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Leaking Wireless Internet Connections

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manavmehta
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Hmm...

The No-trespassing sign analogy is a good one, and thinking about that: How do you know you are implicitly allowed to step on the property, even if there is no sign? It would have to be a general agreement in society, I mean, thinking about it, it's not that trivial, is it?

Unless it is unknowable that you are facing private property (e.g. stepping into a private forrest with no signs given), you would have to assume that it is (a house doesn't grow on its own and a well mowed lawn doesn't either, so its man's mind that created it, thus there is an owner), and in such a case you would be obliged to ask for permission, make an agreement. Why not?

If it is a general agreement, it would have to be written somewhere in the law, wouldn't it?

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How do you know you are implicitly allowed to step on the property, even if there is no sign? It would have to be a general agreement in society, I mean, thinking about it, it's not that trivial, is it?
No, it isn't. It can actually cause problems for "foreigners" who aren't familiar with the rules established in a particular society. Are you allowed to actually knock on the door, or should you just call out? However, a bit of thinking will tell you that a society could not survive if you were literally never permitted to touch another person's property uninvited. You would never be able to request permission to come onto a man's land to inform him "Excuse me, did you know your house is burning down". Good luck buying groceries (well, I suppose every place of business could be forced to have a stupid sign that says "Yes, this is a place of business, we do hearby give, grant and bestown upon the part of the second part the right and privilege to ingress and access the demised premise for the purpose...."). So it is unreasonable to assume that you can never touch someone's property without permission.
If it is a general agreement, it would have to be written somewhere in the law, wouldn't it?
I think that's a good should, but it isn't an "is". Common law is based on the premise that we all conduct ourselves in a civilized fashion and that we know that there are things you should not do, so that it isn't necessary to make an explicit law (hence the lack of statute against murder in England -- of course it's against the law). While I generally loathe the utter lack of common sense and micro-management exhibited in European statutory-law systems, they have the merit of explicitness.
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If someone taps into their neighbor's cable box to get free cable, you are stealing from them. If someone taps a line into their neighbors phone box to get free phone service, you are stealing from them. Why are you not stealing from them if you tap into their wireless network? Someone is paying for a service, it is theirs. You are taking something that someone else values enough to pay for it, without agreement on their part that you partake in it. Holding people's ignorance for how to secure their network against them doesn't justify stealing. They are merely not understanding completely what they are buying. They are uninformed consumers. If the service agreement should even state that you can openly share with whoever you want, you are still stealing if you do not obtain the owners permission first, unless he has the intention of giving it out for free. Morality would say you can't assume he's giving it for free, you must ask or find where he posted that it's free.

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If someone taps into their neighbor's cable box to get free cable, you are stealing from them. If someone taps a line into their neighbors phone box to get free phone service, you are stealing from them. Why are you not stealing from them if you tap into their wireless network? Someone is paying for a service, it is theirs. You are taking something that someone else values enough to pay for it, without agreement on their part that you partake in it. Holding people's ignorance for how to secure their network against them doesn't justify stealing. They are merely not understanding completely what they are buying. They are uninformed consumers. If the service agreement should even state that you can openly share with whoever you want, you are still stealing if you do not obtain the owners permission first, unless he has the intention of giving it out for free. Morality would say you can't assume he's giving it for free, you must ask or find where he posted that it's free.

Hmm. I think you have a point.

Stepping on private property will be in the interest of the owner, and you can reasonably assume that, since he/she will want to be informed about what you want to tell, ask or have to offer to him/her. You can't say that for the wireless network issue.

No, it isn't. It can actually cause problems for "foreigners" who aren't familiar with the rules established in a particular society. Are you allowed to actually knock on the door, or should you just call out? However, a bit of thinking will tell you that a society could not survive if you were literally never permitted to touch another person's property uninvited. You would never be able to request permission to come onto a man's land to inform him "Excuse me, did you know your house is burning down". Good luck buying groceries (well, I suppose every place of business could be forced to have a stupid sign that says "Yes, this is a place of business, we do hearby give, grant and bestown upon the part of the second part the right and privilege to ingress and access the demised premise for the purpose...."). So it is unreasonable to assume that you can never touch someone's property without permission.I think that's a good should, but it isn't an "is". Common law is based on the premise that we all conduct ourselves in a civilized fashion and that we know that there are things you should not do, so that it isn't necessary to make an explicit law (hence the lack of statute against murder in England -- of course it's against the law). While I generally loathe the utter lack of common sense and micro-management exhibited in European statutory-law systems, they have the merit of explicitness.

