Michigan man arrested for using cafe's free WiFi from car

Sam Peterson was arrested under a Michigan law barring access to anyone else's network without authorization; he is being prosecuted for using a cafe's free WiFi from his car. The cafe's WiFi network was reserved for customers РPeterson never came into the Union Street Caf̩ Рand instead used its free WiFi from the comfort of his car, every single day. A police officer grew suspicious of Peterson and eventually questioned him as to what he was up to. "I knew that the Union Street had WiFi. I just went down and checked my e-mail and didn't see a problem with that," Peterson told a reporter.

Under Michigan's "Fraudulent access to computers, computer systems, and computer networks" law, Peterson's actions could result in a five-year felony and a $10,000 fine. However, prosecutors do not plan to throw the book at him, as they don't believe that Peterson was aware he was even breaking the law. Instead, he will pay a $400 fine and do 40 hours of community service, and the arrest will not go on his record. Coincidentally, the cafe owner that Peterson was leeching WiFi off of didn't even realize that what Peterson was doing was a crime at the time. Neither did the police officer. "I had a feeling a law was being broken, but I didn't know exactly what," said Sparta police chief Andrew Milanowski.

News source: Ars Technica

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WTF...this is ridiculous...he should be only given a warning at most...he should hire a lawyer and sue the police...open wifi is everywhere...it's owners' job to secure their wifi network...if that's breaking the law...then thousands of people already have broken it many times...

wireless signals are different from physical properties...there's usually no specific range...Mr. Peterson got the signal in public area...he didn't invade into other people's property and steal their stuff...this is just like someone find a $5 bill on the street and pick it up...that's not stealing...

police should care about real thefts and robbers...instead of catching someone who just using open wifi...

haha...its all politics..*snorr* *snorr*---dammit...who cares?

its just the internet...if they cant secure it tough sh*t then!..their problem!

i use my neighbours connection some times...do i care?? NO!........finders keepers...u dont secure it..guess wot?..im IN!

dont have time for pathetic people like yourself who argue over a simple situation....this obviously only would happen in the US...back here in the Uk...u either secure it..or as we say ''on your bike'' mate!

pathetic!

4th Amendment.
''The rights to be secured in their persons, their houses, their papers, and their other property, from all unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated by warrants issued without probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, or not particularly describing the places to be searched, or the persons or things to be seized"

"I had a feeling a law was being broken, but I didn't know exactly what"

The guy was in his car.
Having a feeling isn't probable cause, i would file criminal charges on the officer and sue the city for rights violation. Correct me if i am wrong.

Yes, the police officer was probably stretching his authority; but typically 4th amendment rights against unlawful search and seizures are lawfully infringed in the case of automobiles. Courts give law enforcement a lot of breathing room when it comes to "probable cause" do to the nature of an automobile and the need to act promptly. I house can not be moved, a car on the other hand can be.

Absolutely ludicrous. It is becoming more and more difficult to stay on the right side of the law....

It's like prosecuting someone sitting outside an arena and listening to a live concert for not having bought a ticket.

Then again the guy could have been doing some serious torrenting and slowing the network down for paying customers.

The onus, however, is on the owner of the network to secure it.

Want to limit access to your network? Encrypt it. That is what encryption is for! What's more, you will have recourse to then prosecute any unauthorised access.

Absolutely ludicrous. It is becoming more and more difficult to stay on the right side of the law....

Yep, I'm American. I'm not proud anymore. With all the laws & camera's floating around, it feels like I live in a "FREE PRISON". About the only thing between me and a convict is, I have more area to walk around.

People need to lighten up! What the guy did wasn't a big deal, I think he should have just been let off with a warning.

And, no, baskingridge, I'm not a open source hippie, a piracy advocate, or a communist, like allegedly many people on this forum.

The way I see it, this is more an issue over morals and ethics. This is also the same argument that RIAA is making against illegal MP3 downloads. One side says they’re losing millions in sales, the other side says that MP3’s are intangible, and so downloading a song is not illegal.

