“Electronic trespass” legal defence for stolen iPad thrown out
A Canberra man came home to find his iPad stolen and set out to find it. He switched on the ‘Find My iPad’ tracker app and using his mobile phone he tracked the iPad’s GPS signal to a house in another part of the capital.
What happened next would lead to an innovative legal argument that could have major repercussions for how we all use wireless access to the internet.
The Canberra Times reported the man, identified only as Mr S, scouted around the suspect house he’d been led to by the tracking app, looked in through a window and sent a signal from his phone activating the stolen tablet.
The iPad gave off a noise that Mr S heard through the window. Thrilled with his bit of detective work, Mr S went to the police. Police raided the house and arrested the occupant. Police later told the ACT Magistrates Court they found Mr S’s iPad and a swag of other stolen goods.
But the occupant’s lawyer argued to the court the search was based on evidence obtained unlawfully because Mr S trespassed on his client’s property to look in the window.
The defence lawyer also made the novel claim Mr S had committed an “electronic trespass” by sending a signal into his client’s house to set off the iPad alarm.
The lawyer likened electronic trespass to other non-physical types of trespass such as shining a light into a property or using force to propel an item or person on to private property.
The prosecutor said this was “absurd”, as if electronic transmission was a trespass, then anybody who had a wireless router that transmitted wi-fi internet through their home and into a neighbours property was also committing a trespass.
Magistrate Lorraine Walker dismissed the trespass argument. She said electronic radio waves were in the public domain, just like a person’s odour could be legally used by a sniffer dog to sniff out drugs.
She said if sending a radio wave signal into a property was trespassing, then every time someone turned on a radio the law would be broken.
Which shows the law isn’t always an ass.
But there’s an important lesson from this little legal romp. It’s legally a grey area what happens if a neighbour uses your unsecured home wi-fi signal that is beaming into their property. It may not be trespass, but if they use your internet connection for an illegal activity it will be linked back to your ISP account and you just may be held liable for their internet actions. Secure your wireless connection and protect yourself.