News Stories

Wifi Spy

Just because you're "borrowing" your neighbor's wifi signal because you don't have your own doesn't mean that the police can't subpoena your internet files without a search warrant.

The fourth amendment of the constitution protects us against unreasonable government searches when suspects have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

In a 2011 poll, 32% of the people queried said that they had tried to get onto a wireless network that wasn't theirs, and there's plenty to choose from: It's now estimated that more that 200 people now use wi-fi networks.

Police have to use special software to identify wi-fi "squatters," who use the same network as paying subscribers.

When police in Pennsylvania wanted to entrap a man who was downloading child pornography, they ran a scan that identified the network he was using, then obtained the subscriber's address from the network and got a warrant to search their home. But none of the computers there contained any child pornography, so they realized that an unofficial user had been "piggybacking" on it.

When they used their special software, they were able to track down the actual culprit, who lived across the street from the subscriber. Based on this information, they then got a warrant to search his home and computer. The suspect complained that the wifi search was illegal because they had no warrant to search his computer for the initial evidence, but the judge ruled against him.

In the November 26th edition of the Wall Street Journal, Joe Palazzolo quotes assistant public defender Marketa Sims as saying, "When (the suspect) connected to the other person's router, he didn't reveal his location. The question is whether the government needs a warrant to find your location when you haven't broadcast it."

Palazzolo quotes fourth amendment expert Orin Kerr as saying, "When you're connecting to the wireless network, you're broadcasting a signal, even though you might not know it."

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