A shadowy, dimmly lit corridor.
A shadowy, dimmly lit corridor.

Keeping you Informed; Things You Do That are Actually Illegal and Things That Are Not.

Paul Kiernan

Without going into detail, the topic of legal and illegal has been in the news lately; with that in mind, we did some digging and have discovered there are things folks do in their everyday lives that are actually legal.

Here at ThoughtLab, we love to share information about what’s new in the world and what’s new with us, keeping you thinking, laughing and informed. We feel that, as a part of a community, it’s crucial for us to stimulate the minds of our community and give folks useful information to enrich their lives.

Without going into detail, the topic of legal and illegal has been in the news lately; with that in mind, we did some digging and have discovered there are things folks do in their everyday lives that are actually legal. Also, there are some things we’ve all come to believe illegal that actually aren’t.

So, in this blog, we’re going to sort some of that stuff out in an effort to keep you on the straight and narrow.

You Do It, But It’s Illegal

These may seem harmless, so much so that you don’t even think about them when you're doing them; however, if you live by the rule of law, you may be shocked to discover that you may be doing something illegal.

Using a false name online

You hop online and see an item you just have to own; the sticking part is that it may be from a shop that you’re not too keen on having people know you shop or the item may be slightly embarrassing. You decide to enter a false name to avoid embarrassment or hacking. Now you feel safe.

Safe is good; however, according to the Computer Fraud and Abuse act, you’ve broken the law.

According to the Fraud and Abuse Act, you are not allowed to use a computer “without authorized access.” This can include not following a site’s terms of service. Now, most of us slip that section and just click the box saying yes; I read all this, and I agree. Who bothers to read that stuff, right? The thing is, if you do read it, you will find a line stating that you agree not to provide false information.

There Is a story about a Rhode Island prison guard who was fined $500.00 for setting up a fake Facebook page of his boss. Check the fine print; you never know what you’re missing.

Stealing Wi-Fi

A large wireless tower against a blue sky

Say you're waiting for someone, and to kill time, you whip out your phone while sitting on a bench next to a Starbucks. You see that you’re connected to their free Wi-Fi, so you start surfing. Not a big deal. After a bit, the person you're waiting for arrives, and off you go.

Sadly, you’ve just committed a crime.

Once again, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1984 has something to say about this. In this law, we see rules against hacking laid out. However, these rules are so vague that even low-end Wi-Fi, like using Starbucks’ free Wi-Fi without buying something from the shop, can get you arrested.

The rules vary from state to state, and the regulation is seldom endorsed. However, in 2007, a man in Michigan who had been piggybacking on the Wi-Fi of a cafe he sat on a bench near on his lunch hour for more than a week was caught. He was given a $400.00 fine and sentenced to 40 hours of community service. So, you know, it can happen.

A few Too Many

Do not drink and drive. Always have a designated driver. Do not get behind the wheel of a car, truck, or any kind of motor vehicle if you’ve been drinking. It is not worth the risk. Ever.

That said, if you've had a few too many and you’re a conscientious person, so you decide to walk home, you still could be arrested.

Public intoxication is usually a misdemeanor, but it can still get you a heavy fine just for walking while drunk. But, if you’re stumbling home drunk in, say, Texas, you could be looking at a $500.00 fine. Yes, you did the right thing by not driving, but you’re still publicly intoxicated.


You’re out walking or jogging through the park, ad you get a bug in your mouth, or the remnants of the cold you’ve been battling drips from your nose into your mouth, and you turn your head and spit put the wad of green goo onto the grass. Relief!

If you’re in Massachusettes, New York City, or Dodge City, Kansas, that relief could be followed quickly by an arrest. In those places and many others, it is illegal to spit on sidewalks or in public.

The laws were enacted for practical reasons. In 1896, the no-spitting law started in New York City as a way to cut down on the spread of diseases. Also, there was a nod to decency, spittign in public, especially in front of the ladies, oh the pearl-clutching.

In California, if you spit at someone in anger on any part of their being, you can be charged with battery.

Sitting on a Sidewalk

A girl with her cellphone sitting on a brick sidewalk

If you’re in the 1981 Rolling Stones Song “I’m Just Waiting for a Friend,” and you decide to cop a squat on the sidewalk while waiting, you could be arrested.

About 53% of cities in America have rules about sitting or laying down, not just on the sidewalk but anywhere in public. So, think before you stretch out on the grass on a lovely summer afternoon and take a nap, you may be breaking city law.

Downloading Free Music

Now, most of us have a subscription to streaming music; still, some of us download from free streaming services like YouTube or Limewire. Not a big deal, right? Wrong. It’s illegal.

Most music that comes out is protected under copyright law; this means that downloading the music, the song without paying for it is a crime.

You may think, who cares, but the artists do; this is how they make money for their work. And the work isn’t easy. It’s also a big deal to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motions Picture Association of America (MPAA). These two entities keep a close eye on music and movies released, and they will take legal action if they find people abusing downloads.

