Thursday, March 15, 2007

Using free wireless at library described as theft

Public relations issues for an Alaskan library and police department. Or, is there really? In this law and order era of the Department of Homeland Security, general habeas corpus suspensions and Guantanamo Bay detentions, it now seems that people of authority have the increasing ability to intrude into (oftentimes) innocent people's lives without regard to law or (eroding) constitutionality. The accused, Brian Tanner, was in his car in the Palmer Public Library's parking lot, yet was accessing the library's free and unsecured wireless Internet. The Palmer Police had already warned Mr. Tanner to not access the unsecured WiFi after hours when he was caught a second time and arrested, charged with theft. Mr. Tanner's laptop was confiscated, which will be searched and returned to him at the conclusion of the police department's investigation. For what will Mr. Tanner's laptop be searched, and under what auspices?

Thanks to the Grand Ledge Education Foundation, the patrons of the Grand Ledge High School Library currently enjoy wireless access to the Internet. And, with specific software installed and some settings tweaked on a patron's laptop computer, GLHS Library users can access network operations (files, directories, printing) as well. There are two wireless access points located in separate areas of the library, running on separate frequencies, but the routers are never powered down, nor are there any plans to begin doing so. The GLHS Library is 100 paces down a hallway from the exterior and surrounded by thick masonry, so our signal struggles to broadcast any significant distance within the building, and fails to make it outside at all. The GLHS Library attempts, as best as possible, to uphold the American Library Association's Library Bill of Rights, and that policy's resulting position on electronic information access. Equity of access is plainly defined in the ALA's interpretation of electronic information and the Library Bill of Rights, and while libraries should reflect the regional mores of its constituents and communities when considering policies, especially collection development, libraries should also be about providing unfettered, open access to the information they already possess. It seems the police in Palmer, Alaska reflect the recent national trend in eroding personal civil rights, and law enforcement is acting, perhaps, despite the desires of the Palmer Public Library. Thankfully, after time elapsed, reflection took place, and the laptop was illegally searched for child pornography, it turns out that no crime ever occurred in Mr. Tanner's case anyway, and his property was returned.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, Chris, I'm a former GLHS student, and I had to comment on this notion of WiFi "theft." It's one thing if someone is camped out in a Starbuck's parking lot constantly, but in general, if you haven't encrypted your WiFi signal, well you should EXPECT others to take advantage of it. The courts look at it this way: if someone is using a very strong watering hose to water their lawn, and someone walks by on a public sidewalk with an open bucket, that person can't be accused of stealing water. If a "war driver" is in range of a WiFi signal and the person with the broadband connection isn't encrypting it, too bad.

    Loring Wirbel
    EE Times
    Class of 1975

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