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]

8 thoughts on “man using library wifi after hours gets laptop confiscated

  1. Take a look at the weather in Palmer… it would have been close to sub-zero on the days in question. A car idling for several hours outside a closed library in those circumstances starts to look suspicious.

  2. I’m always mystified by these stories. The way I see it, there’s no difference between someone using the library’s free public wireless access whether inside or outside the building, or whether the library is open or closed.

    What disturbs me the most is that they’re treating the use of free public library services as a crime. Following this logic, we should also hunt down and arrest the people (obviously hackers) who persist in searching library catalogs and databases when those libraries are closed…not to mention passing laws so that people don’t get any ideas about sitting in their cars near the library while using the light from the streetlamps to read their books.

  3. Gee, one of the points I have used in selling the idea of installing WiFi has always been that folks could get use out of our connection when we were NOT open. It is more and better service. It is definitely Library 2.0 to allow access when the building is closed to the public!!!!

  4. I agree, Michael. In fact, libraries should be offering safe & well-lighted patio seating (or other setups in cold climes) to encourage this use. What better way to get the support of your community than to create a place for them to go any time of day or night?

  5. I would bet this is a beef from the local police. The library didn’t call anyone, they weren’t open and they may not have any policy regarding this. Not sure why you would shut down wireless after hours. We have had wireless for a few years and have RV’s parked outside day and night. I have even had someone plug into our outside outlet and sit outside. They started early morning and even stayed outside after we opened.

  6. We ran into a similar issue last summer when we would typically have 5-15 people (tourists from cruise ships mostly) sitting in the lobby of the library on the floor using the wireless. We didn’t really see this as a problem, though sure enough when there was a city manager’s meeting in the library meeting room before opening one day, they were appalled by this and insisted we put a start/stop timer on the wireless connection. I for one am for creating wireless communities, open up access, and let libraries lead the way. Our library is one of the tallest buidings in town, why not put a dish on the roof and provide wireless access for everyone?

  7. What everyone from Michael on down said–we have folks that park outside and I thought it was weird too, but our director’s point, is they’re using a service–it means the library is being used even when it’s closed.

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