Michigan man busted for stealing Wi-Fi signal; could have received five years

Michigan man busted for stealing Wi-Fi signal; could have received five years

Summary: Sam Peterson II of Sparta, Michigan has been arrested and charged with stealing the Wi-Fi connection from a nearby coffee shop. He was arrested after a police investigation targeted his computer.

TOPICS: Hardware, Wi-Fi

Sam Peterson II of Sparta, Michigan has been arrested and charged with stealing the Wi-Fi connection from a nearby coffee shop. He was arrested after a police investigation targeted his computer.

The ultimate penalty for the 2000-vintage law: five years in jail, $10,000 fine.

The law says:

752.795 Prohibited conduct.

Sec. 5.

A person shall not intentionally and without authorization or by exceeding valid authorization do any of the following:

(a) Access or cause access to be made to a computer program, computer, computer system, or computer network to acquire, alter, damage, delete, or destroy property or otherwise use the service of a computer program, computer, computer system, or computer network.

(b) Insert or attach or knowingly create the opportunity for an unknowing and unwanted insertion or attachment of a set of instructions or a computer program into a computer program, computer, computer system, or computer network, that is intended to acquire, alter, damage, delete, disrupt, or destroy property or otherwise use the services of a computer program, computer, computer system, or computer network. This subdivision does not prohibit conduct protected under section 5 of article I of the state constitution of 1963 or under the first amendment of the constitution of the United States.

Kent County Assistant Prosecutor Lynn Hopkins tells Patrick Center of WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids:

"This is the first time that we've actually charged it," and it could be the only case of its kind in the state. "Oh, we'd been hoping to dodge this bullet for a while. We had not been looking for this," she said. "We knew it would come up eventually and we'd have to make a decision as to how to deal with it."

Fortunately, Sam has a clean record and won't have to do the time. He'll pay $400 and perform 40 hours of community service.

Hopkins hopes this action serves as a deterrent.

"People need to know that this isn't legal and if you get caught there are some pretty serious consequences.," Hopkins said.

Hey I can see it now.

"What are you in for?"

"Dealin' crank, dude."

"What are you in for?"

"Stealin' Wi-Fi, dude."

[poll id=70]

Topics: Hardware, Wi-Fi

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  • A stupid law....

    And I just finished writing to the MI legislature telling them so. http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(sz24fm45lefset55jmhr0o55))/mileg.aspx?page=CommentForm

    And I wrote:

    This is a dumb law and should be repealed. (http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(sz24fm45lefset55jmhr0o55))/mileg.aspx?page=getObject&objectName=mcl-752-795)

    I'm referring specifically to the case involving this guy: http://blogs.zdnet.com/ip-telephony/?p=1640

    If people don't want others using their wi-fi, they should learn how to secure them. This is the eqivalent of turning on a faucet on the side of a building, and that faucet flows onto the public sidewalk, and then arresting someone for stealing water.
  • Implied authorization ...

    If the network is not secured isn't that implied consent to access such network since wireless access points are just another hop to the public internet. You wouldn't be liable for accessing someones web server and retrieving non-secure information so why for unsecured networks? As always IANAL disclaimer applies.
    • What if you forget to lock your door at home?

      Is it then implied that I can walk in your house, and take anything that's not locked up?
      • I wonder

        There used to be a law on the books that any radio broadcast over the air was
        public domain. That's one of the reasons HBO started encrypting their signals.
        Anyone with the right equipment could tap into the satellite downlink and get HBO
        for free, and legally, back at that time anyway.

        And just for fun, I learned all this when I was a teenager, many years ago. My dad
        was an industrial physicist and came home one day with an empty Foldgers coffee
        can taped to some home made black box he'd put together that day at HP. He
        pointed the coffee can toward Cheyenne mountain through our dining room
        window, and plugged the other end into the TV and voila, we were tapping into
        the spillage from the HBO satellite downlink. Very cool, and at that time, perfectly
        legal. I don't know about today, though.
      • Are you broadcasting that fact?

        Are you publicly announcing that your house is unlocked? If so then the answer to your question is yes. How is that any different than Wi-Fi? After all they are publicly announcing they are open for anyone to use AND there are no login disclaimers stating use is unauthorized.

