Don’t steal the free.

I have no idea what the law would say, but if an organization leaves its WiFi connection unprotected, it should not be surprised that someone uses it. But should police confiscate computers from anyone using that connection outside of the property and/or outside of normal business hours?

Brian Tanner was sitting in his Acura Integra recently outside the Palmer Library playing online games when a Palmer police pulled up behind him.

The officer asked him what he was doing.

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.

“It was kind of like, ‘Well gee whiz, come on,’ ” police Lt. Tom Remaley said.

The police officer confiscated Tanner’s laptop in order to inspect what he may have been downloading, Remaley said. Remaley on Friday said he hasn’t looked inside the computer yet; he’s putting together a search warrant application.

Okay, right or wrong, Mr. Tanner doesn’t take clues well. Does that justify taking his laptop without a warrant, to hold onto it until a warrant can be granted? I think not, particularly given the obvious fact that the library can track its usage through its log files. There is no need to search the computer to find out where he went and what he might’ve downloaded. This is not complicated.

More to the larger fact, the wireless connection was broadcast from a library. The library leaves the WiFi open during the day. It left it on at night. Is it reasonable for Mr. Tanner to assume that the connection was not left on intentionally, with the library’s administration unconcerned about his use? By mistake, it wasn’t turned off, and the library is (was?) in the process of putting the router on a timer. I don’t think it’s reasonable to believe Mr. Tanner could know this, absent some posted policy at the library or shown on the startup page for the library’s connection, as is common in hotels, for example. The burden to protect the connection when administrators don’t want it used is on the library’s staff.

Lt. Remaley offered one interesting quote regarding criminal prosecution:

But, “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,” Remaley said.

Again, I concede that the requirements might’ve been clear. The article does not say. But the city of Palmer pays for the service. How public is public? This might be a different analysis if the library was private, as it should be. But the taxpayers are funding this wireless. Barring some stated policy that he knowingly violated, and I don’t consider a police officer telling him to scram sufficient from what the article doesn’t state, Mr. Tanner has taught the city of Palmer a lesson in competence, not committed a crime.

For consideration, if the city of Palmer can’t correctly manage its WiFi connection, what makes anyone believe it can handle more important tasks better than private industry?

Source: Boing Boing