ARSTechnica has an article titled “Michigan man arrested for using cafe’s free WiFi from his car”
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.
This hits close to home for me (literally) as I’ve use the the local coffee shops WiFi from my car while waiting to pickup my children from dance class.
When I first read the article, my reaction was “It’s broadcast over the air. Radio waves aren’t limited to the walls of the store. This is unfair”.
In reality, to access someone’s WiFi, you have to connect to the access point. You have to make a choice. It’s not like they are playing music that can be heard from across the street and then trying to arrest you for not paying my entrance fee. You don’t have to use their WiFi.
It’s just like using the restroom. Some places don’t have a policy, others have signs that clearly state “Restroom for customer use only”.
Michigan law states that “A person shall not intentionally and without authorization… Access or cause access to be made to a computer program, computer, computer system, or computer network“. If you are a paying customer, that authorization is implied. Other times, it’s not so clear.
I’d like to see signs that clearly spell out the terms of using the WiFi. “Purchase required to use WiFi” in the case of a coffee shop or restaurant, “Valid Library card required…” in the case of a Library. Until then, if I wouldn’t use the restroom, I won’t use the WiFi.