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Michigan Man Charged for Using Free WiFi 848

Posted by Zonk
from the watch-where-you-wardrive dept.
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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Michigan Man Charged for Using Free WiFi

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  • Here We Go (Score:5, Funny)

    by pete-classic (75983) <hutnick@gmail.com> on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:26PM (#19239021) Homepage Journal
    Let the "This is SPARTA!" jokes begin.

    -Peter
    • by j00r0m4nc3r (959816) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:29PM (#19239107)
      "Lay down your laptop and WiFi card."
      "Come and get them!"
    • by AndroidCat (229562) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:56PM (#19239891) Homepage
      Tonight we surf in Hell!
    • by jmackler (873236) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @01:08PM (#19240181)
      What if I stood on the public street outside a house at night that didn't have shades on the windows, using the light from the house to read a book. Would that be a crime? If the owner of the utility, the light or the network, wanted to avoid sharing the network, they could take some very simple steps to avoid sharing. If they don't take those simple steps, then there's implied consent, in my mind. It may be rude to use a cafe's connection without shopping there, and it may be rude to use your neighbor's open wifi, but I just can't believe it's illegal.
      • by Lurker187 (127055) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @01:46PM (#19241107)
        Actually, as analogies go, the light from your neighbor's window (or music from their stereo) is a perfect example of why this is NOT the same as accessing someone else's Wi-fi connection. If you cannot be legally prevented from reading a book or sitting in a spot where you are using your neighbor's light or listening to their music, then you have a right to use those resources, as you cannot "turn them off" or otherwise avoid them, and it does not impact your neighbor any more than if you could not hear their music or read by their light.

        However, piggybacking is different and philosophically wrong for two reasons. First, Wi-fi use DOES impact other users, as bandwidth is finite and allowed users may theoretically wind up having diminished use of the service due to piggybacking. But more importantly, you CANNOT just sit in a parking lot and use Wi-fi without deciding to ACTIVELY log on to the access point. While you may have a right to sit in the parking lot and use your computer, you are actively deciding to use someone else's resources when you log on, and doing so certainly is not unavoidable while using your laptop in that parking lot.

        I'm not saying I like the law, because if they're too dumb to require a login, they will have issues bigger than this fellow who was quite up-front about what he was doing. But the previous analogy is a good example of why it is not quite as harmless as it seems.
        • by XxtraLarGe (551297) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @02:05PM (#19241527) Journal

          However, piggybacking is different and philosophically wrong....
          I agree that stealing bandwidth is wrong, the punishment certainly does not fit the crime. This type of thing should be a civil infraction, not a felony. People who steal actual physical goods don't even have to face the kinds of penalties this guy potentially could have. When there's a complete disconnect between the severity of punishment and common sense, it causes contempt for the law.
          • by Wansu (846) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @02:35PM (#19242127)

              I agree that stealing bandwidth is wrong, the punishment certainly does not fit the crime. This type of thing should be a civil infraction, not a felony. People who steal actual physical goods don't even have to face the kinds of penalties this guy potentially could have. When there's a complete disconnect between the severity of punishment and common sense, it causes contempt for the law.

            Amen. All kinds of minor offenses have been trumped up into felony status by legislators gone wild. They seem to be engaged in zero-tolerance one-up-manship grandstanding as being tough on crime.

            • by Romancer (19668) <romancer&deathsdoor,com> on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @05:40PM (#19245145) Journal
              The completely missed issue:

              What responsibility does the wifi owner have in all this?
              At what point do I have to take care of his network and specifically avoid it?

              If a laptop has been connected to the wireless network "Linksys" with no WEP before and is set to automatically connect to it, and a coffee shop has no wep enabled and the same SSID then a laptop will automatically connect to it! I would have to activly stop my laptop from connecting to it. Now this is either entrapment or criminal negligence. Since I would face penalties from the act.

              It's a simple process to give out a key at the register on the reciepts each day, or set up a basic gateway with a password. You could even turn off the SSID broadcast function and have people type it in manually.

              These places try and make as easy as possible for people to access their network and then have a problem when their efforts result in people using the network.

              Take some responsibility. The law shouldn't protect those too ignorant of their own actions from facing the consequences of those actions. After all, that's why the man in the car had to pay a fine and do community service!

