Saturday, May 26, 2007

Keeping the World Safe From Email Checking Leeches!

Can you imagine doing five years in the state penitentiary and paying $10,000.00 in fines for checking your email without buying a coffee? I can just imagine the conversation now ---

Grizzled murderer/rapist, "So what are ya in for?

Computer geek, "Checking my email without buying a coffee."

This almost happened to Sam Peterson II of Sparta, Michigan. The local police chief is apparently the Maytag repairman of crime. He has so little to do that he has to go searching for obscure victimless crimes. Peterson would check his email every day from his car outside the Re-Union Street Cafe, which provided a free unsecured wide-open wi-fi access point. Chief of Police Andrew Milanowski apparently found this suspicious and asked Peterson what he was doing every day. Peterson freely admitted that he was checking his email using the cafe's free unsecured wi-fi access point. Chief Milanowski wasn't sure what the crime was, but he had an idea that maybe this was a crime so he went looking for an excuse to bust Peterson and found an obscure Michigan law that makes it a crime to

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.
Full text of statute

There was no complainant, no harm done, and no victim so the Chief did what any good half wit with a badge would do. He got a warrant for Peterson's arrest and charged him with a felony that carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail and a $10,000.00 fine. I'll bet the Chief can really sleep well knowing that he is protecting the people of Sparta from the likes of Peterson. I'd be embarrassed. Apparently, the local prosecutors are no better, because they actually chose to prosecute Peterson for this "crime." They've apparently never heard of prosecutorial discretion. Have any of these people ever heard of a warning, common sense, or a spine?

Worst of all is that I don't believe Peterson even violated this statute. In order to violate the statute he must access the wi-fi hotspot "without authorization" or "by exceeding valid authorization." Aren't you implying authorization to all when you set up a free unsecured wi-fi hotspot? Did the cafe have any explicit requirements to be an "authorized" user? Were any users of the wi-fi access point given passwords or told that they had to purchase a product before they could log on? If there are no distinctions between authorized users and unauthorized users, how can you ever be unauthorized? If you wish to limit the use of a free unsecured wi-fi hotspot to your customers, then you ought to explicitly say so in signage or when people log on. Peterson wasn't acquiring, altering, damaging, deleting or destroying property so he could only fall under the "otherwise use" language of the statute, which is obscenely overbroad. The way this statute is written you violate it if you merely use a computer program inconsistently with its end user license. Have I committed a felony if I access Blogger and violate the terms of service? Ninety percent of computer users must violate this overbroad statute at one point or another.

It makes me sad for America. Our justice system becomes arbitrary and capricious when legislatures create crimes that aren't obviously crimes and have no victims and involve no harm at all. Its scary and unworthy of our republic.

Full article from WOOD TV

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