By Jacqui Cheng | Published: May 22, 2007 - 10:37AM CT
A Michigan man is being prosecuted for using a cafe's free WiFi... from his car. Sam Peterson was arrested under a Michigan law barring access to anyone else's network without authorization, according to Michigan TV station WOOD. Since the cafe's WiFi network was reserved for customers, and Peterson never came into the cafe, he was essentially piggybacking off of the open network without authorization.
The arrest came about because Peterson apparently showed up to the Union Street Cafe to use its free WiFi from the comfort of his car, and he did so every single day. A police officer grew suspicious of Peterson and eventually questioned him as to what he was up to. Peterson, not realizing that what he was doing was (at least) ethically questionable, told the officer exactly what he was doing. "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," Sparta police chief Andrew Milanowski told the TV station.
This is not the first time someone has been arrested for piggybacking on a WiFi connection. In 2005, a Florida man was arrested and hit with a third-degree felony for surfing an open WiFi network from his SUV. Similarly, an Illinois man was arrested in 2006 for, again, using an unsecured WiFi network from his car. He pleaded guilty to the charges and was given one year's court supervision and a $250 fine. A Washington man was also arrested in 2006 for parking outside of a coffee shop and using the open WiFi connection without purchasing anything. And just earlier this year, an Alaska man was arrested for using the WiFi network from the public library after hours to play games from—you guessed it—his car in the parking lot.
Whether or not you agree with the legality of using an open WiFi network without the owner's authorization, one thing is painfully clear: if you're going to leech, try not to do it from a parked car right in front of the building.