Is the Legislature about to Make Poaching Neighbors' Wi-Fi a Felony?

Sometimes, through a lack of foresight or general carelessness, the state legislature passes laws that, while well-intentioned, are so poorly worded as to criminalize things that the criminal justice system probably shouldn't concern itself. (See: felony penny theft).

The latest example could be Senator Dan Patrick's SB 249, which the Houston Republican introduced to help law enforcement crack down on cyber crime.

That's all well and good but, as Scott Henson opines this morning at Grits for Breakfast the measure's rather broad language -- anyone who accesses a "computer, computer network, or computer system" without the owner's consent in order to "obtain a benefit" can be charged with a state jail felony -- would effectively criminalize the use of neighbors' unprotected Wi-Fi.

"As far as I'm concerned, criminalizing a neighbor using my wi-fi is akin to criminalizing their reading by my porch light," Henson writes. "People can always restrict access if it bothers them. I don't think Sen. Patrick has fully thought through the unintended consequences of this legislation."

Luckily for Wi-Fi poachers, there is still time for the bill to be amended or, of course, killed outright. It's set to be considered Tuesday at the meeting of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, where we should get a better sense of its future.

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson

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