An example would be if my neighbor stored his lawnmower outside his gate and unsecured, am I in my right to use his lawnmower? Well, what if I use it everyday without my neighbor’s permission; but put it back and filled it with gas when I was done... would that be wrong? I’m not causing harm to my neighbor or his lawnmower. Like I said, it’s more a question of morals and ethics, and in the State of Michigan, using someone else’s network without permission is illegal. If you don’t like it, repeal the law, or fight it.

You know... If somebody leaves the network OPEN, without any securing/etc, I would assume that it was free for the taking.

Then again, how many people do you see getting $400 fines for drinking from a water fountain... There isn't ANYTHING around it saying "You are allowed to use this." Or heck, not even "You can't use this!" yet, it's understood that it's alright to drink from it since it's not chained off/behind an area stating "Public not allowed."

This really seems like an abuse of the law. A law like this should only be used if there was INTENT to do harm. At which point, I could easily assume that the owner of the AP wouldn't want their connection being used for ill use. (By should, I mean that that's what I see its intention to be.)

I find it interesting when I see people relate the use of unsecured WiFi to breaking and Entering. When someone jumps on a wireless network thats not theirs, its not even close to entering someones home with the door unlocked. If that were the case, I should use a WiFi detector and sue everyone that has their wireless signal going through my property because their property is infringing upon my property.

If someone sets up a wireless network and doesn't secure it, it should be assumed that they are allowing anyone to use that connection (for legal purposes and not to hack into their system). If I leave my hose on and the street gets flooded, I have no right to demand that everyone stays off "my water".

Just secure your networks and zip the lips

What about Fon? Is using Fon then against the law? It is assumed to be given permission since it is set up to be a 'free for all' network...but no one is given explicit permission really

Michigan Fon network:

'Coincidentally, the cafe owner that Peterson was leeching WiFi off of didn't even realize that what Peterson was doing was a crime at the time.'

That in itself should cause all charges to be dropped surely. whole things ridiculous.

Since the door is unlocked and I have no intention to burn down your house, I may take something which you don't care?

the law was intended for malicious entry into systems (hacking) if theres an unencrypted wifi signal that goes outside their store (they could limit the wifi range to be within the store) and hes not corrupting or even reading any of their files then it should be excepted completely.

bad example if you ask me... cause comming into someones home is ALOT different than using there internet connection that they did not secure in the first place.

the law was intended for malicious entry into systems (hacking) if theres an unencrypted wifi signal that goes outside their store (they could limit the wifi range to be within the store) and hes not corrupting or even reading any of their files then it should be excepted completely.

What is wrong using a freely accesible datastream in the form of waves which is unprotected :S like he was totally jamming the network.. Sad people.

RuudJacobs.NET said,
What is wrong using a freely accesible datastream in the form of waves which is unprotected :S like he was totally jamming the network.. Sad people.

So I see that you don't see anything wrong downloading "free" mp3? Sad people.

chilliadus said,

So I see that you don't see anything wrong downloading "free" mp3? Sad people.

he said he just did some basic email... how is this mp3 related?

I'm sorry, but you guys are just sad. The only thing you people want is the right to access wifi network that you DIDN'T PAID FOR and STEAL bandwith for YOUR OWN good.

Pip'

i think you have a good point... but whats it matter if no "harm" is done? ... it did not cost the owner of the shop any money from this guy using his internet or did it slow the internet connection down for the paying customers... so whats the problem with it? ;)

cause the bottom line is.... no one was harmed physically/mentally or financially... i dont see how this can be a crime personally.... cause for someone to get in trouble for this they should clearly state it in there shop.... and like i said many times before aint cops got better things to do like going after real criminals that are a threat to society?

so even though i think your right about most people just looking out for themselfs in here... you gotta admit i got a pretty damn good point

so lemme get this straight... the cafe doesnt have any kind of security? i know at the intenret cafe i used to work at, we had a wifi ticket system where all you could access is an intranet site until you entered a 1 time code that unlocked the net for your mac address for the day, and the code was given when someone bought something; thus our CUSTOMERS get free wifi access but not some random fruit on the street

Well, unless the shop in the article has something stating that you must be inside and purchase something to use it then I don't see a problem. I'm not condoning theft of any kind, but you'd think law enforcement personell would have more pressing crimes to go after than someone using a WiFi signal.