Agreed. Concerning private property (you house), that is. But I think Lathanar still has a point on the other issue (wireless network, see my reply to him).

Edited by Vanderlanden
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If someone taps into their neighbor's cable box to get free cable, you are stealing from them. If someone taps a line into their neighbors phone box to get free phone service, you are stealing from them. Why are you not stealing from them if you tap into their wireless network? Someone is paying for a service, it is theirs. You are taking something that someone else values enough to pay for it, without agreement on their part that you partake in it. Holding people's ignorance for how to secure their network against them doesn't justify stealing. They are merely not understanding completely what they are buying. They are uninformed consumers. If the service agreement should even state that you can openly share with whoever you want, you are still stealing if you do not obtain the owners permission first, unless he has the intention of giving it out for free. Morality would say you can't assume he's giving it for free, you must ask or find where he posted that it's free.
There is nothing analogous between using a hotspot and breaking and entering to use someone's cable, gas, or electricity. It simply is not the case that you must secure written permission before using a wireless connection. It is irrelevant how much the customer values the service, and you cannot infer anything about that value based on the presumption that they are paying someone for the service. The world is chock full of people who give away services and expect nothing in return. This is especially true of internet stuff where many compugeeks have this idea that all internet access should be given away free (read: government subsidized), and even perfectly rational and selfish people understand the personal benefits of encouraging certain kinds of internet activities (such as, running a forum). So it is a completely unwarranted assumption that the person whose signal you are using wishes you to not use the signal. There is a completely unambiguous way of signalling your intent to not allow access, namely encrypting the signal. If you decline to encrypt, and yet you think that people should somehow know what you're thinking, you have to believe that people can read minds.

Until the government steps in and regulates wireless, and establishes a specific law that you must get written authorisation from the provider before using free wireless, then morality say you should assume the servise is provided for free. It is sad when people are ignorant, but the existence of an ignorant person out there somewhere does not constitute a valid claim on my life and does not constitute an abridgement of my right to provide whatever free services I may feel like providing and have the right to provide, and does not form a valid basis for restricting my right to enjoy these same benefits provided by others. This is what a trade is: I provide something, and get something in return. I look forward to the day when wireless connections can smoothly switch on the road from router to router, so that we can enjoy truly mobile computing.

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First of all, there are still some nitwits in the world that don't know how to properly protect their network, even in a business setting. When my husband and I used to travel back and forth to work, I would drive, and he would be working on his laptop...and it was amazing as we drove by businesses how many networks were open.

I am sure there are those that may leave it open because they don't mind sharing their access to the internet. But. as the guy that owns the ISP pointed out, what if that is in violation of the service?

I don't understand why you say that the government has to step in and say that you would need written permission, or else we can assume it is free? Not knocking you, bear with me...I am very new to Objectivism, granted...but although they are supposed to protect our property rights, why do we need them to come up with specific regulation for us to feel like someone going into someone else's network isn't a violation of property rights? A network is property, and when you go on someone's network, that is access to their property.

This is an interesting situation. certainly something I had never considered before. While I was on vacation last year, I thought nothing of pulling into the parking lots of hotels to use their hotspots to check my email or look up something online on my laptop even though I wasn't a guest there. Next time. I will plan ahead and mark out the hotspots on my route that are places like freely offer access (like coffee shops and McDonalds...where I can go in and get a soda/coffee..etc)

(Mod's note: Removed quote of entire immediately preceding post. - sNerd)

Edited by softwareNerd
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I am sure there are those that may leave it open because they don't mind sharing their access to the internet. But. as the guy that owns the ISP pointed out, what if that is in violation of the service?

I don't understand why you say that the government has to step in and say that you would need written permission, or else we can assume it is free?

We're speaking of a question of property rights, the protection of which is the business of government. Certain actions such as armed robbery are obviously wrongful. But anyone has the right to give away goods or services which are theirs to give; and anyone has the right to receive those goods or services. Or, someone can trade those goods and services for an agreed-upon consideration. When there is an explicit written, signed and witnessed contract, and the language of the contract is clear, then it is simple to determine from knowledge of the facts whether you do or do not have a right to those goods or services.

But it cannot be required that all trades and donations of goods be controlled by such written contracts. The reductio ad absurdum of such hyper-contractualism in a fully private society is that no-one could ever get a contract signed, because you have no right to approach a person with a contract and you have no right to ask a person if they will sign (doing so assaults their ears with sound). You could not buy a pack of gum without signing and getting witnessed a sales contract. The concept of an implicit agreement is essential to the functioning of society. Implicit agreements can be overridden by explicit denials, so you can override the right to walk up to the front porch with a "No Trespassing" sign, and you can override the implicit restriction on the right of ingress (which stops at the porch) by putting up a sign that says "Please enter and come looking for me in the kitchen".

