The homeowner later got an apology from U.S. Attorney William Hochul and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent in Charge Lev Kubiak.
But this wasn't a case of officers rushing into the wrong house. Court filings show exactly what led them there and why.
On February 11, an investigator with the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees cybersecurity enforcement, signed in to a peer-to-peer file sharing program from his office. After connecting with someone by the name of "Doldrum," the agent browsed through his shared files for videos and images and found images and videos depicting children engaged in sexual acts.
The agent identified the IP address, or unique identification number, of the router, then got the service provider to identify the subscriber.
Investigators could have taken an extra step before going inside the house and used a laptop or other device outside the home to see whether there was an unsecured signal. That alone wouldn't have exonerated the homeowner, but it would have raised the possibility that someone else was responsible for the downloads.
After a search of his devices proved the homeowner's innocence, investigators went back to the peer-to-peer software and looked at logs that showed what other IP addresses Doldrum had connected from. Two were associated with the State University of New York at Buffalo and accessed using a secure token that UB said was assigned to a student living in an apartment adjacent to the homeowner. Agents arrested John Luchetti March 17. He has pleaded not guilty to distribution of child pornography.
Luchetti is not charged with using his neighbor's Wi-Fi without permission. Whether it was illegal is up for debate.
"The question," said Kerr, "is whether it's unauthorized access and so you have to say, 'Is an open wireless point implicitly authorizing users or not?'
"We don't know," Kerr said. "The law prohibits unauthorized access and it's just not clear what's authorized with an open unsecured wireless."
In Germany, the country's top criminal court ruled last year that internet users must secure their wireless connections to prevent others from illegally downloading data. The court said internet users could be fined up to $126 if a third party takes advantage of their unprotected line, though it stopped short of holding the users responsible for illegal content downloaded by the third party.
The ruling came after a musician sued an internet user whose wireless connection was used to download a song, which was then offered on an online file sharing network. The user was on vacation when the song was downloaded.
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