MrCobra said,
Well, unless the shop in the article has something stating that you must be inside and purchase something to use it then I don't see a problem. I'm not condoning theft of any kind, but you'd think law enforcement personell would have more pressing crimes to go after than someone using a WiFi signal.

It doesn't matter what the shop owner thinks. A crime is a crime, period. That's why there's so much debate around euthanasia or assisted suicide.

chilliadus said,

It doesn't matter what the shop owner thinks. A crime is a crime, period. That's why there's so much debate around euthanasia or assisted suicide.

The law states that it is a crime to access a wireless network without the owners authorisation. What constitutes permission? Do customers have to ask the staff before using the network, even if they are purchasing food and/or beverages from the cafe? does the purchase constitute permission? Having a sign up that says free wireless could have been, and in all likelihood was interpreted as having permission from the owner. The wording of this law seems kind of vague in this article. Anyone else here agree?

Correct me if I'm wrong. If the owner had explicitly expressed that anyone, regardless his customer or not, had his authorization to use the wireless, then there wouldn't have been a case. So I guess if the owner came out and said, "oops, I forgot to put up a free-wireless-for-anyone sign, but yes, he had my permission", there's nothing the state could do against the poor guy.

chilliadus said,

It doesn't matter what the shop owner thinks. A crime is a crime, period. That's why there's so much debate around euthanasia or assisted suicide.

i dont know about you but i like to "think" about whats right and wrong instead of just going by what the law says without question! ... cause for me the bottom line is... this is "petty" crap... cops need to go after real criminals.. thats the bottom line.

p.s. on a side note... i do think euthanasia/assisted suicide is basically murder ... especially abortion!

This is totally absurd. Alot of coffee shops all over the place advertise FREE WIFI SPOT. Now unless the coffee shop provides a banner stating that is will prosecute persons unless items are purchased at the coffee shop, I don't see what the problem is.

Just encrypt the network, and at your next outing at the coffee shop, you get a "FREE ENCRYPTED KEY PASS" for the day with the purchase of your coffee.


Under Michigan's "Fraudulent access to computers, computer systems, and computer networks" law

WTF? I guess the next time you access a FREE WIFI NETWORK to check your email, your a criminal at work. How pathetic. And this is nothing like stealing a chocolate bar from the candy store guys. Besides, maybe some of your are accessing Neowin.net as we speak from a non-authorized FREE WIFI spot, and your committing the same crime?

D-M said,
and your committing the same crime?

Yes, if you broke the law. It's not that a crime is committed if you, or anyone for that matter, feel that "there's something wrong".

Yes, he will. He's broken the law, end of. That's like saying "oh he won't have to pay the full punishment" for robbing a chocolate bar every day in a shop for a few months.

traxor said,
Yes, he will. He's broken the law, end of. That's like saying "oh he won't have to pay the full punishment" for robbing a chocolate bar every day in a shop for a few months.

...

Peterson's actions could result in a five-year felony and a $10,000 fine. However, prosecutors do not plan to throw the book at him, as they don't believe that Peterson was aware he was even breaking the law. Instead, he will pay a $400 fine and do 40 hours of community service

traxor said,
Yes, he will. He's broken the law, end of. That's like saying "oh he won't have to pay the full punishment" for robbing a chocolate bar every day in a shop for a few months.

to me your examples are totally different.. it's a damn internet signal that aint harming anyone "financially"! ... cause look at it this way... stealing a chocolate bar every day COSTS people money... the free internet did not cost that guy who owns the shop a single dime and like i said before it did not interfere with the paying customers inside the shop... me personally though i think if they dont want people using the internet it's there problem to "secure" it... cause seriously... who aint going to use free internet if they can get it? (ill bet high percentage of people would use it)

