For Clarity’s Sake

A) I’ve posted some images relative to my close encounter with a e-felony rap at flickr, of which I’ll link to a couple from here.

B) I’m in Nantucket, Massachusetts, not at my home in Illinois — and I don’t know whether Mass has different state law from Illinois (that’s one reason I asked). However you slice it, my police informant (so to speak) emphasized that this is a federal offense.

The Bench

C) The library was closed at the time, or else I’d have gone ahead in to finish my surfing.

D) The signal was open. I did not use super-h4x0r powers to defeat any form of encryption, protection, or enclosure. If there’s a law against defeating security features, I would understand that. I might not support such a law, depending on how it was written; such a law sounds to me like ill-advised defensive anti-geek legislation, but I would absolutely understand the notion of a law saying that I ought not be permitted to circumvent the library’s security measures if they wanted to prevent me from using their wireless.

Atheneum Exterior

Might this be an obscure, malignant side effect of the DMCA’s anti-circumvention stipulations? Even though I wasn’t circumventing anything?

Three signals in my limited range (TiBooks have notoriously poor reception) had entirely open signals. One was the library’s. Moreover, the library staff evidently knew how to protect a signal, because they manage an encrypted, protected access point, too.

I didn’t hack. I opened my tiBook, and three happy lines appeared, started checking my mail, and NetNewsWire posted my entries.

E) This is not a cause for which I’m ready to be a martyr. I’ve got one of those, but this isn’t it.

F) This is what bothers me the most, I think. The officer in question requested — with a grim law-enforcement professional’s demeanor — that I not use my laptop in the vicinity of the library, since that opened the possibility that I might be connecting surreptitiously.

So although it’s legal to use a wifi-capable computer within 100 feet of an 802.11b access point (further for an 802.11g AP), the police feel free to discourage using a computer lest it might pick up an illicit packet. If you’re going to take that approach to alw enforcement, though, wouldn’t it be fairer and friendlier to put up “No Laptop Zone” signs? There might be other open wireless signals around town; am I not allowed to operate my laptop in range of any of them? Isn’t this a rather overblown, silly way of effecting the stated goal of protecting access-point owners from unwelcome intrusion and unjust liability?

G) My mom (a local year-rounder) thinks this all may be because John Kerry visits the island (Not an anti-Kerry sentiment, just an observation of the way the Secret Service population fluctuates).

1 thought on “For Clarity’s Sake

  1. Perhaps the constabulary in a town equally famous for the slaughter of cetaceans and for its peculiar meter and rhyming qualities may be forgiven for a humorless misapplication of a nonexistent law. Perish forfend that someone should use a laptop computer in or near a public library.

    Posted by: Frank Paynter at August 23, 2004 04:05 PM
    Part of what I teach patrons about information literacy is to question the origin and the quality of the information they are given, particularly on the Web. In that spirit, then, do you perhaps have any proof of what you’re saying? You could pretty much say anything you want, couldn’t you?

    Posted by: Jack Stephens at August 23, 2004 09:36 PM
    I blogged this response, but Radio is refusing to publish it (hmmmm… conspiracy??). AKMA, I hope you go back to the Library and ask the librarians to research this. Good information starts with good sources!
    Posted by: Jenny Levine at August 23, 2004 10:07 PM
    At the rate things are going, you’re lucky you weren’t arrested for taking the pictures…

    Posted by: Pascale Soleil at August 24, 2004 11:26 AM
    I was there in July and thankfully, I did not encounter any resistance. I was thrilled that the library provided a wireless signal. In fact, a cop walked by me and said nothing. Weird. I don’t see why being inside the library would make any difference. If they are making the signal available in a public place, doesn’t that carry over to the outdoors?

    Posted by: shane at August 24, 2004 08:46 PM
    Of course, Frank, it also has a long history as a haven for Friends. . . .

    Posted by: AKMA at August 25, 2004 12:05 PM
    No such law exists as you’ve probably learned since then. Just another fine example of Cop behavior.

    -MA Lawyer

    Posted by: Debra at August 25, 2004 07:08 PM
    Well, this appears to be 2 things from my perspective:
    1. we are well on the slippery slope to a police state in this country,
    2. laws (and lawyers) do not account for “common sense”

    Posted by: Technomage at August 26, 2004 06:51 PM
    Yes friend AKMA, some of those Friends who found safe haven on Nantucket were very successful whalers. They were perhaps among the Quakers about whom it is said, “They came to the colonies to do good and did very well indeed!”

    Posted by: Frank Paynter at August 27, 2004 02:00 PM
    Not to mention that if you had an antenna you could use that library signal far enough away that even if someone figured you were doing something fishy, they would never guess that the library wifi was your target.

    Posted by: GabeTron at August 27, 2004 07:03 PM

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