Is It Still Theft Of Service If It's Using The Free WiFi At The Library?

from the someone-please-explain dept

In the past, we’ve made it pretty clear why we have a hard time believing that there’s anything wrong with using an open WiFi network — even as there are an increasing number of stories of people getting arrested and fined for doing so — usually with the claim that it’s “theft of services.” However, it’s difficult to see how it can possibly be considered theft of services when it’s done from a place that’s giving away the WiFi for free. The latest case, sent in by John, involves a 21-year-old who had his laptop confiscated after he was caught using a library’s free WiFi from his car. The police officer quoted in the case, makes it sound like it’s a no brainer that using the WiFi in a library from your car is clearly illegal — but there’s no explanation for why (or why it’s then okay to confiscate the guy’s laptop to “inspect what he may have been downloading.”) Also, if it’s so suspicious for someone to be using a laptop in their car, what happens when more people get access to wireless broadband and sit in their cars using their laptops via a completely legitimate EVDO or HSDPA connection? Will the police come and confiscate those laptops as well?

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Comments on “Is It Still Theft Of Service If It's Using The Free WiFi At The Library?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Parking lot lights as a precedence?

That is a very smart comment. I wonder if a good lawyer could use it to argue the case – to demonstrate the absurdity to a judge who may not be very techno-savvy?

Logic means very little to many judges. What matters is political correctness, which doesn’t require any “techno-savvy” at all.

SmartAssWhizKid says:

“Either way, Tanner’s Internet usage has been curtailed. He’s got a home computer, but his parents don’t let him on the Web after 9 p.m.”

This guy’s 21. HA !

But seriously, the cop states;
“in this particular case you know he’s feeding off something that we know the city of Palmer pays for and there are requirements to use it,”.

He’s not following the requirements.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I’m confused at the cop’s statement.

There are “requirements” to use the library’s WiFi? Are those requirements the library’s requirements or the state/county/city/municipality laws? It seems to me that the city should be up in arms over the use of law enforcement hours being spent on policing the library’s policies. If the library requirements are being circumvented, it sounds to me like the library needs to find a way to cut off the “inappropriate usage”, not a cop to come illegally confiscate “contraband” which may or may not have been used in the commission of a “failed library requirement”. The cop’s role might have been to simply require Tanner to move along, as one might do to any loiterer not “meeting requirements”, but search and seizure? Call in Internal Affairs — this sounds to me like a likely candidate for decaff and low-sugar diet, on top of the review of actual duties and rights of a public servant.

Anonymous Coward says:

Theft of Service

From the story: “He was told that his activity constituted theft of services and was told to leave. The next day, Sunday, police spotted him there again.”

This kid had what he got coming to him. As I understand the law, this constitutes unauthorized use of a private network. The library was closed both times the kid was caught using it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Theft of Service

“As I understand the law, this constitutes unauthorized use of a private network.”

THat’s the entire point of the article! The kid was not using the network without authorization. The wifi is open and unencrypted.

If the library doesn’t want people to use their wifi after hours, they should shut down the wifi when they turn off the lights.

Wizard Prang (user link) says:

Re: Theft? From whom?

I always find the “theft-of-bandwidth” argument rather amusing. If the connection was left open and nobody was using it, who was being deprived? A neighbor watching your TV through an open window is not “stealing” your service. If you don’t like it, what you do is draw your curtain.

If it is a “private network”, why was there no security?

If the library was closed, why was the network active?

Why has no-one taken the library to task for running such an insecure network and leaving it on after hours?

While the miscreant was obviously in the wrong, it seems to me like this is being treated as a serious crime rather than the trivial misdemeanor that it is.

I guess that the cops must have cleaned up all the rapes and robberies and have nothing better to do.

Nasty Old Geezer says:

Re: Re: Theft of Service

If I leave my keys in my car, and you take it, that’s theft. Even if you put gas in the tank and wash it before you bring it back, it’s still theft. The analogy does not fit in this case.

An interesting point in an earlier post — if a cop thought you were speeding, could they confiscate your car to prove it? Many (most??) recent cars hold a fair amount of trouble-shooting data in the onboard computers, like speed, throttle, brake, etc. That data could be used to show you were in fact moving at a certain speed and the cop would just have to testify that you were in a certain speed zone at that time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Theft of Service

Yes, but…libraries now offer many services 24/7, such as access to the library’s catalog, access to databases the library subscribes to, the ability to place holds o renew books at 2:30 AM and in your pajamas. What makes this case any different? Apparently, he logged on using his library card, which is the only requirement for service. Also, did the officer get a subpoena before checking the kids computer?

MarksMom (user link) says:

Re: Theft of Service

The library was closed both times the kid was caught using it.

It is a stretch to call this “theft of services.” Theft of services is the legal term for a crime which is committed when a person obtains valuable services–as opposed to goods–by deception, force, threat or other unlawful means, i.e., without lawfully compensating the provider of said services. The library’s WIFI service is public and paid for and his parents probably pay the taxes to keep it online.

