Failure to Secure Wireless Network Defeats ECPA Claims
Time 2 Minute Read

A computer user’s failure to secure his wireless network contributed to the defeat of his claim that a neighbor’s unwelcome access to his files violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act ("ECPA").  The ECPA places restrictions on unauthorized interception of, and access to, electronic communications.

In United States v. Ahrndt, No. 3:08-cr-00468-KI (D. Or. Jan. 28, 2010), Ahrndt argued that his neighbor violated the ECPA when she connected to his unsecured wireless network and accessed his iTunes library while a police officer observed.  The court noted that under the ECPA, it is not unlawful for any person “to intercept or access an electronic communication made through an electronic communication system that is configured so that such electronic communication is readily accessible to the general public.”  Because Ahrndt’s wireless network was broadcast in a 400 foot radius around his house, and because his iTunes program was configured to automatically share files with any computer that joined that network, the court held that the wireless network was “readily accessible to the general public,” and rejected Ahrndt’s ECPA claim.  For similar reasons, the court also denied the defendant’s Fourth Amendment claim, finding that he had no reasonable expectation of privacy in his wirelessly broadcast iTunes files.


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