        Stupid law that shouldn't even exist. ]:)
        Linux User 147560
        • Not so stupid...

          What if he had been accessing the hard drives of insecure windows laptops on the unsecured wireless network? Stealing data?

          This particular instance should more be a case of a simple request to "please stop doing that," preferably a request made by the business. But that doesn't mean the law is inherently bad.
          Erik Engbrecht
      • No

        Your house and thus your door do not extend out into the public domain.

        This coffee shop was offering free wireless access.

        The coffee shop owner didn't even know that it was illegal.

        [i]"I didn't know it was really illegal, either," she told 24 Hour News 8.[/i]

        The police officer didn't even know this was illegal.

        [i]He didn't issue a ticket, but he did hit the books. "I had a feeling a law was being broken," the chief said, "but I didn't know exactly what." He found a relatively new and rarely used law. "Unauthorized use of computer access," he said.[/i]

        So it is OK to slap someone with a rarely used law? With all the wardriving that goes on?

        I call this BS. Sounds to me like the policeman had a personal vendetta.
      • Yeah it is

        If you advertise for the public to enter and you don't lock the door then yeah you deserver to have people entering you house. Common sense dictates that. It's like hanging sign saying Public Welcome and the doors wide open. You could secure yourself and have public welcome if they have key from you.

        This is really a grey area in my opinion.
      • Wrong analogy

        If someone enters your property, they're breaking and entering. If you're broadcasting your radio into public space, it's public. Just like TV. They can't stop you from receiving the signal. They can scramble it to make it unusable to you...just like securing a wireless network.
        • So...

          If I tune into the conversations you have on your cordless phone, record them, and then publish their contents on the internet that's OK because you are broadcasting them?
          Erik Engbrecht
          • Precedent..

            isn't that what someone did to Newt Gingrich when they recorded his cell phone conversation and published it?
          • Gingrich precedent

            The Gingrich recording was illegal, which surprised me at the time. Nobody was prosecuted though.
      • No, but if you put it on the street...

        No, but if you put your garbage out on the street, anyone can take it. The signals don't remain in your house, when you connect wi-fi, you are putting it out on the street if you don't secure it.
    • Is the internet public?

      I thought the internet was owned and maintained by telecommunications companies.
      Erik Engbrecht
  • free wi-fi hot spot?

    If the coffe shop was advertising a free hot-spot but didn't specify only for customers, would the man have a defense?

    If I put a plate of cookies out with a "free cookies" sign, I am at fault for not specifying "free to customers that make a purchase".

    but I'm not a lawyer...
    • Customer

      There was a case where a parking stall was free for customers. It turns out that to be a customer you don't need to make a purchase. You just potentially can purchase. Needless to say around here you don't customer parking only anymore. They are more specific. In many cases now signs say Authorized parking only with fine print stating that a store purchase gives you 30 minutes.

      The time limit came with a Tim Hortons where a customer purchased a $2 coffee then parked there for the rest of the day. Talk about cheap parking.
    • free wi-fi hot spot?

      "If the coffe shop was advertising a free hot-spot but didn't specify only for customers, would the man have a defense?"

      I think you have a good point. Did they have a sign that says you have to be a paying customer to use the free wifi?

      By the way, there's a more complete news item here:


      It was an open, free wireless signal. The only thing is, the guy was doing it every day and they got suspicious. That seems a bit excessive. Plus, he could have stopped in and bought a coffee as a show of good faith. Ultimately, he got off with 40 hours community service, a $400 fine, and no criminal record.

      Kind of makes you think twice, though, about parking outside one of these places, which a *lot* of people do!
  • Article seems a little vague.

    What I'm not sure of is if the person hacked into the coffee shop's locked network, or just accessed an open, unlocked and unprotected wireless network.
  • How did they catch him?

    Did he commit a malicious act while connected?
    Did an alarm go off in the coffee shop alerting the staff to his access?
    How did they find out where he was? You can't follow the wire.
    If he's in his own home, and is close to an unsecured wireless network, how can they do this? My laptop automatically searches for wireless connections, if it finds an unsecure one and I access it only for web surfing, how does anyone know?
    • He was a bit obvious...

      Every day he would park in front of the coffee shop and pull out his laptop. Kind of easy to see the pattern there.