Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Sparta WiFi Arrest

Now that it's on Slashdot, you've probably heard about a Sparta man that was arrested on a felony warrant for using a coffee shop's free, open wireless network without patronizing said coffee shop. The scoop on this incident started with a WOODTV story (and they reused some footage from February, so I was on TV again, which my ego liked!) To be honest, I have done this very thing many times before. My favorite bar in East Lansing has a patio and is next door to a coffee shop with free WiFi. On a beautiful summer afternoon, the choice between coffee and beer is about as easy as they come.

Anyway, this poor guy got saddled with a $400 fine and 40hrs of community service for doing the electronic equivalent of using the bathroom without buying something. According to the law, it could've been $5K and a year in jail, because the underlying crime would've been trespass. At least, that's my layman's understanding of the law. And according to the arrest warrant the judge signed, it could've been $10K and 5 years in the pokey.

I don't see a positive here. I just don't. This incident:

1. has wasted taxpayer money on a benign and trivial incident.
2. will confuse law enforcement further about where the lines around this law are drawn.
3. has victimized a guy that was too cheap to buy a cup of coffee in order to check his e-mail. Seriously, if the guy didn't want to spend $4 for a latte, where's the justice in taking $400 from him for something that neither he nor the coffee shop owner thought to be a crime?
4. has raised awareness of laptop owners that they're responsible for the wireless networks they connect to regardless of their understanding of the technology. If this has any effect, it will be a chilling one, giving people one more thing to worry about when it comes to open WiFi hotspots.
5. will perhaps even be referenced in the future to let businesses off the hook for not securing their business wireless networks.
6. illustrates the enourmous chasm separating the law and lawyers from the understanding of technology.


Floyd said...

Why the hell didn't this cheapskate sue the pants off the town of Sparta and get enough money to afford all the coffee and internet access he could ever want? The morons in that town need to be taught a serious lesson about the meaning of FREE when the owner of a business decides to be generous. And when said owner refuses to press charges, the idiot powers that be should back the hell off.

Anonymous said...


"I had a feeling a law was being broken, but I didn't know exactly
what," Sparta police chief Andrew Milanowski told the TV station.

Duh. he still doesn't know, because no law was violated. Read it:

A $400 fine and 40hrs of community service indicates that they did not think they had a case. The judge was a pussy for allowing the police to push for any conviction.

So now, you are violating the law when the police 'feel' you are. "Well, if the police felt he was
guilty, he must have been guilty." Good Lord, what nonsense!

Pathetic Morons.