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Drive-by Wi-Fi 'thief' heavily fined

Michigan man busted for failing to buy coffee

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A Michigan man who parked outside a local Wi-Fi cafe every day to check his email has been fined $400 and sentenced to 40 hours' community service.

Sam Peterson can consider himself unfortunate since if he'd simply popped into the Re-Union Street Cafe in Sparta, Michigan, for a coffee while checking his email he'd have avoided punishment. Peterson was collared for fraudulent access to a computer network after his presence outside the cafe drew the attention of local police chief Andrew Milanowski.

Peterson admitted he was surfing the web using the cafe's unsecured Wi-Fi network. He didn't realise piggybacking on the network might be an offence so it must have come as a surprise when he was summoned to court, charged with offences punishable by a maximum five years' imprisonment.

"I knew that the Union Street had Wi-Fi. I just went down and checked my email and didn't see a problem with that," Peterson told local station WOOD Tv.

Although Peterson escaped prison, his punishment still seems harsh, especially considering his "supposed" victim had no problem with what he was doing - other than the fact he didn't patronise her establishment and his crime was prosecuted as a misdemeanour rather than a felony. Donna May, the owner of the Ru-Union Street Cafe, was far from aggrieved at Peterson's supposed theft of Wi-Fi service.

"I didn't know it was really illegal, either," she told WOOD Tv. "If he would have come in [to the coffee shop], it would have been fine." ®

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