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Old June 1st, 2007 Top | #1
 
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Default Felony for illegal open wi-fi hot spot access?

Michigan Man Fined for Using Coffee Shop's Wi-Fi Network

Thursday, May 31, 2007
A Michigan man has been fined $400 and given 40 hours of community service for accessing an open wireless Internet connection outside a coffee shop.
Under a little known state law against computer hackers, Sam Peterson II, of Cedar Springs, Mich., faced a felony charge after cops found him on March 27 sitting in front of the Re-Union Street Café in Sparta, Mich., surfing the Web from his brand-new laptop.
Last week, Peterson chose to pay the fine instead as part of a jail-diversion program.
"I think a lot of people should be shocked, because quite honestly, I still don't understand it myself," Peterson told FOXNews.com "I do not understand how this is illegal."
His troubles began in March, a couple of weeks after he had bought his first laptop computer.
Peterson, a 39-year-old toolmaker, volunteer firefighter and secretary of a bagpipe band, wanted to use his 30-minute lunch hour to check e-mails for his bagpipe group.
He got on the Internet by tapping into the local coffee shop's wireless network, but 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.
He used the system on his lunch breaks for more than a week, and then the police showed up.
"I was sitting there reading my e-mail and he came up and stuck his head inside my window and asked me who I was spying on," Peterson told FOXNews.com.
Someone from a nearby barbershop had called cops after seeing Peterson's car pull up every day and sit in front of the coffee shop without anybody getting out.
"I just curiously asked him, 'Where are you getting the Internet connection?', you know," Sparta Police Chief Andrew Milanowski said. "And he said, 'From the café.'"
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.
A few weeks later Peterson said he received a letter from the Kent County prosecutor's office saying that he faced a felony charge of fraudulent access to computer networks and that a request had been made for an arrest warrant.
The law, introduced in 1979 to protect Internet and private-network users from hackers, and amended in 2000 to include wireless systems, makes piggybacking off of Wi-Fi networks, even those without a password, illegal.
"It wasn't anything we were looking for, and it wasn't anything that we frankly particularly wanted to get involved in, but it basically fell in our lap and it was a little hard to just look the other way when somebody handed it to us," said Lynn Hopkins, assistant prosecuting attorney for Kent County.
Under the statute, individuals who log on to a Wi-Fi network with the owner's permission, or who see a pop-up screen that says it's a public network, can assume they're authorized to use the network, Hopkins said.
If they don't, they could be subject to prosecution.
Peterson was given two choices: He could try to fight the felony charge and face a sentence of up to 5 years in jail or a $10,000 fine; or he could enroll in the diversion program, which would require paying a $400 fine, doing 40 hours of community service and staying on probation for six months.
After consulting two lawyers — both of whom were until then unaware of the law — Peterson decided last week to take the diversion program.
If he fails to complete it, the arrest warrant will be issued and felony charges will be filed, Hopkins said.
"A lot of people tell me I should fight this, but they're not the ones looking at the felony charges on their record if it happens to go bad," Peterson said.
The case has surprised locals, including the owner of the barbershop that initially called police, as well as Donna May, owner of the coffee shop.
"He could have just come in the cafe, even if he didn't have any money, I would let him get on it," May said.
May said that the wireless connection is free for customers to her cafe.
The barbershop owner defended his decision to call police.
"I felt bad about it, but we've had problems in the past," said the man, who declined to give his name. "I'd rather be safe than sorry."
For Peterson, who's never had a criminal record, the experience has been an eye-opening one.
"All over the TV, all the commercials and whatnot you see, they're all trying to get you to buy all these laptops and things that are wireless," he said. "They're trying to get you to buy this wireless stuff because you can go anywhere and still be connected.
"Well, they don't happen to tell you that it's illegal," he continued. "And I guess obviously you're just supposed to know that."
It's up to the consumer to figure that out, said Hopkins, the prosecuting attorney.
"When you buy a Wi-Fi equipped device, it's your responsibility to find out what you can and can't legally do with that device, just as it would be if you were buying a radar detector or any other piece of electronics," she said.
But don't look for a flurry of prosecutions anytime soon.
"We're not going to be running stings to go out looking for people who do this," Hopkins said. "But people should be aware that if we come across them, and it is a violation of the statute, then we will enforce the statute."

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Old June 1st, 2007 Top | #2
 
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Default Re: Felony for illegal open wi-fi hot spot access?

I'm going to unsecure my wireless router, round up a bunch of IP addresses, and send a whole bunch of people to prison. Apparently, that's how it works in Michigan.