              Lawmakers need to get a clue, hold people accountable, and hold themselves to the same standard while they're at it! Quit lagging behind the curve, we're supposed to be a great nation and we constantly act like a bunch of neanderthals.
          • by Babbster (107076) <[aaronbabb] [at] [gmail.com]> on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @02:55PM (#19242547) Homepage
            While making it a felony is probably overdoing it, making it a civil issue would go too far in the other direction. Doing so would put the onus of enforcement on the owners of the WiFi and would put them in the position of a) identifying the people "stealing" their bandwidth and b) going to even more trouble by first attempting to quantify their real damages (maybe there were none?) and then taking those people to court. Making the violation a misdemeanor would be sufficient to ensure that the WiFi piggybackers know that there's a penalty attached to such misuse, which I think is reasonable since people like the owner of this coffee shop are trying to offer a free service to their customers - something which the public usually applauds.
            • by letxa2000 (215841) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @03:18PM (#19242899)

              Doing so would put the onus of enforcement on the owners of the WiFi and would put them in the position of a) identifying the people "stealing" their bandwidth... b) going to even more trouble by first attempting to quantify their real damages

              Good. If the offense is so trivial that it's not even worth identifying the people stealing the bandwidth, it's pretty clear it's not important enough to worry about to the owner--so why should law enforcement?

              This is even more silly because the user wasn't circumventing security or illegally accessing a secured, for-pay access point. He was utilizing an intentionally open AP that was put there specifically for people to use for free. Granted, the idea is you come in for coffee, but if the coffee shop didn't even know it was illegal and apparently didn't notice or care, then why should law enforcement take any action?

            • by surprise_audit (575743) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @04:52PM (#19244413)

              making it a civil issue would go too far in the other direction. Doing so would put the onus of enforcement on the owners of the WiFi

              And when the WiFi owner doesn't realy care much, why was this even pursued at all?? Waste of the court's time, I think. From TFA:

              Indeed, neither did Donna May, the owner of the Union Street Cafe. "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."
        • by justinlindh (1016121) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @02:32PM (#19242045)

          But more importantly, you CANNOT just sit in a parking lot and use Wi-fi without deciding to ACTIVELY log on to the access point.

          Don't some setups automatically find the nearest unsecured access point and connect to it, without intervention from the user? What if I were to open my laptop in an unfamiliar area, only to have it automatically connect to an access point before I was able to halt the connection? Do we place the blame on the hardware/software maker for configuring their device to do this by default, or the user for not disabling it?


          Most of the access points at the coffee shops around here don't mention anything of "Free Wi-Fi access with purchase!". While it could be argued that the "with purchase" is implied in those situations, I think it could be easily argued in a court that since there was no specific mention of it, patronage of the establishment was not required.

          IMHO, if an access point is unsecured and available, it should be fair game for public use without any implied fine print.

        • by ajs (35943) <ajs@@@ajs...com> on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @02:45PM (#19242369) Homepage Journal
          I'd agree with you all except for one thing: the wireless access can be closed off with the simple application of low-grade encryption. I can absolutely see a law going through that says that subverting WEP in order to gain access to someone else's network is unlawful, but to say that something many computers do automatically (connect to the strongest unsecured WiFi) is unlawful puts a burden on the potential "criminal" to determine who owns the connection and what their provisioning scheme is. The burden should be on the owner to either provide a polite "do not disturb" (WEP) or a redirection scheme like many use to restrict access until the user has visited the owner's Web site and signed up / accepted the terms of use. Anything else is highly unreasonable, as it requires me to know who the owners of all of my local WiFi hotspots are and what their terms of use might be.
        • OK,

          What about if someone creates a website to distribute pictures to their friends, but doesn't protect it in any way. Should it be an offence for someone to access that site as explicit permission has not been granted?

          What about if someone creates a site about a polarising political viewpoint and places a banner stating that anyone opposed to that viewpoint is not permitted to view the site. Should accessing that if you have a differing view be an offence?

          Lets take it one step further and assume that the individual who owns the first site pays for data transfer on a per Mb rate, if an undesirable person views the site could they be deemed as having stolen whatever the monetary value is of the data transfer they used?

          If the above is deemed as true then, even if no fee is calculated on the transfer of data, surely simply making that bandwidth unavailable to other legitimate users would be sufficient for a prosecution?

          If an individual accesses these sites without consent (other than that implied by the existence of the sites) should they be held liable?. I don't think so.

          Wi-fi and web sites are comparable simply because they are both technological in nature, both require one person or organisation to acquire a service, and then provide information using that service in an indiscriminate manner analogous to broadcast. Both require a concious effort to access (either typing an address / clicking a link or selecting a network to use), and yet often neither explicitly grants nor denies permission to do so. Lastly, and most importantly both can be configured so that casual access is not easily possible.