There’s a simple, common-sense solution to this, however.The library could switch off the wi-fi network at closing and then nobody can use it after hours. If it’s on 24/7, it is fair game….sort of like leaving your cable TV or satellite radio on for anybody to enjoy. That’s not illegal, nor is it stealing.

If I was sitting on the jury, that’s how I’d interpret it. And the policeman needs to get a lesson in the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable search and seizure.

Protect yourselves from police abuse, watch the video on

Sanguine Dream says:

I can see it now...

RIAA begins posting surveillance crews out at frr Wi-Fi spots looking for freeloaders. And if they see someone in the same spot for too long they will arrest the person and examine their pc in search of “illegally downloaded content” because anyone that is sitting in a parking lot picking up free wireless for too long must be infringing on some copyright.

I fail to understand why he was arrested. About the best they could get him with is loitering and even that is a pretty big stretch. And taking his pc for inspection? Perhaps the arresting officer works for the RIAA/MPAA…

Darkcloud says:

Thought I would point out

Tanner, 21, was using the library’s wireless Internet connection. He was told that his activity constituted theft of services and was told to leave. The next day, Sunday, police spotted him there again.

While I do feel for the kid the police didn’t just “do it” they did warn him this counted as theft of services and he went and did it the NEXT DAY. Whether or not the rule makes sense to us isn’t really the point. The cops were doing their job as best they could while giving a him fair chance to find other options.

Carl says:

Re: Theft of Service

Satellite TV is just flying through the air and you cant take that for free either. Just because something is there doesnt mean you’re entitled to it. I agree with Bob too many people are trying to be cheap. If you find a bag with 1,000 dollars in it on the ground it doesnt mean its yours either. If everyone in this world would be honest and not trying to get something for nothing we wouldnt even need cops. Too many asses think they are entitled to everything just because it exists which is why piracy is so rampant. Get a job you cheap bastards

jerm says:

Re: Re: Re: Theft of Service

RE: if i find money on teh street it’s mine

not true. If you find a bag of money on the street, and it’s over a certain amount (~$500), you’re legally required to turn it into police. failure to do so is grand theft.

Now, if nobody claims it writing.. i think 90 days (probably varies depending on where you are), then you can come back and claim it.

“Finders keepers” doesn’t hold water legally.

That being said, and getting back on topic, how can they possibly claim theft of service on a day when the library is closed? doesn’t theft of service imply some sort of damage to the party that was stolen from? if the library were open, and he was torrenting, i could see the argument, but on a day off, there’s nobody to impact. Unless they’re paying per bit (not likely), where is the damage?

utter silliness.

the lotering is a different story.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Theft of Service

ctually, you are wrong my friend, descrambler boxer are perfectly LEGAL, for the simple fact that the radio waves are crossing YOUR property. This case MAY be slightly different since he did not ONLY receive, we don’t know the whole story here, but the ONLY way that this could be considered “theft of services” is if the library network had a proxy that displayed a custom start page that he had to agree to terms THAT HE BROKE. I.E. that the network was not to be used after library hours ( wich it would be much easier to control IF they had said proxy server they could just re-route all traffic to a local cached page that said the network was only for when the library was open. As for confiscating the PC, i would like them to try to figure out what is on mine, no matter what they ain’t gonna get the passwords from me and without them the double encryption IS NOT gonna be cracked. i hope his was the same way .

Doug Hayden says:

Re: Re: Theft of Service

Uh, little problem with your analogy. Satellite TV *is* encrypted, and is a service for which the user is charged. If I were to use the library’s parking lot lights to charge the PC using a solar charger on top of a typical vehicle, would that still be theft of services? I’m effectively taking the waste from the lights and repurposing it.

deralaand (profile) says:

Re: Re: Theft of Service

Satellite t.v. is an offshoot of Cable t.v.

You paid for cable because there were no commercials.
You now pay more than ever for cable…you get more commercials than broadcast and you don’t even get to choose to eliminate the channels you don’t want.

This is a classic example of big business ripping off the end user…and we sit here and take it.

So I would agree…the 21 yr.old was being cheap…probably so he could pay his cable bill !

Network Admin says:

Re: not the point of the article Bob


The point is that he wasn’t “being cheap” and he wasn’t doing anything that was illegal. It is not illegal to use open and unecrypted WiFi. It would not be up to law enforcement to keep people “off the library network” when the library hasn’t done anything to make their wifi Private.

It would be a different story if the wifi was encrypted and the kid had still gained access, but it wasn’t.

Wizard Prang (user link) says:

Re: Re: not the point of the article Bob

It is not illegal to use open and unecrypted WiFi.

I agree… but every few months it seems that a case like this hits the news. It seems that the blame is going to the wrong place – the Network Admin responsible should be answering some tough questions. Securing a network is not exactly hard…

Joey says:

Just because its unencrypted doesnt mean that everyone is legally allowed to use it. Perhaps its unencrypted because its impractical for it to be encrypted. The library probably has thousands of people a day in it and they would have to issue each of them a key, then change it the next day so the people from the previous day cant use it again the next without being in the library and issue new keys to everyone the next day. The only way to keep people outside from using it would be to build a Faraday cage around the library

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Thats the best example of circular thinking that I’ve ever heard. Are you a politician?

