Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Stealing Wi-fi

Whenever I check the wireless connection status on my laptop at home, I usually see about four to six wireless networks, all of them password protected. Gone were the days when my neighbors offered their Wi-Fi connection for “free”. But were they really for free? Should the use of a neighbor’s Wi-Fi connection be considered as theft?

Answering the problem wouldn’t be quite as hard if the network is password protected and you hack it to be able to use it, as this would make the taking without the consent of the owner. Clearly, the owner does not want you to use his Wi-Fi connection if he put up some measure to protect it. But what if it is not password protected? It wouldn’t hurt to make good use of the presumed altruism of your neighbor, right? I mean, if you see a Wi-Fi network that is unprotected, you would assume that leaving it open was with the intention of making it available to all within the range. It’s fair game. It can be argued that you are not really stealing something, since the owner is not really deprived of using his connection. Your neighbor still has his property, albeit running at slower speeds. Also, the act of connecting to the unsecured Wi-Fi network itself is essentially asking permission and if you are connected, then the owner has (impliedly) granted you permission to access and use the network. Hence, no stealing.

In my mind, I see the use of unprotected Wi-Fi equivalent to illegal connection of cable, electricity or water. The owner of the unsecured network is paying for the internet service. If you are using the service that he pays for without his permission, then it should be considered stealing. It is hard to believe that you would just occasionally do the harmless acts of checking email, reading online news or doing research, given the daily access to “free” internet connection. Let’s be realistic here. Of course you’d use it regularly. Of course you’d use it to download and share your torrent files. More than the legal aspect, I think it goes back to the basic moral and ethical norm that if you don’t own something, you don’t just take it, even if it’s just really there for you to take. However, questions still linger in my mind that puts my stand regarding this issue at a still doubtful position. What if the owner deliberately leaves his connection open? How would you know if he intentionally leaves it for everyone to use or just has no idea that he can secure his Wi-Fi network? Who should take responsibility, the person who does not secure his connection or the person who leeches off? Is it really stealing where there is no actual, material thing stolen? What if you are just accidentally connected to an unsecured network? Is the simple use of unsecured Wi-Fi connection in itself a crime or would there be qualifying matters? If so, how would you prove these? How would the government regulate and police this?

Krystel Jehan M. Bautista, entry no. 2


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