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Can someone “steal” free wifi?

This has been all over the internet today, but it’s relatively close to home for me, and I’m always getting irritated at the local news media for inaccurate reporting In this case, though, it’s not the reporting but the news itself that’s absurd.

It seems the manager of a coffee shop in Vancouver, Washington (just across the river from Portland) called 911 because someone was repeatedly sitting in their parking lot using their free wifi without buying any coffee. This has allegedly been going on for three months, and it turns out that the guy is a registered sex offender (not sure what that has to do with his “crime”). He’s being charged with “theft of services”. This is outrageous for so many reasons. Allow me elaborate.

First of all, how can someone “steal” something that is being given away for free? I’m assuming there are no Terms of Use, contract, or obligation that states you can only use the coffee shop’s free wifi if you have bought something for them. Sure, it’s rude to leech wifi. But illegal? No! How can you steal something that’s being given away for free? That’s like saying I’m stealing local TV broadcasts because my TV is using their signal, but I’m not buying anything from the TV stations.

Second, the manager of “Brewed Awakenings”, Emily Pranger, is wasting the time, resources and money of the Clark County Sheriff’s Department by calling 911 for something that’s “borderline creepy” (as she calls it). She’s done it more than once – the KATU story linked above states that deputies have talked to him before. I’d be glad that I don’t pay taxes in Clark County Washington, but there’s plenty of stupid stuff that happens in my own county, so I know I’m not getting a better value for my tax dollar or anything.

Third, the reporter goes out of his way to state that the accused man is a Level One Sex Offender (after giving his full name). How does that have anything to do with the supposed crime committed here? Even if he was guilty of stealing something material, like sugar packets, from the coffee shop (is that a real crime?), it has nothing to do with him being a sex offender. Could he have been looking at porn or something? Probably. Is that a crime? Depends on what he was looking at, but it does NOT depend on whose wifi he was using when he did it. I think it’s irresponsible of the reporter to bring up his status as a sex offender. Then again, I’ve felt for a long time that the local TV media are more about sensationalism than responsibility (like their favorite person, “Convicted Underwear Thief Sung Koo Kim”, who they mention at least once a week – his reputation is pretty much ruined in this area, even after he serves his time).

Lastly, I predict that this is going to lead to people freaking out about wifi theft. If this guy is guilty of “Theft of Services”, then so is the KATU reporter that wrote “On a random neighborhood street in Vancouver, a KATU News laptopdetected 11 networks, five of which were unsecured, meaning anyone could log on to them for free.” Anyone who ever connected to an open wifi access point (advertised or unintetionally left open) would be a thief. Charge this guy with trespassing, or loitering, or something, but “Theft of Services”? Come on…

Sorry for the rant – I just had to get that off my chest.

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2 thoughts on “Can someone “steal” free wifi?

  1. Pingback: Life On the Wicked Stage: Act 2

  2. John says:

    I generally agree that in most cases this is nutty. However, once they asked him not to use their wi-fi, which is their right, I think his continued use became the equilalent of trespassing.

    Just because I am willing to give you free wi-fi does not mean I have to give it to everyone, I can pick and chose. Just as the coffee shop does not have to serve everyone that comes through the door.

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