Don’t use encryption because encryption works, better to leave it open, otherwise we will have to do it right and it’s much easier to do to it wrong and arrest those who don’t see our point of view.

Yep, sounds like a politician to me.

Overcast says:

So ‘Orewellian’ to get arrested at a library for using one of the library’s resources. Even if it was outside in the car, what difference does that really make?

What I don’t understand is how anyone can argue that just because he was physically outside of the library, that it’s an issue. How much of a difference would it have made if he was inside, in all seriousness…?

Why should anyone even care? I guess it made the cop feel ‘powerful’.

Geoff says:

Carl Carl Carl

Wow, Carl is so right, and yet I refuse to agree with him because he’s a rude person who called me a bastard!

Na na na poo poo Carl!

Right as you are Carl, please don’t tempt us with the wares. If you walk up to a kid with a freshly baked bag of donuts (are donuts baked anymore?) and wave them under the kids nose, and then tell him the only way to get the donuts is to go on-line, enter your credit card and await delivery, will the kid do that, or will he wait until you aren’t looking and take one of the donuts. It’s WRONG WRONG WRONG, but it’s life. Life has changed since we were kids, better or worse, we can’t wish it back to the way it was, but now maybe we must continue to plod through this mess. Cheap bastard or not, if someone builds it they will come!

Overcast says:

From the story: “He was told that his activity constituted theft of services and was told to leave. The next day, Sunday, police spotted him there again.”

This kid had what he got coming to him. As I understand the law, this constitutes unauthorized use of a private network. The library was closed both times the kid was caught using it.

But you know – doesn’t matter. What gets me is that the city/state has the *right* to tell him ha cannot use a *public* service that is being *PAID FOR* by the taxpayers???

In all honestly, they have no real *right* to tell a taxpayer he can or cannot use public resources like this, unless it’s impacting someone else’s rights.

Even if he was surfing porn at least he had the tact to do so outside, where we wouldn’t disturb others.

I don’t really care what kind of spin the local “leaders” put on it. It’s not right.

Afterall, they let people check books out – and take them home.

If I’m reading a book outside of the library is it equally illegal????

Coward Lee Bass-tard says:

Theft of Service???

Folks, he was loitering and that’s about it unless someone knows for certain, in the terms of the library’s FREE wifi usage, it states that it is only free during the hours of the library.
The argument about satellite signals is a red herring. You can’t compare apples and oranges. Now, if the satellite company offered the service for free and then got upset that you used it freely on Sunday when their offices weren’t open, did you break their usage policy? Maybe. If it stated that you could only use it for free during their business hours.
And as far as the officer taking the laptop…if he felt it was used during the commission of a crime, then he had every right to take it, that crime NOT being illegally downloading copyrighted music but rather the ‘illegal’ use of a private network. If the officer stated that he took it to see if he downloaded some illegal contraband, that’s another story. But if he took it to prove this guy was logged in to THIS network at THIS time to prove the crime was committed, it was completely within his duties to do so.
As you can see, I kind of argued both sides of the story because many of you on both sides had good points but also some flawed arguments.
The kid was loitering. No argument there. If the library’s free wifi usage agreement (if there even is one) states that the service can only be used during library business hours, then he may have also been stealing the service. But don’t get off the track, people, and start bringing your own pet peeves and conspiracy theories into this to muddy the waters. I despise the RIAA as much as the next guy, but it has nothing to do with this particular case.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Theft of Service???

I agree with almost your entire post, except the part where the “free usage agreement” was violated. This was unencrypted public WiFi, and is therefore unregulated and unprotected. It is open and free to use under my understanding of the law. Of course, IANAL and the local laws may have some odd nuance that has yet been unspoken here.

The kid’s crime was that he lotered on the library lot. The WiFi thing was NOT SECURE and is the responsibility of the library’s network administrators to enforce the time/day access limitations, as well as to encrypt the data they wish to impose any enforcable “usage policies” upon.

How hard could it be for the library’s network administrators to require library card numbers to sign on or something? Even an inept encryption effort changes the laws protecting it. At THAT point it would have been eligible to at least argue that it is the “illegal use of a private network”. This is an unfortunate use of a PUBLIC network, but not the crime. There must be some way better than stealing the kid’s computer to prove the time he was obsreved “loitering”, whether it was to use the WiFi network, or use the library’s parkinglot lights to read his road-maps.

I will love to see how this plays out when the kid wises up enough to know he has a case against the city for this overzealous police officer’s illegal seizure of his computer.

BONQU says:

now as far as i remember it IS legal to receive any over the air signal, encrypted or not. the crime starts when you begin to decrypt the signal if it was not meant for you. so receiving satellite TV is legal as long as you dont decrypt it. since the network is free, open and unencrypted, i believe that he should have the charges dropped. that’s the FCC rules if i remember correctly.

