Sunday, June 03, 2007

When free wifi isn't

I swear, I didn't think this was illegal. According to an article on Great Lakes IT Report:
Police in Sparta arrested and charged Sam Peterson for "piggybacking," or using the cafe's Internet service without authorization ... Peterson was arrested for violating a 1979 Michigan law, revised in 2000. He actually faced five years in prison and a $10,000 fine ...
If the guy had gotten out of his car, gone into the cafe and bought a latte, then all would be OK? The cafe owners themselves didn't know this wasn't legal. What if said owners didn't care who used their wifi where or when? (Reading the full article on the WOOD TV8 site, it doesn't appear they objected in this case.) I mean, sure, if they had a parking lot full of internet users who never came in to buy, they'd have cause to be dismayed. I even have to question this guy who apparently came every day, but seemingly never went in and bought even a small black coffee. Not exactly a good neighbor type, I'd say. But still ... should this this really be a matter of law?

Downtown last year as well as here in my own neighborhood, I was able to piggyback on any one of several open networks. In some places, open networks bleed one into another. And it's illegal to access these? When they're right there, freely available, and your computer is practically begging you to choose one and sign on?

I know my view is probably not popular on this, but I think access to the internet should be as open as the internet itself. And while I'm not advocating that a lot of businesses and unassuming neighbors foot the bill for my access entirely (I do subscribe to a service, make no mistake), it's an unavoidable fact that wifi is kinda like air. We breathe what's around us, freely and free. If someplace is providing free wifi to its customers and, unavoidably, those nearby, why should I not partake? I say good for them. And good for you and me, too.