ThaCrip said,

to me your examples are totally different.. it's a damn internet signal that aint harming anyone "financially"! ... cause look at it this way... stealing a chocolate bar every day COSTS people money... the free internet did not cost that guy who owns the shop a single dime and like i said before it did not interfere with the paying customers inside the shop... me personally though i think if they dont want people using the internet it's there problem to "secure" it... cause seriously... who aint going to use free internet if they can get it? (ill bet high percentage of people would use it)

not necessarily.... an increase in traffic by "unauthorized" users could put the store owner in a different bracket as far as allotted bandwidth for the month, so it could cost more that way. I mean, if you make the customer buy something to use your internet, at least you're recouping SOMETHING, however small, from every customer that uses it.

Also, securing it goes against the principles of "free wifi".... i mean even if they did and hung up a sign in the store that had the password on it, one could still go there one day, get the password, and never go inside again, just sitting outside the store and getting the signal, so "securing" it is pointless if the idea is to provide "free wifi".... A lot of it is about relying on the honor system. The store trusts you'll order something if you plan to use their wifi, and you trust them not to hack into your comp from the network and steal all your porn :-p

Free wifi in coffee shops are conditional to purchasing something there. It's stealing like anything else. I mean, if someone was to use your wifi connection, I bet you'd want them to be punished to the full extent of the law. So, what this guy got isn't bad. At least, now, more people will know that doing what Mr. Peterson is wrong and against the law.

I wouldn't want them punished to the full extent of the law. I would want to know what they were downloading first. Remember, this was an unencrypted connection advertised as free WIFI.

My dad gets bitchy if I set up any encryption on my network. "What? I didn't need a password (encryption key) to get in before!" ....blah.
If you sat outside my house you would probably need a tin can waveguide antenna to get a signal.

How to build a tin can waveguide antenna

I have encryption enabled right now, so someone would be breaking the law if they used my connection. No gray area whatsoever.

I just figure that it's my personal responsibility to protect my own network, not the government's.

Granted, it is up to oneself to protect one's network. However this is not the question here. You just don't use what doesn't belong to you without any consent from the owner of whatever you want to borrow or use, and you need to comply to any conditions there is to it.

You wouldn't use your neighbour's lawn mower without asking permission to do so, whether the neighbour is standing next to the lawn mower or in his/her house. Same here. True, the network wasn't secure. True, it is tempting. Is that however good reasons to commit such act? No. In this case, benefit of the doubt stands, and I have nothing against that. What he got was fair.

Yeah, it's free access to a wifi network, but condition is that you have to purchase something. In other words, you have to be a customer. That is true to most coffee shops and whatever other shops, too, unless specify otherwise. What this café offered is a wifi network to its customers to that they can use the Internet while enjoying their coffee or whatever they ordered. And even though, the network was opened (not secured), it's still a private network, meaning it doesn't belong to you, but to the coffee shop. If you want to use it, just go in, buy a coffee, get a seat, and use the Internet as you wish.

This is in no case similar to free access through wifi hotspots offered by some people or organizations, and still sometimes there are conditions to use such networks.

einsteinbqat said,
Free wifi in coffee shops are conditional to purchasing something there. It's stealing like anything else. I mean, if someone was to use your wifi connection, I bet you'd want them to be punished to the full extent of the law. So, what this guy got isn't bad. At least, now, more people will know that doing what Mr. Peterson is wrong and against the law.

It is not stealing. The bloke didn't know it was illegal. The cafe owner didn't know it was illegal, hell even the copper didn't know it was illegal.

To steal something is to obtain something by fraudulant means knowing you are comitting an offence.

The only "crime" this bloke did, was to sit outside each day and "look suspicious".

He should have simply be given a warning, no more. That would have been sensible, fair and balanced policing and justice.

Another over the top sentance dished!

