BNA: Court Finds Constitutional Significance in Defendant’s Failure to Password-Protect Home Wireless Network
Who knew that password-protecting a wireless router also had constitutional significance? According to a recent court decision from Oregon, the failure to password-protect a wireless network can diminish the extent to which the Fourth Amendment protects computers and information on that network from government searches.
In United States v. Ahrndt, No. 08-cr-468 (D. Ore. Jan. 28, 2010), a federal trial court held that a child pornography suspect had no constitutionally protected privacy right in the files found on his personal computer, stored in a shared iTunes folder fed by a Limewire account, accessible by a neighbor who was piggybacking on his unsecured wireless network. […]
Together these facts convinced the court that the Fourth Amendment was not violated when a local sheriff, acting without a warrant, used the defendant’s unsecured wireless network to search the defendant’s computer for child pornography. […]
The court further remarked that, “as a result of the ease and frequency with which people use each others’ wireless networks, I conclude that society recognizes a lower expectation of privacy in information broadcast via an unsecured wireless network router than in information transmitted through a hardwired network or password-protected network.” […]
The court’s ruling in Ahrndt doesn’t mean that police are free to conduct drive-by searches of unsecured wireless networks. Other factors were at work in this case, such as the defendant’s use of Limewire and his decision to “share” the contents of the iTunes folder containing the Limewire-fed materials.