Overcast says:

Naaa, actually in the article it states:

Jeanne Novosad, the library system manager, said the wireless connection is normally shut off when the library is closed. But the library was waiting on a technician to install a timer and the connection was left on after hours for several days, she said.

So on the ‘sue for being burnt by hot coffee’ logic – that means in *FACT* the library is guilty of enticing him to surf the web by leaving the wireless connection open.

What I don’t understand – like… almost feel like I’m trying to rationalize a caveman’s logic – but… why… would… it… matter… if… someone… uses… free… internet… that’s… paid… for… by… the….. public?????

Ok, See – I can see cops and/or laws addressing issues that *hurt* or *violate* the rights of others. But anymore – that’s not why we have cops or laws is it? It has nothing to do with “protecting” the public – if it did, this wouldn’t be an issue and maybe these ‘cops’ would be out there dealing with issues like rape, murder, etc.

But no.. they are making sure no one uses the library’s wireless after hours!!!!! And after that we can spend even MORE time going over his laptop to see if he found any good porn… errr, I mean, to see what he was up to!

HOW VALIANT, HOW NOBLE!!! Don’t we all feel *SO* much better to know we are in the capable hands of projectors of justice like this!!!!!???


But, pray tell – what would using wireless internet access hurt? How many times have I heard in the past, these two-faced library’s say they don’t want internet activity monitored because it’s a violation of people’s right to privacy, now…. they TAKE the laptop and are pouring over it to see what he’s doing.

Typical doublespeak.

Maybe some of the people need to re-read 1984 and other *books* that warn about giving the government so much power.

NotALawyer says:

Theft of service defined

may vary by state but theft of service is defined as:

THEFT OF SERVICE. (a) A person commits theft of
service if, with intent to avoid payment for service that he knows
is provided only for compensation:

Note the word compensation. The word FREE wifi and compensation are mutually exclusive.

Not these laws are not intended to enforce “acceptable use policies”.

There is spirit of the law and intent of law which the DA should use to determine if the charges can be filed.

also as far as confiscating the fellas computer they had better have a better justification other than just “contraband” or instrument used in commission of a crime (misdemeanor). A good lawyer could use this as violation of unreasonable search and seizure.

I can understand if the police warned him to leave and he came back then they should have charged with criminal trespass…the reach to theft of service in my opinion was poor judgment and understanding of the law by the police officers.

Ballenger says:

This is about as nuts as would be trying to have charges brought against the library for their Wi-Fi signal committing a B&E by entering the airspace of the subject’s auto. This situation makes it clear if you happen to be on an open Wi-Fi network and Barney happens by, the best course of action is to turn off your PC and limit your responses if asked “what are you doing here?” to not include “I’m on the Internet”. It’s hard to tell who the bigger putz was here.

dan says:

Whatchoo talking about foo?!

Your last comment doesn’t make sense at all. No the cops will not come and confiscate those laptops because they actually own the evdo card or hsdpa card and are paying for service they use at anytime during the day. There is nothing that says they can’t do that according to the t&c’s set up from each service provider – sprint, cingular, verizon or t-mobile.

I suppose that the “wifi felon’s” laptop was confiscated and he got his wrist slapped because of one of two things or both-
1. He wasn’t using the free supplied service while inside the premises or building. If this is the case then the library needs to make an effort to A. prevent the signal from leaving the actual building(yah right) or B. communicate to the public that the rule is such.
2. He was using the free service past the hours of library. If the library has these rules in place then they have every right to enforce them as they see fit but they need to communicate them to the general public.

MikeT (user link) says:

Do you even need to ask?

Of course they will confiscate them! Look at the crap they are able to pull because of the asset forfeiture laws created to enforce the drug laws. They can even file arrest warrants directly against your assets rather than file cumbersome requests to seize goods after the conviction, which just so happens to be the way it used to be when we had due process of law. The simple solution? If you’re not breaking the law, and the video camera isn’t pointed at you, fight back and fight hard against the cop. You might as well consider yourself a victim of armed robbery in most of these seizure cases today because you’ve got well below a guarantee of getting your assets back regardless of outcome.

Trouble Maker says:

two cents worth

…so if the cops sees me driving on the road, stops me and tells me that he thinks I was speeding even thought he does not have any device or method to substantiate his allegation, the next time he can confiscate my car to “check it for evidence” to support his claim?

Is there a policy that prohibits the use of the WiFi after-Hours?

Is there posted No Loitering area around the Library?

As a 21 year old, does he fall under any curfew laws?

The Police told him to move on, was the police within the scope of their authority to do so?

The confiscation of the laptop, was this a legal act by the police officer?

If the act was loitering wouldn’t the confiscation of the car be more justified? It wasn’t it used in the committing of the crime?

But, wait! Doesn’t the Police break the Law when they Solicit Sex for money in a Prostitution Sting?

