For Entertainment Purposes Only

I am not a lawyer, what is about to follow is not legal advice, if one acts on it they do so entirely at their own risk and I claim no authority or credibility for the statements I am about to make other than that based on your assesment of the arguments I am making.

Via John Cole, I read this article about a Florida man being charged for his unauthorized use of someone else's Wi-Fi connection. The article lists the crime he is being charged with as "unauthorized access to a computer network." My first reaction to this was to investigate whether or not the bare act of using someone else's wireless connection to the internet without their explicit permission (or even explicit awareness) is a crime in New York. Having read through the parts of the New York Penal Code which look relevant, I don't think it is. The two most likely candidate crimes which it could fall under are 156.05 Unauthorized Use of a Computer and 156.10 Computer Trespass. It does not however, satisfy all of the elements for either of these crimes, even assuming that a wireless network counts as a computer (no) or computer service (certainly).

For 156.05, the definition of an unauthorized use (156.00(6)) requires that positive notice be given that the use is not permitted. Also 156.05 requires that some kind of program or device be in use on the computer which attempts to prevent unauthorized use. Now this element might be satisfied if there is no attempt to block the use of the wireless network but there is a password which attempts to prevent use of some other part of the computer service, but that is a strained and questionable reading of the statute.

156.10 isn't met because of the same problem wth the definition of unauthorized use and because the trespass must be either in furtherance of another felony or in order to gain access someone's private documents.

On the other hand, the Florida law which I presume the prosecution would be under 2004->Ch0815->Section%2006#0815.06">815.06(1)(a)) criminalizes unauthorized access to any computer or computer network, tout court. It also does not provide a definition for unauthorized, so it seems like this is a meritorious prosecution under Flordia law.

I have not addressed the question of whether or not there is a Federal law which prohibits this activity in New York because I haven't the slightest clue.

UPDATE: An e-mail argues that the applicable New York law is 165.15(11). This law states in full: With intent to avoid payment by himself or another person of the lawful charge for use of any computer or computer service which is provided for a charge or compensation he uses, causes to be used or attempts to use a computer or computer service and avoids or attempts to avoid payment therefor. In any prosecution under this subdivision proof that a person overcame or attempted to overcome any device or coding system a function of which is to prevent the unauthorized use of said computer or computer service shall be presumptive evidence of an intent to avoid payment for the computer or computer service.

While I appreciate the suggestion, my correspondent is not correct. The computer service provider is being paid his lawful charge by the person who establishes the wireless network which I connect to, hence no one is avoiding payment of a lawful charge.