Wi-Fi Poaching Draws Fine

A Michigan man has been fined US$400 and must work 40 hours of community service for using a local café's Wi-Fi connection from his parked car to check his e-mail and surf the Web.

He got off easy, according to the local TV station that reported the case: under Michigan computer access law, using a Wi-Fi connection without authorization is a felony, punishable by as much a US$10,000 fine and five years in prison.

But the story raises more questions than it answers, including whether the café's Wi-Fi connection was a fee-based service, which would imply authorization was required, or a free service that, without any security restrictions, could be accessed by anyone within range, including someone outside the restaurant. The story also doesn't say whether the defendant, Sam Peterson II, of Sparta, Ill., was convicted of the crime or pled to the charge.

Peterson routinely drove to Sparta's Re-Union Street Caf, to check his e-mail but never went into the coffee shop. His regular routine drew the attention of Sparta Police Chief Andrew Milanowski, who asked Peterson what he was doing. Peterson told him. After checking the Michigan statutes, the chief swore out a complaint of fraudulent computer access.

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