The Ethics of Open Wi-Fi

I’m between DSL services at the moment. The one we had was turned off, and the new one we’re getting has not been turned on yet. But lately some people have been preaching to me about the supposed unethical nature of sharing internet access with Wi-Fi. They say it’s the same thing as stealing cable.

The thing is, though, it is illegal to steal cable. It’s not illegal, however, to leave your Wi-Fi network open without password-protection so that others can use it. There are no laws against it; the phone company actually provides wireless routers in order to encourage Wi-Fi networking. In fact, this article on Slate goes so far as to say that if even if you do have a password for your network but you’re using one that’s easily guessable, then it’s still not illegal because there’s no law against guessing someone’s password when they make it so easy. What is illegal is cracking someone’s encryption and going on their hard drive (without their permission, I mean… your friends have the right to give you access to their shared files if they want to), but using their router to go online is not.

Unfortunately, there are no usable networks accessible from our apartment but our own, so it makes it a moot point. Juno was giving me about 1,000 popups a minute (okay, slight exaggeration), so I’m using a free 5-hour trial period of ad-free pre-paid Budget Dialup, which is super handy for when you’re between DSL hookups. And unlike Juno and Netzero, they actually give you access to an SMTP server so you can send e-mail.


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