Is Stealing Wi-Fi Wrong?

Flip open and fire up your laptop, find an unsecured wi-fi signal and check your email ... have you just stolen wi-fi? It may be illegal in some places, but is it immoral? Can wi-fi be stolen?

Here's an interesting article by Finlo Rohrer of the BBC News Magazine about whether "stealing" wi-fi is wrong:

So here's the thing.

You're walking down the street in Hypotheticalville and in front of you is a gentleman who, when he walks, spills seemingly endless torrents of golden coins on to the pavement behind him.

He seems unconcerned by this and you notice that if not picked up, these magic coins quickly evaporate. Is it moral for you to pick a few up?

It's the kind of tree-falls-in-the-forest whimsy that an undergraduate philosopher might mull over for a moment, but back in the real world a not entirely dissimilar debate is being played out.

The man arrested in a street in west London is at least the third person to be accused of breaching the law by taking internet service without permission. [...]

There are also suggestions using somebody else's wireless could come under the Computer Misuse Act, usually used to combat hacking and electronic fraud.

But if it can be interpreted as illegal, can it be truly said to be immoral?

Heavy downloading might affect the unsecured person's speed of access or download limit, but a use like checking an e-mail is hardly likely to be noticed. Most "victims" will suffer no loss.


What do you think? Is it wrong to use someone else's unsecured wi-fi connection without permission?

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Is it wrong? Not at all. Let me play devil's advocate here. You're sending waves through my head 24/7 but if I hook up to them then I'M the criminal?!! Enh--encrypt them if you want. If you can't be bothered doing that, don't complain.
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ted: Just accept it's a not a black and white issue. For instance, did you know that if you leave your keys in your car and its running outside a convenient store and someone comes along and steals your car and gets in an accident, you can be charged with negligence? It's the same issue, owners have a certain responsibility to avoid negligence with the items they own. If you are worried that you're unsecured wireless will be a problem somehow, lock it down. Take some responsibility.
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Berick Cook: so if you're stupid enough to leave your front door unlocked, then it's okay to steal from you? If a woman is stupid enough to walk down the street alone at night, she deserves to be brutally assaulted? If you go to school without a firearm, then you deserve to be shot dead by the crazy person who did bring a gun to school? If you set your wallet down and it disappears while your back is turned, you deserve to be robbed because you're stupid?

None of those analogies absolve the criminal of responsibility, and are no different from what you're saying. Crime is crime, despite the stupidity or naivete of the victim.
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Another analogy! Yay! It's kind of like the honor system we have around here for farmers (I live in a rural area). Extra produce is often set up on roadside stands, some are elaborate, others are just boxes of produce. Sometimes there's a money box, sometimes not. No one's ever told me for certain but I've assumed these to mean that the produce is being offered and it's either free (no moneybox) or you pay what you feel (donate to the moneybox).

These usually work because of generally accepted community guideline. That would be, don't take more than you need, or pay a fair price. If it gets abused (and some higher traffic stands do) they usually go away. We've had lots of trouble recently with people stealing the moneyboxes.

Anyway, I guess the point is that the situation will fix itself. Either having an open connection won't ever be a problem, or abuse will grow and it will go away.
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How is it stealing?

If someone asks you for a dollar (without coercion) and you give it to him, did he steal from you?

If I ask a machine to transmit some bits for me (without coercion) and it does it, what did I do wrong?

How about this one? If I pay my ISP to send some packets for me and it drops one, did my ISP steal from me?

Also, I'm curious, do people's opinions on it being stealing correlate with what type of service they pay for (ie. Unlimited Data, Limited Bandwidth VS. Unlimited Bandwidth, Limited Data)
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