the WiFi there to encourage people to come in to the cafe, or was it for private use?

If it was for private use, shouldn't it be the owner pressing charges? I mean, that's the person nominally injured. And it's not like this was, say, a murder.

Still, lesson learned.

Re:It's not clear from the article... (1)

rs79 (71822) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239655)

It does sort of beg the question, if the crime was "unauthorized use" then who would have had to "authorize" it? The store owner? Did said store owner really want to have a potential customer busted for this? Why didn't the store owner say "he's authorized"?

Sounds to me like the store owner called the cops and is now playing dumb.

Re:It's not clear from the article... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19239657)

One more example of how law enforcement is a complete waste of public resources. Those lazy bums always seem to go after low priority, non-violent, non-issues. Have a murderer, rapists, or gang-bangers on the loose and those lazy bums are nowhere to be found. Except hiding at the police station, at their houses, or their whore's house, or in the coffee shop. But watch out if your trying to get some free net access and those pigs come out of the woodwork like gangbusters

Bravo! (5, Insightful)

evil_aar0n (1001515) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239355)

> Milanowski didn't immediately cite or arrest Peterson, mostly because he wasn't certain a crime had been committed. "I had a feeling a law was being broken," the chief said. Milanowski did some research and found Michigan's "Fraudulent access to computers, computer systems, and computer networks" law, a felony punishable by five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

A job well done to chief Milanowski. Way to dig for a tool to hit the guy with. Instead of tracking down drug dealers, thieves or physically abusive spouses - or even setting speed traps - he's protecting the town against wi-fi users. I feel so much safer...

I wonder if it came into consideration the idea that a) using a freely offered wi-fi connection doesn't seem to cover the intent of the law as described; and b) the cafe offered the wi-fi connection _freely_. Whether it was offered specifically to customers or anyone in a radius - which isn't made clear - the cafe was offering and didn't even complain about the guy using it. They certainly could either post a sign saying, "Must be a customer to use this service," like restrooms, or enable a key that would be given out only to customers.

Again, Bravo! to chief Wiggum - oops, Milanowski - for going well out of his way to bust someone. You, sir, are a shining example of what law enforcement should be like - in a police state...

Cue the Slashdot chorus... (0)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239357)

explaining how leaving your keys in the ignition and the doors unlocked is implicit permission to for them to take your car for a joyride.

Re:Cue the Slashdot chorus... (1)

TheWoozle (984500) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239439)

Please explain how connecting to a network is property theft? Is the person in question "stealing" bits?

Re:Cue the Slashdot chorus... (3, Insightful)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239715)

explaining how leaving your keys in the ignition and the doors unlocked is implicit permission to for them to take your car for a joyride.

      Your insurance company sure thinks it is. Ask them if they will pay out under these circumstances?

Fifth amendment? (5, Interesting)

KarmaMB84 (743001) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239379)

The officer extracted a confession out of a citizen without informing them of their rights. Can we now expect officers to start feigning ignorance about obscure laws only to claim later they looked it up and then use previous confessions to throw people in jail?

Re:Fifth amendment? (1)

grape jelly (193168) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239733)

Four points:

1. The fifth amendment doesn't guarantee you protection against voluntary self-incrimination. How else would anyone be able to plead guilty or otherwise confess to a crime?

2. It's standard cop behavior to play dumb. How many times have you been stopped by a traffic cop who asked you, "do you know why I stopped you?" Answering in the affirmative is almost always an acknowledgment of wrongdoing admissible in court.

3. According to TFA, neither the man nor the cop knew what he was doing is illegal. Therefore, the cop couldn't extract a confession.

4. The courts have repeatedly ruled that you are just as culpable for breaking a law you are unaware of, as ones you are aware of.

According to the law ... (1)

ScottyMcScott (1003155) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239385)

it covers: "Fraudulent access to computers, computer systems, and computer networks" In this case I don't see how he accessed the network using fraudulent mean, hence no law was broken. Anyway, anybody who uses a FREE wifi hotspot to check their email is asking for trouble. I would use a combination of privoxy with openSSH etc to check email and browse the web when on the road.

Oh, please (0, Troll)

Richard McBeef (1092673) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239455)

What is the problem here? He's a thief. If you parked outside of a drive-in and set your radio to the the dialogue, are you just some ignorant fool or are you guilty of theft of service? The answer is: You are guilty of theft of service.

Re:Oh, please (2, Insightful)

geekoid (135745) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239653)

No, you broadcast over the public air waves, then anyone can listen in. Don't like it? too bad.
You can encrypt it, or in this case ask for a password.
Broadcasting my radio into your house doesn't mean it's a crime for you to listen to it. The fact that you need a reciever changes nothing.

Don't like it? don't broadcast.

lies lies lies (1)

pak9rabid (1011935) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239467)

So, moral of the story: always lie to cops. Even if you don't think you're breaking the law. It's better to be safe than sorry...