Treslayr says:

Did they leave their doors unlocked when they left for the day. I would just imagine they did not. There are numerous “open source” (read no or low cost) solutions out there to prevent the abuse of an open network. Presently when a library has a presence on the web they do not shut it down when no one is in the library. Why should they shut down their wireless because they go home? The only reason I can think of is safety. ie. Susie takes her laptop to the library after hours. The library is not well lit because the city does not want its citizens leaching off their incadesent energy. Ron comes along nad has the hots for Susie… You know where I am going with this… I am not one to endorse any products or business but has “ZoneCD”, an open source solutions for such things as … Are you ready? Libraries… coffee houses hotels. And it is open source. Download it. install it. run it. If it works for you then by all means send in some money to the author(s). IT is confgurable *GASP* to shut off access after a certain time of day or day of the week. It is also setup where you hjave to click on a “terms of use” to be ab;le to use it. And they can’t claim ignorance can they? They are a frigging library! A house dedicated to housing information!
I am not an attorney, but I could blow this out of the water. If you do not want someone taking your car while you go into the grocery store you do not leave the keys in the ignition or leave the car running. The first question a cop will ask you, “did you leave the keys in it?” Well if you did and you know that the area has had a car theft in the area in the last 10 years then obviously you wanted it stolen so you could claim insurance.
what is their excuse for leaving the wireless on after hours? I would imagine it would be to allow patron of the library access to information that does not require an employee to be present. Wow… maybe they do want to allow access… Or if they are not smart enough to install a solution they could just unplug the danged router!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Fact is that there are very few places where you are allowed to be sitting in your car after hours for any reason without being harassed by cops.

I’ve been harassed by cops just for entering a store parking lot after hours just to turn around, not even loitering.

Especially with terror fears, nobody should be surprised about being approached by cops if you’re doing anything out of the “ordinary”.

Especially if that cop has been told that he needs to improve his arrest numbers if he wants to get promoted. That could well be the case here.

Damian (user link) says:

Start knocking on the neighbors doors

What if the library was surrounded by homes that were within range of the WiFi signal? Will the police start knocking on their doors to see if their using the libraries bandwidth? If there was a charge to use the service within the walls of the library, then I agree sitting outside using their connection is stealing. But if it’s free and unencrypted, then all bets are off.
Somebody mentioned earlier that TV signals are bouncing around in the air yet it’s not legal to steal those.
Well, for satellite that’s true because it’s not a FREE service.

Chronno S. Trigger says:

Just asking

I may be a little partial because of my years working in the tech industry, but how hard is it to just unplug the access point at the end of the day? They turn off all the lights, they lock all the doors, can’t this be added to the list until the timer could be put in? Maybe even turn off the router if the access points are too far out of reach. Seems simple to me but as I said, maybe I have been working in this field too long.

rbx3 says:

where does it stop?

Where is this law saying you can’t use a free publicly funded service? And no, we can’t say it is using a “private” wifi because it isn’t private in any way. Also, if police warn me to stop doing something that is perfectly legal, then the police are in the wrong, even if they can abuse their power and get off scot-free.

Gaston says:

He committed no crime

The individual did not commit a crime. It is not theft of services. Some self-righteous, emotionally challenged individuals are very upset because they believe the individual got something for nothing. The point of using the light from street lamps is well made. Why do these emotionally challenged people not have a fit about the large number of people who are “cheap” and use the light without payment?

Gary says:

What a waste of everyones time.

Unless there is a law about not parking outside of the library during off house then I don’t see how it is the local law enforcements reponsibility to even SPEAK to this guy. It might be a little suspicious if he was sitting in his car outside a library two nights in a row, but still, don’t take the laptop. My only guess is that the officer assumed that he was doing something illegal on the WIFI connection and therefore would “catch him” doing something like downloading child porn. Maybe the officer thought he would then be a hero or something. Why else would he even care? Did this happen in Mayberry???

Chris says:

End... of... Story.

Kid was told he was doing something “illegal” by a law enforcement officer. He then went and “Committed” the offense again. This is why his laptop was confiscated. They can simply check the MAC ID of his card, check the logs of the library’s router and there you have proof that he was indeed using the service.

The service however is free, funded by the public, and no agency has any jurisdiction to interfere with its use unless the library itself requests they do so. Considering the library and police are both run by the city, I’m sure a lawyer could argue the city was just protecting itself in this case. Seeing as they didn’t take the responsibility to implement any form of security to prohibit access, more importantly to a public service (that which the public has the right to access) it is then perfectly legal to use it (such as city parks, however if there are signs that state park use only between 8am-6pm then any use of the park outside those designated hours can be considered illegal). This goes for even the private individual, or any business. If you can get an UHFVHF antenna and receive any HD programming in the airwaves you’re completely entitled to do so (as there’s no security measures in place). Same goes for the un-encrypted satellite signals.

As far as decrypter boxes goes I suggest you read the following to gain some insight unto the laws regarding them.

