Me, I'm in for Felony Wi-Fi Use. So … Murder 1, Huh?

Published on May 23, 2007
by John Paczkowski

Most institutions or individuals who establish wireless Internet connections know how to set them up so that a log-in and password are required for access. If they decide not to do this, then the connection is open for anyone in range to use. While I suppose that an argument could be made that you should never use what you don’t pay for, I don’t think this would apply here–and I’m not even sure that I agree with the broad sentiment. Unless it is made clear to users tapping into wireless connections that they must agree to certain conditions before proceeding, they have not breached any ethical mandate by logging on in any way that they legally can.”

The Right Thing, New York Times, Feb. 26, 2006

Wi-Fi piggybackers take note: An open wireless connection is not an open invitation. Certainly not in Michigan, anyway, where unauthorized access to a computer network, even an unrestricted one, is a crime. A Michigan man was arrested this week for using an unsecured Wi-Fi connection without its owner’s permission. Spotted checking his email from a car parked outside a local coffeehouse, Sparta resident Sam Peterson was arrested for unwittingly violating 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 five-year felony. Something to think about next time your neighbor’s LAN pops up on your “available networks” list. That said, as a first-time offender without a prior record, Peterson wasn’t charged with a felony, though he was fined $400 and asked to do 40 hours of community service. It seems even local prosecutors haven’t yet come to terms with the law. “This is the first time that we’ve actually charged it,” Kent County Assistant Prosecutor Lynn Hopkins told Wood TV. “Oh, we’d been hoping to dodge this bullet for a while. We had not been looking for this. We knew it would come up eventually, and we’d have to make a decision as to how to deal with it.”


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