man using library wifi after hours gets laptop confiscated

This story about a guy being busted for using public wifi is making the rounds and, like the recent scrotum story, has a lot of possible ways of interpreting events. Short story: guy gets busted for using public library wifi when library is closed, gets laptop confiscated for up to a week. Longer story is in the details.

  • Guy in question has been asked to not use wifi in residential neighborhoods and so moved himself to outside of the library. Police officer might have a grudge, or a point.
  • Library wifi is normally turned off after hours but they have been waiting for a technician to “install a timer” (hint: look for off button, works just as well)
  • The police officer took the laptop to inspect it to see what the guy was downloading but since the library director is on vacation, they’ll be keeping it until the director gets back. They claim to be putting together a warrant to search the laptop.
  • The use of the word “addicting” adds nothing to this story and seems immaterial to it except to stir things up.
  • The police officer claims there are “requirements” to use the wireless, but that is not elaborated on in the story nor is that information available on the library website.
  • No one from the library has commented on the story as of this morning, except they’re quoted to explain how the wireless works, but it’s already around the blogosphere.

So, what to make of this? Is there a law against using wireless that’s made publicly available? Is it okay to confiscate someone’s laptop for a week while you put together a warrant to search it? How much responsibility does the library have to implement technological solutions to enforce their policies (if there is in fact a policy, which is totally unclear from this story)? How much weight does the police officer’s assertion that the guy was “feeding off something that we know the city of Palmer pays for” carry legally? Is this guy really going to face criminal charges? I’m sure there is more to this story and it may make what we know of it make more sense, but for now I’m left scratching my head.

I install wireless access points for libraries and I make the various levels of access crystal clear to them (want a password? want a new password every day? want to turn it off at night? want to limit downloading? want to block certain users? want to make the network invisible?) and let them make their own choices. These are all hardware/software problems, not social problems and certainly not legal problems. They may become legal problems if we shirk responsibility for maintaining and understanding our own technology, but can we please not let it get to that? [link o' day]