Now according to most state and federal law(s) the kid committed no crime, should never have had his laptop confiscated, and the police officer should be suspended or put under review by the DA. Not saying he wasn’t trying to do his job, or abusing his powers, although it may be the case. You cannot argue this point without having any proof, and the only proof you can derive from these articles is that he misunderstood the law.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: End... of... Story.

Kid was told he was doing something “illegal” by a law enforcement officer.

That doesn’t mean much. Cops are notorious liars and the courts have even ruled that it is OK for for cops to lie to “suspects”. The result is that you can’t necessarily believe what a cop tells you.

Not saying he wasn’t trying to do his job, or abusing his powers, although it may be the case. You cannot argue this point without having any proof, and the only proof you can derive from these articles is that he misunderstood the law.

If ignorance of the law is no excuse for the average citizen, it surely isn’t for someone whose job it is to enforce the law. Especially when that someone could have easily called-in to the station for legal advice if he wasn’t sure. Just no excuse.

Chris says:

Practical solution

I live in Sacramento, CA a city of about 330,000 people. They have a very large library that consits of about 5 floors the size of half a city block. So it’s easy to imagine that the amount of poeple that frequent this place on any given day can be in the hundreds. Their WiFi is set to a simple WPA key, that they give out to any indvidual who has a library card, and they change it every hour. This is so people who use the city’s computers can only use it for one hour, and then have to let someone else use it if there’s anyone waiting. To anyone who has their own laptop they simply just get a new key and continue using the free service. This is something every library could implement, and would take less than 10 minutes to get up and running.

Anonymous Coward says:

Myth that Police have power

Seems that there is a little problem with a bullying police officer.

Can anyone please identify which law/s were broken that allowed for said search and sezure of personal property? Was a warrant issued? Did the perpitrator have their Miranda Rights read?

If not, then the officer was abusing his power, and someone should file a complaint with internal investigations.

Otherwise, the officer will remain unchecked, and things could certainly get worse.

bobdog says:

Theft? Unauthorized use of the city's oxygen.

How do you steal something the library gives away for free and makes no effort to constrain?

Much as I admire cops, it sounds like this one decided to hassle the kid and made up his reasons after the fact. (Yes, some cops are actually jerks – not many, but some). I’ve got some real 4th amendment problems with confiscating this dimwit’s machine.

Best guess is the kid smarted off to the cop and basically cooked his own stew. Personally, I knew everything when I was 21. I’ve since learned better.

I had a business partner a long time ago that simply hated cops – all of them, and unreasonably so. Every time he got pulled over for a traffic stop, which was frequently, he would get so obnoxiously belligerent he’d get a trip to jail on top of his ticket. I bailed him out of jail once, and the desk sergeant (who was a pretty nice guy) pulled me aside and told me that this arrest was purely voluntary and completely avoidable. He suggested that I get my friend some help, and he was right.

Some people just don’t know when to keep their mouths shut. I wonder if there isn’t something like that going on here.

Billy Gates says:


The only thing I can see him being charged with is Loitering. Although I once remember taking a road trip, well moving, on a drive over 1000 miles. I got sleepy and pulled over in a park, the next thing I know a cop is knocking on my window tell me I need to leave cause the park was closed. Although I could just pull off on the side of the road, the same thing probably would have happened cause I should only be pulled over if it is an emergency. It’s how the cop decides to handle the situation and it could have been handle much better. On the road I was on, there were no rest stops cause of all the towns you drive through that have services or at least that’s what the signs say. What’s worse sleeping in a public place or unconsciously running into a oncoming car. I know they are just doing they’re jobs, but I also see people getting pulled over at the bottom of a steep hill and wonder how many other places the cops could be rather than thinking they are paying off they’re bran new cruiser that tax payers already bought and amen to the enforcement of searching for meth labs. The connection was open and was not being charged for it also not stealing the neighbors connection that is open. This service is being paid by us, and as far as telling this kid to get a job, for all we know he lives with his parent while going to school and had an assignment due on Monday. So funny how laws now a days are for the small percentage of people in a country where we are innocent till proven guilty and we wonder why such people exist, we seem to be the ones that create criminals by making things so much more difficult. Support our future and let kids play, don’t lock things down so the only thing fun for them is trying to get away with skating somewhere where they know they are trespassing and don’t care about vandalism, skate parks aren’t always the answer especially if they close. Anyhow, sorry about the speech. As far as it being a free service and even a neighbors connection if they don’t lock it down it’s they’re problem not the users even if we all aren’t computer savvy.


William says:

It is not stealing if nothing is taken

He is using something that is free and is not diminished by his use of it. Nothing of value was taken form the library. He can’t take the WIFI and sell it somewhere else for a profit. The cop just wants his job to be easy. Anyone hanging around a store, shop, or public building after it is closed must be up to no good and should be run off right.

