ARS Technica recently posted a story in which the Evansville, IN, police conducted a raid on a residence because someone had posted threats to police officers and their families on topix.com. Well the police took the matter seriously and started an investigation. They were able to track the posting back to a public IP address in Evansville, IN. They then go get a search warrant and prepped the SWAT team for action. So far so good – right? Not so fast.
Now I’m a big police supporter and if you know anything about me, I have a background in this area. Police have a tough job and are often misunderstood and not appreciated. So when I say this, I’m not bashing anyone that doesn’t deserve it.
The problem with their investigation was that they did not do a thorough job. If you are going to rely on a piece of evidence to get you a warrant (or ISP subpoena!), you had better be sure of its reliability. Or at least explain to the judge the limiting factors of your evidence. I don’t disagree that the ISP provided the address of the subscriber who was assigned the public IP address that posted to topix.com. But whoever briefed the judge (who approved the warrant) did a piss-poor job. Even if the investigator didn’t have the technical savvy to understand what a public IP address is, he should have tried to find out. The judge should have also questioned the investigator on the reliability of the evidence (public IP address). I think the warrant would have been granted regardless, but there was no need for a SWAT team entry. Funny how the news media was there to film the event. It appears the police tried to make a great public relations event out of this (another reason to make sure your evidence is correct). Note: The police decided not to use the SWAT team for a follow-up search warrant it executed after their goof –up. They simply walked up to the residence and knocked on the door.
So tell me kind readers, did the ISP subscriber who ran the open WiFi get a criminal charge of negligence or conspiracy related to the posted threats?
NO. In fact the city of Evansville has to pay to have the damage to the residence repaired. Why not? Because no crime was committed by running a WiFi Internet connection “Open.”
Now this does raise the possibility that unsavory people could use you “Open” WiFi to commit crimes and you could be drawn it. It is a risk people should understand. BUT it is not a legal requirement to run the WiFi Internet connection secure.
Now what do you think would be the public reaction if the police sent the registered user of the public IP address a settlement letter after the goofed raid? How does this sound?
Dear Mr. XXXXXX. Because you ran an “Open” WiFi Internet connection, our officers executed a warrant on your residence. Even though you were determined not to be the originator of the Internet threat posting in question, your actions caused us to waste valuable time and money in this determination. As your actions were criminally negligent, we would like you to give you the opportunity to settle the matter and avoid a trial and possible fines. We will accept $3400 to settle this matter no later than Seven days from today. If you do not settle, we will issue a criminal complaint and an arrest warrant.
Have a nice day.
Funny how if the police sent out such a settlement letter, there would be public outrage. A copyright troll can essentially do the same and it hardly registers with the masses.
Here is a news story with video of the raid – EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: SWAT Raids Home Investigating Threats Made To EPD Officers & Families