The following is pretty horrifying:
"I just curiously asked him, 'Where are you getting the Internet connection?', you know," Sparta Police Chief Andrew Milanowski said. "And he said, 'From the café.'"
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.
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Old June 1st, 2007 Top | #3
 
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Default Re: Felony for illegal open wi-fi hot spot access?

WOW! That's a long article. But I feel bad for the guy. Just tonight, I saw 2 people driving around my neighborhood scanning for open wifi spots. I have to say, that I've hopped on open wireless networks before but only for a very short period of time.


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Old June 1st, 2007 Top | #4
 
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Default Re: Felony for illegal open wi-fi hot spot access?

That is kinda retarded when you think about it. i mean.... they say FREE wireless hotspot access..... not "Free wireless hotspot access to those who buy our sh*t". If a "free" wireless hotspot requires that you buy something in order to use it.... DON'T call it FREE. Say "Wireless hotspot available for paying customers".


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Old June 1st, 2007 Top | #5
 
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Default Re: Felony for illegal open wi-fi hot spot access?

The part that irritates me is that the prosecutors office had the option of not bringing charges. I don't understand why they didn't educate the guy re: the law and send him on the way.
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Old June 1st, 2007 Top | #6
 
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Default Re: Felony for illegal open wi-fi hot spot access?

Originally Posted by ElementalDragon View Post
That is kinda retarded when you think about it. i mean.... they say FREE wireless hotspot access..... not "Free wireless hotspot access to those who buy our sh*t". If a "free" wireless hotspot requires that you buy something in order to use it.... DON'T call it FREE. Say "Wireless hotspot available for paying customers".

QFT.
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Old June 1st, 2007 Top | #7
 
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Default Re: Felony for illegal open wi-fi hot spot access?

actually now that i took the time to read the whole thing.... guess they should have said "Wireless Hotspot available to paying customers, or people easily within view that i say can use it", since the person said they'd have let him use the hotspot even if he didn't have any money.


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Old June 1st, 2007 Top | #8
 
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Default Re: Felony for illegal open wi-fi hot spot access?

Felony is a pretty severe charge! I'm sure the law was written for black hats but he was not hacking files or peoples personal information. It sounds like police ignorance and a prosecutor has too much time on his hands. Since the cafe owner did not press charges he should have just been given a warning and let go. Makes me double think about connecting to open networks when I'm on the road. btw, not a good idea to be using personal passwords on open wi-fi hot spots, never know who is around sniffing!
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Old June 2nd, 2007 Top | #9

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Default Re: Felony for illegal open wi-fi hot spot access?

Originally Posted by Temperal View Post
The part that irritates me is that the prosecutors office had the option of not bringing charges. I don't understand why they didn't educate the guy re: the law and send him on the way.
Because the prosecutor can now brag that his felony conviction record is now 99.9%, when it comes time for re-election.


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Old June 2nd, 2007 Top | #10
 
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Default Re: Felony for illegal open wi-fi hot spot access?

This was posted on /. a few days ago. The guy plead down to basically no charges and a $400 fine. Still bull**** though.
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Old June 2nd, 2007 Top | #11
 
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Default Re: Felony for illegal open wi-fi hot spot access?

He should have tried to get them to press the felony charge, then he would have blown the case out of the water and not had to pay for anything.
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Old June 2nd, 2007 Top | #12
 
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Default Re: Felony for illegal open wi-fi hot spot access?

Petros.... uuh.... would YOU have wanted to take that risk? i mean yeah, logically thinking it would be an open and shut case..... but with the law these days, who the hell knows.


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Old June 2nd, 2007 Top | #13
 
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Default Re: Felony for illegal open wi-fi hot spot access?

Originally Posted by Petros View Post
He should have tried to get them to press the felony charge, then he would have blown the case out of the water and not had to pay for anything.
You've obviously never retained a lawyer before.
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Old June 2nd, 2007 Top | #14
 
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Default Re: Felony for illegal open wi-fi hot spot access?

No jury would have found him guilty of a felony for accessing a WiFi hotspot. And I still can't get over the policeman feeling "some law" had been broken. I hope I never run into a cop that will arrest me for breaking a law that he's not sure exists.
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Old June 2nd, 2007 Top | #15
 
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Default Re: Felony for illegal open wi-fi hot spot access?

The law does exist and it was not the police that pressed charges was the DA he felt the law was infringed.... he was guilty he used a service that was not for him to use without asking prior permission or by being a paying customer to the bussiness in question... now would a judge find him guilty? A jury of his peers? Dont know but as stated you want to risk it?



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Old June 2nd, 2007 Top | #16
 
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Default Re: Felony for illegal open wi-fi hot spot access?

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


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