          In short, whilst it is not possible to secure light and prevent others from accessing it without making it totally unavailable, it is possible to secure an access point or a web site so that it is still available but not usable without further action.

          The onus to protect against unauthorised access should be on the providers of services that are broadcast indiscriminately. Where protection is in place and is then broken, the responsibility lies with the person having broken it. However deciding what is adequate protection is another matter and outside of the scope of this comment. :)
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Omestes (471991)
          But more importantly, you CANNOT just sit in a parking lot and use Wi-fi without deciding to ACTIVELY log on to the access point.

          Not necessarily true. With my old iBook it would just autodiscover, and login to open wifi networks, without my help, or any other conscious action by me. Does this then make mac owners less culpable than others? I doubt it.

          I don't understand how it could be a felony, if you leave your wifi open, people will use it. It takes all of 2 seconds to secure it. I'm also not going
        • I have issue with the charge itself, "Unauthorized use of computer access".

          Here's the law text [mi.gov] (I'll highlight the relevant portions):

          752.795 Prohibited conduct.
          Sec. 5.
          A person shall not intentionally and without authorization or by exceeding valid authorization do any of the following:
          (a) Access or cause access to be made to a
          computer program, computer, computer system, or computer network to acquire, alter, damage, delete, or destroy property or otherwise use the service of a computer program, computer,

  • by ip_freely_2000 (577249) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:27PM (#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.
    • by joebok (457904) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:32PM (#19239185) Homepage Journal
      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.
    • by paeanblack (191171) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:41PM (#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.
      • by susano_otter (123650) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:58PM (#19239955) Homepage

        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.

        What about when my very first act is to ask the network administrator if I'm allowed to use his network, and he says "yes"? Is it okay then? What if my NIC asks his router if I'm allowed to use his network, and his router says "yes"? Is it okay then?
        • by flyingfsck (986395) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @01:12PM (#19240301)
          Exactly, 'DHCP == Asking for and receiving Permission' in my book and I think that when you go and lay out the protocol to a judge he would concur.
        • by furball (2853) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @01:23PM (#19240571) Journal

          What if my NIC asks his router if I'm allowed to use his network, and his router says "yes"? Is it okay then?


          This is true if and only if his router speaks for him. Legally, since you can't transfer power of attorney to an inanimate object, this is legally dubious. It makes perfect sense that his router speaks for him if you are not a lawyer, not trained as one, and have basically no knowledge of the law.
          • by blueskies (525815) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @01:47PM (#19241111) Journal
            Then how do i know if i'm allowed to connect to a person's webserver? Does their webserver legally speak for them? Or is it because the webserver is setup to be publically accessible following understood standards? Why can't you connect to a router wifi access point when it is configured to give public access?
            • by squiggleslash (241428) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @02:25PM (#19241931) Homepage Journal

              Web servers are intended for the dissemination of information to third parties. Wi-fi gateways are basic infrastructure, and can be reasonably be considered intended for the use of authorized parties only, given most people are unlikely to want anonymous third parties using their network without permission.

              And using the term "configured to give public access" is framing. The correct term is "unconfigured" in the vast majority of gateways. It's no more "configured to give public access" than a door that's been left unlocked is likewise.

              In the real world, there are many objects that provide access to things where the configuration and existence of the object does not necessarily imply anything about the right of third parties to use what they provide access to. A garden gate can reasonably be assumed, if the gate is unlocked, to be not intended as a barrier to prevent a visitor from entering. A front door, however, can be reasonably assumed whether locked or unlocked to be a boundary over which a visitor cannot cross without explicit permission. The mistake of many on the "Unlocked WAP means I'm allowed in" argument is to assume such a state of affairs does not exist, and that you can reasonably make assumptions about whether you're allowed to do something on the basis of whether it's easy or not.

              As always, there's a solution: just ask. If you're afraid to ask someone if they'd mind if you used their Internet connection via their WAP, you might want to ask yourself whether you really have their consent.

              • by Nukenbar (215420) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @02:34PM (#19242111)
                I walk into unlocked front doors everyday without explicit permission.

                These places are called stores.
              • by blueskies (525815)
                Woah. Wi-fi gateways could be said to be intended for people to connect to. And you can't just say most people are unlikely to want anon third parties to use their networks, because the same goes for someone putting up pictures of their family on their webpage. They might want to only share those pictures with their family, but since they don't put an access method on them, anyone can access them.