And confiscating the laptop is his way of throwing the book at the kid and running him off for good. Never piss off a cop because they will do their best to find something to charge you with. They throw the book at you hitting you with everything they can think of and see what sticks. Cops are such pricks.

daryl says:

At my libraries (yes, two different ones in two different counties) where they offer free wifi you need a library card to log into the system. I assume this is the protocol for any other library system out there. If the young man did not have a library card (account) to gain access to the libraries Internet system he would have been hacking. That would have been worthy of arrest by many of the standards established in this discussion. I am tempted to go try this at my library in Dublin, California (which is right next to the citiy’s police department) and see what happens.

A Second Bob says:

Cops Were Doing Their Job

A lone car in a parking lot, in the middle of the night, with a person sitting in it, with a strange glow illuminating him. You are all right, the cop should have completely ignored him and just kept going. I, however, am happy that a cop would see this odd situation and investigate. So it was just a kid with a laptop, the cop says, “You shouldn’t be here, go home kid.” The kid leaves, and the next night the same situation arises. The kid had it coming, and while we can debate whether or not what he was doing was wrong, we can’t answer it unless we have the full details on information which we don’t. The cops did the right thing, the kid was warned, and repeated the act. Ohh well. Sucks to be him.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Cops Were Doing Their Job

No, they weren’t. Unless you think their job is make up laws as they go and bully people.

I, however, am happy that a cop would see this odd situation and investigate.

I bet you are. I also bet that you are someone exempt from such treatment. A body cavity search would probably do you good.

So it was just a kid with a laptop, the cop says, “You shouldn’t be here, go home kid.” The kid leaves, and the next night the same situation arises.

So the kid goes home, does some research and finds out that the cops were lying and that he was doing nothing wrong. The next time the cops, not caring much about the law, just decide to arrest him and rob him of his laptop.

The kid had it coming…

Why? What law was he breaking?

The cops did the right thing, the kid was warned, and repeated the act. Ohh well. Sucks to be him.

It really sucks to share a country with fascists.

Hieronymus Coward says:

THat’s the entire point of the article! The kid was not using the network without authorization. The wifi is open and unencrypted.

My front door is open and unlocked. You are not allowed to use my kitchen.

My car door is open and unlocked. You are not allowed to use my radio.

The police station door is open and unlocked. You are not allowed to use the assault rifles.

The bakery door is open and unlocked. You are not allowed to eat the pastries (without paying first).

etc. etc.

Open and unencrypted is not synonymous with free for use, though I admit this case sounds like there is a bit more to it than meets the eye. Perhaps they guy was navigating his browser with one hand, if you know what I mean.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

My front door is open and unlocked. You are not allowed to use my kitchen.

Despite the sign in front that says “Open House. Please come in and make yourself at home. Snacks in the fridge.”?

My car door is open and unlocked. You are not allowed to use my radio.

Maybe that’s why it’s illegal to leave your car door open and unlocked. Duh.

The police station door is open and unlocked. You are not allowed to use the assault rifles.

Even if they invite you in to do so?

The bakery door is open and unlocked. You are not allowed to eat the pastries (without paying first).

Even if the sign says “Free. Take some.”?

etc. etc.

Etc. etc. is right.

Perhaps they guy was navigating his browser with one hand, if you know what I mean.

Are you claiming to know something about this case not that the rest of us don’t or are you just making up more stuff? You sure sound like an ISP turf troll, if you know what I mean.

Pravitus says:

POLICY from Wasilla, AK

Certainly NOT “Theft of Services”.

This was taken directly fron the Wasilla Public Library website.

Computer Usage Policy
Purpose: To fulfill its mission of providing public access to information resources and to provide opportunities for lifelong learning through self-education, the Wasilla Public Library offers free access to the Internet and other computer resources.

Gary says:

Back to the original question...

Is It Still Theft Of Service If It’s Using The Free WiFi At The Library?

I don’t think it should be considered theft.

In my previous post I said I felt the officer had the right to investigate his repeat nightly visits to the library parking lot. If I was the officer and realized that it was a 21 year old guy playing video games on the library’s WIFI I would just leave him alone. No crime is being committed.

BUT!!! if there was a sign in the parking lot that said “No Visitors After Hours”. Then I would give him one warning and then I arrest him for trespassing if I saw him do it again.

Taking the laptop is out of the officers right. Unless the library IT staff had previously reported after hours internet “misuse” then the cop had no reason or right to take the guys laptop.

Honu says:

Summary of all this crap

The kid was loitering and had been previously warned. He was stupid to go back and do it again. He probably wouldn’t have been arrested unless he’d given the cop some serious lip or been doing something else, like clearly doing some one-handed browsing, viewing kiddie porn, etc. I’m betting the laptop was seized due to the serious lip or the other activity.

(yes, there are just plain bad cops, same as bad IT guys, bad geeks, bad librarians, etc, etc)

I am a librarian geek and manage IT at a university library, and our campus wifi is secured and limited to current university students and staff. However, even if you had free wifi in your coffee shop (we have a couple here), you’d have a right to run a guy out who never bought anything….loitering.

Even if the library “didn’t have a timer yet” or whatever, nothing would prevent the last person out from hitting a switch, pulling cable, etc.