This is wrong (1)

jabagi (83535) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239483)

A person shouldn't be charged for using free wi-fi. If the coffee shop owner wants to offer free wi-fi to its customers he/she can easily do so with a very simple setup. If the owner hasn't done this and basically pours wi-fi all over the area for anyone to use, it is logical to sue someone for "taking" some. PS: I hate the word "wi-fi"...

I have to think that... (1)

rthille (8526) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239503)

coming into the cafe, buying a cup of coffee, plugging in my laptop and camping on a table for an hour would cost the cafe a lot more than me parking outside and using the same 'amount' of wifi.

If the cafe didn't want people outside using the wifi, there are many ways to prevent it, from a sign stating the wifi is for customers only, a password of the day at the register, to sign-ins tied to their check (bill) number or something.

Cafe owner is an idiot (2, Informative)

sunderland56 (621843) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239551)

So, let me get this straight - all the cafe owner had to do was to say "that's okay, I don't mind people using my network from outside". That would make it an authorized use - and so the crime would disappear, and this poor innocent guy would have a clean record.


But he didn't. It would have cost him nothing, but he let a fellow citizen get convicted for nothing.


Boy, that really doesn't sound like good advertising to me....

Contact Info (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19239581)

Sparta Police Department
Chief Andrew Milanowski
260 W. Division
Sparta, MI 49345
General Phone: 616-887-8716
Fax: 616-887-7681
Email: policechief@spartami.org

T Lynn Hopkins
Firm: Kent County Prosecuting Attorney
Address: 333 Monroe Ave NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49503-2211
Phone: (616) 774-3577
Fax: (616) 336-3095

Wonder if it cuts both ways? (1)

Budenny (888916) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239659)

Suppose the argument is accepted that by having an unsecured network, you are tacitly granting permission to use. If this connection is then used by miscreants for felonious purposes, are you then liable for the violations?

Like, someone drives by, uses your connexion which you have left open, and downloads illegal material - perhaps its illegal porn, perhaps its in violation of copyright. Are you liable in any way? Like, if you left a loaded gun on the table in the hall and the door open?

Alternatively, if the answer is no, you have not tacitly granted permission to use, does this fact give you immunity against any charges when the connexion is used for illegal purposes by someone else without your knowledge or consent?

Don't any of you get it yet? (1)

lena_10326 (1100441) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239727)

All of you are criminals. Merely questioning authority is grounds for immediate imprisonment. When confronted by an authority representative, you are expected to kneel, bow your head, avert your eyes, and beg for mercy.

As long as there is a law for everything, you will just have to accept your fate. You let it happen when you empowered government to solve all your social problems.


...eh? (1)

carpecerevisi (890252) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239729)

I'm probably going to be echoing many other people here, with a resounding "wtf?"

Surely, what a wireless access point *does*, and was doing, was sitting there, broadcasting packets that basically say "I'm an open wireless connection!". Before someone attempts the (poor) "open door" analogy, we're talking more "This cashier is now available".

Sure, if it was hiding its SSID or WEP encrypted (yes, laughably poor security methods, one even more so than the other, but that's not the point), then I'd say yes, that was wrong, because the owners, by doing that, had signalled that it wasn't a "free-for-all", regardless of how (in)effective their measures were of doing so.

But, *open* *broadcasting* wireless? A little box sitting there, doing the wlan-equivalent of screaming "I AM HERE! USE ME!"? We need to start educating people more, since the technological world must be doing a poor job for things like this to happen...

Laws and Mores (5, Insightful)

drDugan (219551) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239737)

This is yet another example of a serious, growing problem with the American mentality.

We can not legislate all aspects of human behavior. It simply won't work.

Healthy societies have both laws and mores to shape human behavior. Laws derive from a logical/thinking framework, and mores are primarily from an emotional/feeling framework. All people have the ability to use both thinking and feeling in making decisions about what is right or wrong. But in American society, and more generally in a capitalist mentality, laws and money interests have so completely dominated that people have forgotten about the mores.

Mores are like laws, but enforced by society feedback, typically emotional feedback. People frown at Bob if he acts like an ass, and he understands that he should stop acting like that, because Bob doesn't like it when people frown at him. That is because Bob is healthy and likes to have healthy happy people around him. Note, nowhere in here are we able to legislate that Bob "acting like an ass" is illegal in a logical way.

We can that the Bush administration as the PRIMARY promoter of this mentality: "If it is not illegal, than I can get away with it." As such shining examples leading the USA today, more and more people (like Enron) are saying, "Hell, why not me too?"

This problem will not stop unless and until people start giving strong emotional feedback (disapproval, and eventually ostracizing people) for bad behavior.

you FAVIL it (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19239749)

your replies rather 0f BSD/OS. A See... The number

well... (1)

loafula (1080631) | more than 6 years ago | (#19239785)

lets say someone living in a near by apartment can pick up the coffee shop's wifi signal at home. does this constitute home intrusion on the coffee shop's part?
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