                When an OS on 98% of all computers automatically makes you a criminal under your reading of the law, somet
              • by jridley (9305)
                So then if I *WANT* to allow anyone to attach to my router and use my bandwidth freely, how do I do it? I have been just leaving the router open. I figure that WEP is the equivalent of posting "no trespassing" signs. It won't actually stop anyone that wants to use the connection but it makes it obvious that they're not welcome.

                If you're saying that the presumption must be that even if a connection is open, you're not welcome, then how do I set up a hot spot that I want people to use? Do I need to put my
              • by profplump (309017) <zach-slashjunk@kotlarek.com> on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @05:14PM (#19244801)
                Web servers are intended for the dissemination of information to third parties. Wi-fi gateways are basic infrastructure, and can be reasonably be considered intended for the use of authorized parties only, given most people are unlikely to want anonymous third parties using their network without permission.

                First, I don't understand how you can say with a straight face that web servers indicate and intent to share and broadcasting gateways do not. For one thing, most web services specifically forbid all sorts of uses in their terms of use. For example: http://www.ostg.com/terms.htm [ostg.com]. For another, many people assume that information they post on the web is private (they shouldn't, but they do) if it isn't linked in to a well-known web page.

                Second, couldn't you make the same argument about not wanting anonymous third parties using email servers? I only want authorized people to email me, not Mexican pharmacy bots. But since I have a publicly accessible email address I'm likely to get some such email, whether I want it or not.

                I don't support the "it's open so I have a right to use it" viewpoint, but there are reasonable technical and social measures that could be employed to indicate that you don't want to share your gateway. They could simply add a the WEP password "pasword". Or not broadcast the SSID. Or put up a terms-of-use page for the first port-80 request from a new MAC address. Or posted a sign outside that said "WiFi access for customers only". Or they could have walked out to his car and asked him to stop using their network.

                If they had done any one of those things and he continued using the access point I'd have no trouble prosecuting him. But when people physically trespass, they must have bypassed reasonable security measures and/or be asked to leave before they've committed a crime, and I don't see the benefit of a stricter standard for access points.
      • by Sparr0 (451780) <sparr0@gmail.com> on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @01:00PM (#19239995) Homepage Journal
        I bear that onus by asking the router "Can I use your network?", to which it replies "Sure, here's your IP, and you can use this IP as a Gateway". That doesnt sound like "I don't know" to me, it sounds more like "Yes".

        I know we all love analogies around here, and most of them are pretty off the wall, so let me see if I can come up with a more direct correlation to all the parts of the "crime" here.

        Your front yard has a water fountain sitting next to the sidewalk. You pay for the water. The fountain only works by use of a key. But you have a machine sitting next to the fountain that produces a key for anyone who presses a button labelled "Press here to request access to water fountain". Am I committing a crime by pressing the button and then drinking the water?
        • by poot_rootbeer (188613) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @02:56PM (#19242565)
          Your front yard has a water fountain sitting next to the sidewalk. You pay for the water. The fountain only works by use of a key. But you have a machine sitting next to the fountain that produces a key for anyone who presses a button labelled "Press here to request access to water fountain". Am I committing a crime by pressing the button and then drinking the water?

          I'm sorry, your analogy must contain at least one automobile. Please try again.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by gorfie (700458)
        But where were the no tresspassing signs? Taking this analogy one step further, can someone get in trouble for crossing through a private (yet clearly unsecured) field if it isn't marked as "private" / "no tresspassing"? It should be up to the owners to secure their property or at least mark it such that others know it is restricted/private.
      • by jc42 (318812) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @01:16PM (#19240407) Homepage Journal
        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 ... When you ask yourself "am I allowed to use this network?", "I don't know" does not equal "yes".

        Actually, if our legal system were rational, there would be a trivial answer: As soon as that packet is either accepted (and forwarded) or rejected (and bounced) by the AP, you'd know. If the packet was accepted, then the AP has in fact allowed you to use it. And it didn't do this by accident. It was explicitly programmed to behave that way. Or, more likely, the software has config setting saying whether to accept or reject packets from unregistered devices, and the AP's owner has set this to "accept". You should be able to tell the court "My packets were accepted and delivered; it's clear that I was in fact allowed to use the AP."

