Wireless Internet Access, Is Access A Crime?

January 9, 2008 by David S. Seltzer

Unsecured wireless computer networks are everywhere and allow individuals to surf the web at will. The question is, whether or not accessing another’s wireless network without authorization is a crime under current Florida statute 815.06 (and similar statutes around the country)?

YES – accessing a wireless network without authorization is a crime under current State laws.

However, sometimes public policy will prevail and the State my not file charges. Last year in Michigan, an individual accessed an open wireless network to check his email outside a coffee shop. The individual was arrested, but the case was later dismissed, largely due to public outcry. However, when the intentions of the individual accessing the open wireless network are criminal and vindictive, the law isn’t so kind. When an intentional course of conduct is set out upon, whereby an individual looks to cause physical, emotional and/or mental harm to another, the State uses the unauthorized access statute, which some say debatable as to whether or not the statute itself is constitutional.

Over the last year, a woman has been dealing with the ordeal of being cyber stalked. The defendant posted 26 advertisements for sexual services on the website www.craigslist.com. The woman received over 700 calls soliciting her services for sex. After a lengthy investigation, the defendant was discovered, arrested, charged, and has subsequently plead guilty. See articles:

Realtor Pleads Guilty in Escort Ads Case

Rivalry between realtors lands one in court

There are those within the legal community that believe the law is unconstitutional, as it is vague and overbroad; therefore, if challenged, it would fall. But interpretation of the law is fungible and always open for debate. But even today, I firmly believe that access to another’s network, when done in furtherance of a crime, is a felony and should be charged as such.

In the future, I predict a change in this law to clearly delineate what is and is not a crime. If it is the intention of the legislature to criminalize activity such as accessing a wireless network, the legislature needs to be clear that there must be an underlying criminal intent. The law should be such that when a wireless network is accessed in furtherance of a crime – be it a misdemeanor or a felony – a crime is committed. But as the law is written today, it is not that simple, the legislature needs to make a change.