While many of us might laughingly favor jail terms for people constantly checking their e-mail, few would think you could actually get a long prison sentence for logging on. To his amazement, Sam Peterson was charged with a felony for logging onto the WiFi system at his neighborhood coffee shop. He had faced up to five years in prison and $10,000 fine.
Peterson was in the habit of logging onto the Union Street Café’s WiFi system to check his e-mail. Every day, he drove up to the café, parked his car and logged on. Sparta, Michigan Police Chief Andrew Milanowski got suspicious of what Peterson was doing in his car everyday. So, Milanowski checked his law books. It is illegal, in Michigan, to “piggyback” (using someone else’s WiFi system). A 1979 law, designed to protect people from hackers, makes “unauthorized use of computer access” a felony.
Neither Peterson, nor the coffee shop owner knew Peterson was committing a crime. Peterson was, nonetheless, fined $400 and ordered to perform 40 hours of community service and enroll in a diversion program, but received no prison time.
So, know this … it may be a crime in your state to piggyback on someone’s WiFi.