        The tired old road analogy might help: If you're driving along, pass through an intersection, and continue on the road on the other side, how do you know if it's legal for you to drive there? Pretty much everywhere in the world, the same rule applies: If there's some sort of "no entry" or "private road" sign, then you probably shouldn't drive there. If there's no such sign restricting access, then you are allowed to drive there. Any court would interpret the lack of an explicit sign to mean that the public is permitted to use the road. The fact that someone (maybe the town, maybe a private owner) owns the road is irrelevant; you won't be arrested for driving on a road without signs that tell you the rules. We all understand that, without this rule, our road system would be unusable.

        But someone else pointed out the magic word that makes this case an exception: "computer". We seem to be in a phase where, the instant a computer gets involved, all social and legal precedent goes out the window, and everything must be relearned from scratch. Any attempt to explain the precedent gets a "But that's different" reply, with no coherent explanation of what the difference is or why it matters. The mere presence of a computer invalidates everything you ever knew, and you have to fight all the old fights all over again.

        But in a few centuries, it'll probably settle down, and computers (like roads, cars, etc.) will just be tools that are treated like all other tools.

        We can hope that freedom of speech, communication, expression, whatever survive the relearning process ...

        (I do wonder what the court would say if the defendant here were to file an "entrapment" suit against the store owner. After all, there are a lot of open-access APs around. How is one to know while traveling whether any given AP is legally usable? This decision potentially makes it rather risky to just be a traveler in Michigan, especially now that cars are starting to come with onboard networks and comm equipment. It's just a matter of time until someone is arrested while driving along I-94 because their car used a local AP to talk to the factory or download a map. ;-)

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          I do wonder what the court would say if the defendant here were to file an "entrapment" suit against the store owner. After all, there are a lot of open-access APs around. How is one to know while traveling whether any given AP is legally usable? This decision potentially makes it rather risky to just be a traveler in Michigan, especially now that cars are starting to come with onboard networks and comm equipment. It's just a matter of time until someone is arrested while driving along I-94 because their car used a local AP to talk to the factory or download a map. ;-)

          I remember talk of some Windows O/Ses (possibly others too, not singling out Microsoft here) automatically connecting to the strongest available WiFi - add various network-sensing apps into the mix (EG. Windows Update, spyware, whatever) that auto-transfer whenever a connection is available and Joe Sixpack could potentially be committing a felony without even knowing he is doing it. Say the fella happened to stop within range of the WiFi, opened his laptop and started working on a Spreadsheet or some other

      • by drmerope (771119) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @04:01PM (#19243579)

        Michigan's unauthorized access statute, does in fact grant a rebuttal presumption that access was unauthorized. This means that the defendant, not the prosecution has the burden of proof on this question. This is unusual. Usually, the operator must make the exclusion clear and the prosecution must prove that the defendant ignored and/or circumvented the prohibitions. Michigan's law may in fact be an unconstitutional violation of due process as a result. See Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U.S. 510 (1979) [findlaw.com]

        Second, even if the statute is constitutional, the law may been misapplied. The access is not illegal if

        Access was achieved without the use of a set of instructions, code, or computer program that bypasses, defrauds, or otherwise circumvents the pre-programmed access procedure for the computer program, computer, computer system, or computer network.
        So basically this guy had a bad lawyer. What he did was in fact not a crime.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Mockylock (1087585)
      It's also like a company dropping money on the ground in front of their store and arresting anyone who picks it up.
    • by mcrbids (148650) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:42PM (#19239487) Journal
      ...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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Nezer (92629)

        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.

        While it might be legal to receive any broadcast transmission, it would be difficult to check email and surf the web without transmitting something.

        This application of the law is, of course, ridiculous. The EFF or someone should really step-in a

      • by Chris Burke (6130) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:59PM (#19239989) Homepage
        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.

        I'd say that a network that is unsecured and broadcasting its SSID is essentially an invitation to join that network. An unsecured network that is not broadcasting an SSID is like a house with the door closed but not locked -- you don't have permission to enter, even though it is still trivial to do so. A secured network, even if the security is weak, is like a locked door. It might only take a single kick to knock it in, but that's still B&E.

        The problem though is that the default setting of wireless routers is unsecured and SSID broadcast enabled, and of course like with everything few people ever change the defaults. It makes it easy for anyone to set up a network -- turn on the router, click "Find network" on the PC, done -- but the result is we have tons of unsecured, open networks whose owners may not want to be open but don't know how to say that in wireless protocol terms.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Mattintosh (758112)
          I'm pretty sure that all routers purchased new from the store come with an instruction manual (dead-tree or electronic) and a setup wizard that will guide you through that process manually or automatically.

