Call Big Brother, Maybe?: Police Locating WiFi Moochers Without Warrants?

Do you pay for your internet or do you piggy-back/mooch-off your neighbor’s WiFi?  Well, if you fall into the latter, you should be made aware of a ruling made from a federal court in Pittsburgh, who said that the government can track you to your location, WITHOUT a search warrant, using free anti-moocher software wizardry.  The courts ruled that internet subscribers shouldn’t expect privacy protection with their IP addresses (you know, those funny numbers assigned to devices that can be connected to the Internet), even the information customers give to their internet service providers (ISP). So, let the prize match between protecting the investment of private citizens and the Fourth Amendment’s protection from unreasonable search-and-seizure BEGIN!!  

In Pittsburgh, the police are using a program called “Moocherhunter” — which was the catchiest name available at the time — along with a directional antenna to locate individuals stealing WiFi from paid subscribers.  Since the piggy-backers are squatting on the same public IP address as the subscriber, law enforcement takes the additional step of using the program to distinguish between the individual connecting to the internet via WiFi and the person paying for the service (by linking the IP address to the ISP, contacting the ISP, then receiving a warrant).  In November 2011 Pittsburgh police found a man suspected of downloading child pornography while using his neighbor’s WiFi (WITH a warrant), and indicted Richard Stanley (the moocher) for possessing child pornography; well, at least it can be said that SOME good is coming from this.  He argues that the police needed a warrant to use the Moocherhunter program to track him, but the thing is that “when you’re connecting to a wireless network, you’re broadcasting a signal, even though you might not know it,” quoted by Orin Kerr, a Fourth Amendment expert and law professor at the George Washington University, and the same sentiments were given by  U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti.

Those honest folk who connect to the Internet via free public WiFi shouldn’t have anything to worry about (but you really REALLY should use protected/incognito/safe browsing modes for your protection).  You kind of have to think about where technology can be advantageous in crime prevention and law enforcement in terms of protecting the innocent from criminal, and that fine line of evasion of privacy.  So-called “Big Brother” eyeing our every move can seems creepy and evasive, but it can be utilized to protect us as well.

[Thanks Wall Street Journal]

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