It may seem like a bummer; it’s just one song; however, you’re not being fair to the artists and everyone involved in the recording process. Would you like to work for free? Probably not, and neither do recording artists.

Poker Night with the Guys

Just a friendly, weekly poker game in Jim's basement. Drink some beer, have some laughs, and lose a little money; what’s the harm?

The harm is, it could be illegal.

If you’re playing for match sticks or rounds of drinks, okay, but as soon as money gets involved, you may be slipping into the land of illegal. The Illegal Gambling Business Act states that any poker game that generates over $2,000 in revenue is illegal.

Now, you’re probably not generating that kind of scratch at your weekly friends game, but if Tony brings his cousin from Jersey to the game one night and said cousin pulls out a wad of cash, and the stakes start getting higher than the usual game, be aware. For two reasons, the cousin from Jersey will probably hustle you, and the large pots could drop you into legal trouble.

Sharing Your Password

A silver safe with a heavy door

You want everyone to see this great movie you’re watching on Netflix, so you share your password with all your friends. That’s cool, that’s generous, that keeps the gang together. But, it’s also illegal.

Password sharing violates the -you guessed it- US Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as the US Court of Appeals decided in a July 2016 ruling.

The good news is, now you have an excuse to kick your friends off your account because you can never watch anything. Just tell them it’s the law.

Throwing Away an Old Cell Phone

Many states have made throwing away old cell phones and other electronics illegal to avoid toxins seeping into landfills. It’s a very sound law that helps the environment, but not many people know about it.

If you live in California, New York, Illinois, or North Carolina, tossing your old or broken cell phones in the trash is illegal. Call your city manager’s office and find out the rules for disposing of cell phones and other electronics.

If you don’t live in one of these states, call anyway and find out. Cities and states are starting to crack down on this one, especially with the push toward reversing climate change. Call before you toss.

And the last one on our list …


If you’re like me and you’ve lived in a city like NYC, then you know walking is a full-contact sport, and crossing streets is a combination of timing, skill, and breaking the rules. I’m an adult, I looked both ways, no cars, I felt it was safe to walk, so I walked.

That’s how I lived my life until I came to Utah, and within my first week here, I had been slapped with my first ever Jaywalking ticket. I looked both ways, saw it was clear, and crossed the street right in front of a cop. This cop waved me over and informed me that I had just jaywalked. Now, the officer was probably just going to give me a good talking to, seeing as I was new in town, acquaint me with the civilized rules of the city, and that would have been that. However, me still being in NYC mode, I asked if he was going to revoke my legs. He didn’t find that funny, and he wrote me up a $185.00 ticket for jaywalking.

Lesson learned.

They may seem like small things, but maybe they make no sense to you, and you just do them every day; that’s okay until you get caught. The best thing to do if you have a question about the legality of an action is to ask. Get online and find out. You may be surprised.

Now, in the interest of balance, here’s a brief list of things you may have thought were illegal but aren’t.

Not Illegal

A desk sized statue of Lady Justice.

Sometimes we get it into our heads due to what has been told to us directly, or we fall victim to the ol’ “they say” trap that something is illegal when it isn’t. So to show the other side of this topic, here is a short list of ten things you may have thought were illegal but aren’t.

Having a Pet Monkey

In 38 of the United States, it is Legals to own a pet monkey. Not so in New York, Alaska, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah, and Vermont. And, in Oregon, you can have a monkey as a service animal.

Owning Exotic Animals

Some believe keeping a wild animal as a domesticated pet is illegal. Well, it may not be the brightest thing in the world to have a pet tiger; ask Sigfried & Roy (too soon?), but it doesn't mean it is illegal.

In Massachusetts, you can own a bear. In Florida, you can get yourself a giraffe. Delaware allows you to have a pet tiger, and Oklahoma says it’s OK to have a lion or a cheetah!


Apples, rice, and all organic fruits have trace amounts of arsenic in them, which has been associated with skin, lung, and bladder cancers, not to mention death. The European Union has laws banning arsenic in food … BUT NOT THE US! So, eat up; arsenic ain’t illegal here.

Spanking in Schools

Any kind of physical force used in discipline is called “corporal punishment.” This includes slapping, spanking, and paddling of any sort of variation on the theme. If you live in New Jersey, you’re all set because laws against corporal punishment have been on the books since 1867, so it is illegal.

However, if you live in any of these states; Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming, the corporal punishment is legal in schools. So, be aware, you could get a good spanking from your science teacher. Do with that information what you will.

Marrying Your Cousin

Though it may incite mass cries of “ew gross,” the fact is in every single state in the United States, it is legal to marry your cousin.

Where the law gets picky is which cousin. Twenty-five of these United States allows you to marry your first cousin, which is your aunt/uncle’s kid. There are some restrictions in a few states; Arizona, for example, allows first cousins to marry only if the parties involved are over 65 years old.

It’s icky but not illegal.

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