          Dumb is not a valid excuse anymore. Not on this topic, and not for the last 4 or 5 years.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by fumblebruschi (831320)
      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.
  • Inconsistant article (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JamesD_UK (721413) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:30PM (#19239123) Homepage
    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: (Score:3, Informative)

      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.

  • "unauthorized use"? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tedshultz (596089) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:30PM (#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.
  • by Gorshkov (932507) <admgorshkov@ya[ ].com ['hoo' in gap]> on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:31PM (#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.
    • by ronadams (987516) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:36PM (#19239307) Homepage
      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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Chris Burke (6130)
        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 actual
      • by jfengel (409917) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @01:01PM (#19240017) Homepage Journal
        I want to know what office Kent County Assistant Prosecutor Lynn Hopkins is running for. This sounds like an EXCELLENT time for a little prosecutorial discretion. I can't help but think that she's got something in mind.
    • by zappepcs (820751) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:43PM (#19239507) Journal
      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.
  • This is ridiculous (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tstubbendeck (782349) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:31PM (#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.
    • by Chris Burke (6130) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:43PM (#19239515) Homepage
      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?
      • by daveschroeder (516195) * on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @01:11PM (#19240255)
        ...the sign in their window says "FREE WI-FI (Customers only)", aside from issues of whether the access point should be open or not, and aside from arguments about whether a person using such an access point could under all circumstances be expected to know where it's coming from. (And yes, I realize that could have been added later, but this is in response to people who seemed to think there was no indication.)

        More info in a video story here:

        http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3329712576 628229428 [google.com]

        There is an open access point here at a local coffee shop entitled "[Name of shop] - NOT FREE", and the reason why the owner chooses to leave it open is because of problems the occasional customer has with various security mechanisms/passwords that customers simply don't have when he leaves it open. So, he's made his choice, and I doubt whether he'd really care if someone else used it, but at the same time, it is intended for customer use only.
  • by Docboy-J23 (1095983) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:31PM (#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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Taimat (944976)
      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.
    • by just_another_sean (919159) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:55PM (#19239861) Homepage Journal
      Our company had a sales rep in Baltimore who worked for us for a week before we (IT) heard anything from him. He calls us one day and complains his internet connection isn't working, what's the deal? After questioning him about providers and settings and what not we figure out that he never signed up for any service, didn't know he needed to and was very confused when we told him he was using someone elses unsecured wireless. He literally had just turned on his Windows box the first day he got home, connected (automagically) to a neighbor's wireless and assumed that computers were supposed to do that. As if all PCs came with "free" internet, no configuration required.
  • by TripMaster Monkey (862126) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:32PM (#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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:32PM (#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.
    • by xappax (876447) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @01:31PM (#19240747)
      You are required to show them your ID if they ask.

      In the US, if you're driving a motor vehicle, you can be compelled to show your driver's license. In any other situation, however, you do not even have to carry ID, let alone show it. You can be compelled to identify yourself (for example, giving your name, DOB, and address) if you are being arrested or ticketed, but other than that you don't even have to give the cops any information.
  • This is silly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eln (21727) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:33PM (#19239215) Homepage
    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"?
  • by Frosty Piss (770223) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:33PM (#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."

    • by Rob the Bold (788862) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:43PM (#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."

  • by nick_davison (217681) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:35PM (#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.
  • by ewhenn (647989) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:37PM (#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.
  • by PHAEDRU5 (213667) <instascreed@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:37PM (#19239333) Homepage
    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.
  • Bravo! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by evil_aar0n (1001515) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:38PM (#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...
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by rantingkitten (938138)
      One wonders what the hell the judge was smoking to agree that this guy's use of the access point was obtained by "fraudulent" means. Did he, like, sneak his way into range of it under cover of darkness, use social engineering to get the parking space, and spend hours cracking the nonexistent password?
  • Fifth amendment? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by KarmaMB84 (743001) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:39PM (#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?
  • by sunderland56 (621843) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:44PM (#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 (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:45PM (#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
  • Laws and Mores (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drDugan (219551) * on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:50PM (#19239737) Homepage
    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.

  • Sparta... (Score:3, Informative)

    by quonsar (61695) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @01:41PM (#19240981) Homepage
    ... is a 10 minute drive from here. It's a dipshit little village with a dipshit little village police dept. The locals refer to the cops as "Andy and Barney". When I read this last night in the paper I said "what a dipshit place."

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