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6/1/2007
09:59 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
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Another Incident Of Dumb Cops Arresting A Guy For Using An Open Wi-Fi Connection

A Michigan cop, who'd obviously been hit over the head with a billy club one time too many, levied criminal charges against a man who used an open, public Wi-Fi network outside the cafe that was running it.

A Michigan cop, who'd obviously been hit over the head with a billy club one time too many, levied criminal charges against a man who used an open, public Wi-Fi network outside the cafe that was running it.

The dastardly computer criminal, Sam Peterson II of Cedar Springs, Mich., chose to pay a $400 fine, do 40 hours of community service, and stay on probation six months.

Peterson has no previous criminal record. He's a 39-year-old toolmaker, volunteer firefighter, and secretary of a bagpipe band.

Peterson had gotten in the habit of checking e-mail on his lunch break in front of the Re-Union Street Cafe in Sparta, Mich. "Instead of going inside the shop to use the free Wi-Fi offered to paying customers, he chose to remain in his car and piggyback off the network, which he said didn't require a password," according to the article from Fox News. He did it on lunch breaks for more than a week.

Now, here's where the craziness starts.

Someone in a nearby barbershop saw Peterson's car pull up every day and sit in front of the coffee shop without anybody getting out.

A sane person would have knocked on Peterson's window and said, "Dude, I noticed you come here and sit in your car every day? What's up with that?"

But, of course, we live in paranoid times.

So the dummy in the barbershop called the cops.

Sparta Police Chief Andrew Milanowski asked Peterson where he got the Internet connection, and Peterson said from the cafe.

Now, the story so far is shocking enough, but it gets even more shocking:

Milanowski ruled out Peterson as a possible stalker of the attractive local hairdresser, but still felt that a law might have been broken.

"We came back and we looked up the laws and we figured if we found one and thought, 'Well, let's run it by the prosecutor's office and see what they want to do,' " Milanowski said.

Here's how that reads to me: They don't care about who's using Wi-Fi in Sparta, Mich. The police chief just didn't like the way Peterson parted his hair, and so he dug and dug and dug until he found something he could charge Peterson with.

Peterson copped a plea. If he'd fought it, he could have faced a sentence of up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Sparta, Mich., residents, when you pay your tax bills, I want you to think about how this kind of nonsense is how your government is spending your money.

Laws like the one in Michigan are pretty common, and they're just plain bad law.

A reasonable person encountering an open Wi-Fi connection will assume it's open until finding evidence otherwise. But most hacking laws assume the opposite -- you need to be told that you can use the Wi-Fi connection or else the law assumes you're a criminal.

In the real world, landowners are required to post their land as private property before accusing someone else of trespassing. The law correctly recognizes that you can't accuse people of crossing boundaries unless they're told where the boundaries are. Laws governing Wi-Fi should be written similarly. If you want to keep trespassers off your network, you should password-protect it.

Thanks to cyrusbrian for Twittering this story.

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