In a famous briefing from 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that there are known-knowns, which are the things we know we know; there are known unknowns, which are the things we know we don’t know; and then there are unknown-unknowns, which are the things we don’t know that we don’t know.
Such is the case with the law. There are known legal statutes making things illegal; there are things we know are illegal, but aren’t sure how illegal; and then there are legal statutes, federal statutes and regulations you didn’t know about that make certain things criminal.
Here are a few of the latter type — legal statutes you didn’t know existing, banning crimes you didn’t even think were criminal in the first place.
Connecting to Unsecured WiFi.
According to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, it’s a crime to gain unauthorized access to a computer or website. Despite the vague wording, the legal statute does say that it applies to wireless routers. Though the federal law is typically unenforced, there are also state legal statutes forbidding the same thing. In fact, most states in the country have some law that forbids it, many of which make it a third-degree felony. This means that you could go to prison for at least two years and pay $10,000 in fines just for using your neighbor’s WiFi to check Facebook. Though rare, people have been arrested in Florida, Illinois, Michigan and Alaska for using someone else’s WiFi.
If someone challenges you, you have every right to turn them down. In turn, the other person will likely tease you for turning down the challenge. That is, unless you live in West Virginia. Believe it or not, it’s actually illegal to make fun of someone for not accepting a challenge in the Mountain State. If you do, their legal statute says you could go to jail for six months.
Using a Fake Name on the Internet.
Anonymity is one of the best parts of cyberspace. It allows people to say how they really feel or what they really think without worrying about real world repercussions. Though that might be a good thing, it can also be an excruciatingly bad things, and lead to cyberbullying, catfishing or worse. Luckily, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act’s vague wording makes it illegal to create accounts with false information — and it’s even been used this way. In 2010, Matthew Lacroix made a fake Facebook for his boss, and had to cough up $500 to his boss.
If you’ve ever encountered similar legal statutes seemingly devoid of any legislative intent at all in your own legislative history research, feel free to share in the comments!