The “kid” (of course really an adult) has a whole different problem of living at home and having strange and unreasonable (at least to me) rules to live under. Of course the solution to that is easy: MOVE OUT.

Should the charges be dropped? Theft of services, yes. Loitering, no. Other charges for reisting a lawful order of an officer, resisting arrest, viewing kiddie porn, exposing himself, whatever, no.

Meanwhile, I can only hope the library gets its act together in the IT realm. Libraries do NOT need this kind of bad press.

the old honu

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Summary of all this crap

The kid was loitering and had been previously warned. He was stupid to go back and do it again. He probably wouldn’t have been arrested unless he’d given the cop some serious lip or been doing something else, like clearly doing some one-handed browsing, viewing kiddie porn, etc. I’m betting the laptop was seized due to the serious lip or the other activity.

I didn’t see any of these things stated in the article. Do you have any sources to back up your allegations or are you just an industry tool?

William says:

Read the article

The kid was busted for theft of service end of story. No trespassing and no porn nothing. He was in the PUBLIC parking lot of a public library that he regularly visits during the day and was not trespassing.

This whole story is about a cop who got a little too big for his britches and decided to stop a kid form getting on the net by taking his computer away. And now the cop is trying to get a search warrant for the computer to see if he was downloading files on the computer. The fact is if you get on a cops bad side they hit you with everything they have. They are such pricks with there respect me or else attitudes.

I hate the bacon.

TQ White II (user link) says:

Police State

People, the idea of ‘serve and protect’ are way obsolete. This is the era of police running rampant with your freedom. Sure your cop friend neighbor might be a nice guy but many people that want to be cops want power over other people. Sure, your local city hall might be populated with sweet, generous servers of the public, but most governments share a conceptual heritage with Stalin or Ayatolah Khomeini.

The police will use any excuse they feel like to deprive you of your freedom and property. They will force you to comply with their will because our country has turned away from freedom and the same impulse that created Guantanomo Bay influences everyone in authority.

They have the guns. You must submit. It’s a really good idea to start voting for people that believe in limited police powers, opposition to torture, freedom of speech and the separation of church and state because these small town tyrants are just the tip of the iceberg.

Pops says:

I think they just do away with the WiFi altogether. Libraries are supposed to have BOOKS and nothing else. Get rid of the internet, free computers, movies, CDs etc… Im tired of having taxpayers money on things that people should be buying themselves. Why in the hell does a library need to have copies of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It surely isnt for research for the common good. People learned and researched fine 30 years ago when all the libraries had was books they can still do it that way. They do still make encyclopedias in 36 volumes.

ShadowSoldier says:

I would sue the police for taking my laptop

First of all, this kid is a straight loser. He lives with his parents, plays online games, can’t go online after 9:00 PM. This kid must be so depressed I mean he is 21 and I bet he doesn’t even have any friend, because his parents lock the doors after 10:00 PM.

Still I believe there was this weird, obscure document, I think it was called the Bill of RIghts! In it there was this Amendment which said that we, as american citizens over the age of 18, you are protected from unlawful search & seizure. If I were him i’d drive down to the police station and simply state that they are going to give me my laptop back because they didn’t give me a search warrant, simple as that.

Chris G says:


It’s one thing to use the free Wi-Fi services for learning; researching, studying or doing homework.These are the legitimate activities that the open Wi-Fi access is meant for.

I get sick and tired of seeing young and old people taking up computers at public libraries to chat and check their MySpace accounts. I did some work for a public library in Kings Mountain, North Carolina and saw just that. The staff did nothing about it. They didn’t seem to care. I knew for a fact that 9/10 visitors were regulars using the computers to talk dirty on Yahoo! Chat, yet no one cared. They didn’t want to “run off” their visitors.

He was playing World of Warcraft. Open free access or not, he had no right to be there. It was after hours and he had no business being in the parking lot. That’s reason enough to look suspicious and get searched.

He shouldn’t have had his laptop seized, but he also should not have been playing World of Warcraft using library public Wi-Fi access.

If he had been using the access to do what it was intended for, then he had a reason and a right to be parked in a public parking lot (created by tax payer’s money) using those services. Otherwise, he shouldn’t have been there.

That’s how it is and that’s how it should be.

Someone says:

Public use wireless

It is funded by the city for the public to use. I checked at my local library and they have no policy on hours of use. They see people in the parking lot all the time and don’t seem to care. This is a service of the library for PUBLIC use. Not only for studying or researching but also for any other thing NOT illegal. Chatting on IM or updating your myspace is NOT illegal so is fine for that use. Not eveyrone has a computer at their house so the only way they can use one is at the library. So quit complaining about people chatting and my space usage. That is how they choose to use the computer for their hour allocated…
The cop messed up here. At most the kid could be gotten for is remaining after being asked to leave. No the previous night does not count as the warning to leave. He was using public service for his use as granted by the library by leaving the wireless on.
Any sys admin worth anything knows how to use a proxy and set it up for certain times only. DUH so this sys admin is a total loser…

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