I suggest we all flood to this cafe with our computers. sit inside browse the internet, jam their bandwidth with p2p(download something legal). enjoy some free A/C, WITHOUT buying anything from the shop. what a bitchy store?

Yeah, who does he think he is demanding control over his own network? The nerve of the guy, imagine not letting any and every cheap asswipe come along and freeride on his network - let's stone him.

According to the part of the article that was posted, it was the police officer that inquired to the legality of it. The store owner didn't even know it was going on or didn't think it was illegal.

Even the police officer didn't really know what law was being broken.

A four hundred dollar fine for checking his email (if that was all he was doing) seems a little harsh.

They should have advertised:

"Free WIFI to customers--but only if you were a regular there, and ordered something, and that police officer knows you as well, and you better buy something everyday or we'll slap you with a $400 fine and some community service."

See how many customers they get then...

He should have gotten warned.

"Hey, you know what? This is leeching and you really need to buy a coffee first--or go inside and make sure it's okay. It does say you need to be a customer ...see?"

"Oh I'm sorry, I didn't think it affected them that much. I'll stop. Thanks for the warning."

And that would be the end of it. Instead we have an article on the internet (and in the local paper maybe) stating that a person got fined $400 dollars for using a free WIFI spot.

chilliadus said,
Read the story carefully. The owner didn't complain, or report to the police. He didn't seem to be aware of it.

exactly! ... thats why it's bs for this guy to get in trouble... screw the law! ... this is petty crap... (like i said above) he was just checking his email for christ sake! ... and it aint like he was hoging the bandwidth for the paying customers in the store... so basically im saying what he was doing was not harming anyone or slowing anything else down for the paying customers inside the shop.

another bs case where the cop wanted to be a prick! (basically cop was bored, had nothing to do, and just wanted to screw with someone) ... screw cops they need to catch "real" criminals instead of petty stuff like this.

7Dash8 said,
Yeah, who does he think he is demanding control over his own network? The nerve of the guy, imagine not letting any and every cheap asswipe come along and freeride on his network - let's stone him.

The store owner didn't demand anything.... the cop is the one who noticed the guy outside the store..

ispamforfood said,

The store owner didn't demand anything.... the cop is the one who noticed the guy outside the store..

Woooooosh!

ThaCrip said,

exactly! ... thats why it's bs for this guy to get in trouble... screw the law! ... this is petty crap... (like i said above) he was just checking his email for christ sake! ... and it aint like he was hoging the bandwidth for the paying customers in the store... so basically im saying what he was doing was not harming anyone or slowing anything else down for the paying customers inside the shop.

another bs case where the cop wanted to be a prick! (basically cop was bored, had nothing to do, and just wanted to screw with someone) ... screw cops they need to catch "real" criminals instead of petty stuff like this.


You're really overlooking something. The guy said he was sitting there checking his e-mail, but did the article mention whether or not that was verified? He could have very easily been doing something illegal with the connection (aside from using it for e-mail). I think that might be why the officer wanted to investigate it. It might be that they just had to find some sort of law first that let them do that.

yeah i agree here atleast there being somewhat fair with him ... but hell, i dont see a problem overall for what he's doing... cops as usual just screwing with people instead of out trying to catch the "real" criminals ... cause he was just checking his damn email, whats the crime in that? ... they say it's reserved for paying customers which i can sorta see there point, but still.... it's rediculous as to the "potential" penalties (5 year felony/$10,00 fine, WTF) for something like this!

p.s. gives me another reason not to like cops... and i think it's safe to say most people aint a big fan of cops (especially the average cop) either (note: i generally dont get in trouble with the law myself!, so dont try to use this as to why i dont like cops in general)

I think about those things a bit differently... (I'm not from America :P )

If someone is to stupid to secure it's wifi access that is the same to me as "he provides wifi access for me".

When someone gives me wifi access for free, I'm in. When I can get a connection to that network, I'm in.

If you provide free wifi-acess you should install a proxy behind it which gives you the rules you have to follow when you want to use that connection.

These things can only happen in America.