I was somewhat reluctant to password protect my WiFi. Having leeched off neighbors’ WiFi after a couple of moves until I could get my own Internet up, I felt hypocritical not extending the same courtesy to others. But ultimately, the desire for security won out. Specifically my fear that someone might use my connection for something untoward. Basically, I didn’t want to end up like this guy:

Lying on his family room floor with assault weapons trained on him, shouts of “pedophile!” and “pornographer!” stinging like his fresh cuts and bruises, the Buffalo homeowner didn’t need long to figure out the reason for the early morning wake-up call from a swarm of federal agents.

That new wireless router. He’d gotten fed up trying to set a password. Someone must have used his Internet connection, he thought.

“We know who you are! You downloaded thousands of images at 11:30 last night,” the man’s lawyer, Barry Covert, recounted the agents saying. They referred to a screen name, “Doldrum.”

“No, I didn’t,” he insisted. “Somebody else could have but I didn’t do anything like that.”

“You’re a creep … just admit it,” they said.For two hours that March morning in Buffalo, agents tapped away at the homeowner’s desktop computer, eventually taking it with them, along with his and his wife’s iPads and iPhones.

Within three days, investigators determined the homeowner had been telling the truth: If someone was downloading child pornography through his wireless signal, it wasn’t him. About a week later, agents arrested a 25-year-old neighbor and charged him with distribution of child pornography. The case is pending in federal court.

I don’t know if such SWAT teams exist in Callie. But it’s a headache no matter how you look at it. Of course, in addition to getting the wrong guy, there’s the question of whether something like this is really “SWAT team” material:

The trend towards the militarization of the police, brought to us first by the drug war, is quite disturbing. I am all for arresting people who break the law, but military approaches to law enforcement turn citizens, who are presumed innocent (lest we forget) into presumed enemies of the state. This is not an appropriate approach, especially when dealing with something as tenuous as an IP address for evidence. Even if a given cybercrime did originate in a given location, there is no way to know which person in said household committed the crime. To bust through the door, toss people to the ground and then start sorting things out is not what I want out of law enforcement agencies in a democracy.

There are two main justifications for this sort of raid. The first is that they fear retaliation and have to gain control of the situation quickly. The second is the fear of destroying evidence – in the case of drugs, flushing them down the toilet. There is very little reason to believe that either is the case here. Child pornography consumption does not exactly equate with “armed and dangerous.” And while it’s possible that they can delete the stuff, it’s getting harder and harder to delete stuff that cannot be recovered.

Further, these raids are non-trivial events. They are, in a sense, a punishment in itself. If they fear that they are being assaulted by hooligans, they can get their gun and end up dead on the floor. Or they could survive and spend the rest of their lives in prison for accidentally killing a police officer (though, if they get a police officer, they’re probably dead in any event). If they have a dog, there’s not a bad chance that the dog will be killed in the process. Even leaving aside the psychological effects, you’re putting this person at great risk.

Sometimes, it may be necessary. But it’s pretty hard to argue that – as bad as we may consider child pornography to be – accused consumers are a particularly dangerous group.


Category: Courthouse

About the Author

Will Truman (trumwill) is a southern transplant in the mountain east with an IT background who bides his time taking care of their daughter while his wife brings home the bacon. You will probably be relieved to know that he does not generally refer to himself in the third-person except when he's writing short bios on his web page.

10 Responses to Unsecured WiFi and Overzealous Law Enforcement

  1. SFG says:

    OT, but Trumwill: there is nerd rap, but no nerd country. I see an unfilled niche here. I would love to step in but don’t have familiarity with the genre. Think you could at least write the songs?

    I’m thinking you could start by reworking ‘I Love This Bar’ into ‘I Love Geek Girls’, and ‘Take This Job and Shove It’ into ‘Take this Code, Debug It’. What say you?

  2. Mike Hunt says:

    One of my favorite topics: Cops Gone Wild. I will try to keep my remarks brief.

    Never underestimate the degree to which cops want to play a good old fashioned game of cops and robbers. Now, instead of playing fair and risking injury, they decide to be cowards and do a home invasion in the middle of the night.

    The police shouldn’t be yelling personal insults during the arrest. A simple “Freeze” and “You are under arrest” are fine.

    If they have a dog, there’s not a bad chance that the dog will be killed in the process.

    As much as I hate the entire concept of pets, I have to side with the dog owners on this one. When it comes to dogs, cops shoot first and ask questions later. Now, to me it isn’t a big deal, but to plenty to people, losing a pet is akin to losing a human member of the family.

    For those interested in how silly this whole concept can get, do a search of the mayor of Berwyn Heights, Maryland.

  3. Peter says:

    Cops act more militarized even though they are less physically imposing than ever before. Some 15-year-old schizophrenic violently resists arrest, and five cops go off duty with injuries.

  4. Brandon Berg says:

    One of my favorite topics: Cops Gone Wild.

    Heh. I’m tempted to make videos of fat, middle-aged cops flashing their manmaries* for the cameras (and then having trouble getting their shirts back down over their guts) and market them on late-night TV.

    *I am slightly disappointed, but not really surprised, that someone has already coined this term.

  5. trumwill says:

    SFG, I actually have a recording of something vaguely along those lines. I think that there is so little overlap between nerddom and country music as to make the market for it pretty limited.

  6. trumwill says:

    Mike, I agree about the verbal taunting. I can definitely understand the temptation, but it’s something that should be avoided.

    The killing of the dogs is a punishment without conviction. So, too, is all of the damage caused by one of these raids. For which, as far as I know, there is no compensation. I would imagine that SWAT teams do the sort of damage to a house that would be considered a felony if someone else did it. It’s not a felony, of course, because it’s by the book. But it adds a sense of perspective.

    Of course there are cases where SWAT raids are necessary, but the inherent damage they do, along with the very real possibility of not finding something incriminating, ought to give us pause.

  7. Mike Hunt says:

    When you get a chance, maybe when school is out, read up on the Berwyn Heights, MD, situation. It will give you great pause.

  8. trumwill says:

    I read about it when it happened, actually. It was the first dog-killing story to reach my radar. Nothing like it happeneing to a well-heeled family (even overlooking the civic officeholder aspect) to get one’s attention…

  9. Brandon Berg says:

    I wonder if there’s ever been a police officer killed, or even seriously injured, in attempting to take a suspect into custody for simple possession of child pornography. I could be wrong, but violent tendencies and pedophilia don’t seem to me like they’d be strongly correlated.

  10. trumwill says:

    I would be surprised if such an incident ever occurred. I have seen the rationale described as follows, though:

    We have to get in there quickly before they destroy any evidence.

    Getting in there quickly means coming in with force.

    Coming in with force creates an element of danger.

    So the question is not whether the person would injure cops in a vacuum, but whether they would injure someone if several cops came in their door all at once.

    … it’s all pretty thin. Creating a hazard and then using the hazard to justify the force involved.

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