These implicit conventions are determined in two related ways: socially, and legislatively (when speaking of conventions, the former precedes and the latter follows, chronologically). The reason why the government gets involved in legislating social conventions is when there is a problematic conflict over these conventions, so that there is a codified and objective standard. See, for example, a thousand plus years of contract law which sets standards for how to legally understand agreements, and the UCC which effectively says "If you don't say this explicitly, this is what we will assume in interpreting this agreement".

why do we need them to come up with specific regulation for us to feel like someone going into someone else's network isn't a violation of property rights? A network is property, and when you go on someone's network, that is access to their property.
A property owner has a right to grant access to his property, and to do so in whatever rights-respecting and legal means he choses. Similarly, a person has the right to accept an offer of something free. The person with the laptop has no obligation (or, generally, physical possibility) to track down the transmitter and find the owner of that property, in order to get a signed agreement granting access to the service. He has the right to assume that the service offered for free is rightfully offered by the router-owner -- he has no obligation to inquire into the donor's contract with an ISP, nor for that matter any legal right to so. And equivalently, any breach that results from the laptop-owner using the service is between the ISP and the ISP's actual customer. This is standard privity of contract stuff -- an ISP cannot impose an obligation on me, without my explicit agreement. Most important is that it is not possible for me to know whether the signal-sender has the contractual right to send a signal, or has no such right. I have no moral or legal responsibility to refrain from acting, if it is impossible for me to know that some act is "wrong".

In the world that exists, there are four ways to properly prevent access of your wireless signal. First is techological -- what you especially find in hotels, that when you try to connect you get sent to a sign-in page. Second is encryption. Third is legislation, which states some default assumption and obligation that will be enforced, and the fourth is free social convention. We have the latter as well as the first two; and because we have the first two, the social convention is that permission to use is implicitly granted. Naturally, society can change those conventions, but it hasn't clearly done so. So arguing "but it's property, keep your hands off!!!" ignores the fact that I have the right to use my property as I wish, and I also have the right to make use of other people's offers of property-use. When the government regulates wireless connections, this will eliminate the "But I didn't know" argument (on either side) -- the law will have to say what you are required to know and do.

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If I based my morality on what law regulates, I would have no morality. The law is based on what the majority wants. They just could just as easily push that ALL wireless points should be open and free to anyone. Government regulations back social welfare systems, public schools. The law regulates legal theft. I do not need regulation to tell me what is right and wrong.

That some people don't know how to protect their networks through technology, that does not justify theft. A home owner who doesn't lock their door or have an alarm system does not justify a thief coming into their house because they didn't properly protect it. if someone is dumb enough to leave their car running while they run into 7-11 to buy a drink and it's taken, it's still theft. Not because of a law, but because someone took that person's property. If someone does put up a protected network and someone else with sufficient technology to ignore that protection comes along, it still does not give them the right to access that wireless point.

What you're advocating to me reeks of collectivism. Because there is something out there that people pay for a service, that they have earned, you have the right to just go and partake in it, almost based entirely on it's too much trouble for you to figure out who to ask and the owner does not have the means to protect it from you. To me morality says I KNOW that internet access is not free, and therefore even if I can't figure out who it goes to, I still can't steal it from them. I do not have a right to unearned property. I know what theft is.

Edited by Lathanar
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What Lath said. :thumbsup:

It seems to me that people treat this issue as different from regular property because it is not something you can touch nor feel. I think that is the rationality...or maybe the irrationality...that those that say it is okay to pirate software use as well.

I don't think it matters what protections are or are not taken: wouldn't it be wrong to take ANYTHING from a person withouth permission?

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It is not that a law should decide morality. It is a question of the law removing ambiguity. That, as I understand it, is David's point.

Right now, if a connection is open, it could be that the person left it open on purpose or because he does not realize that someone else could use it. The law can lend objectivity to this scenario. Of course, to be moral, the law must take into account the technology, the usage, the reasonableness of how intent can be shown one way or the other, etc..

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It is not that a law should decide morality. It is a question of the law removing ambiguity. That, as I understand it, is David's point.

Right now, if a connection is open, it could be that the person left it open on purpose or because he does not realize that someone else could use it. The law can lend objectivity to this scenario. Of course, to be moral, the law must take into account the technology, the usage, the reasonableness of how intent can be shown one way or the other, etc..

I was under the impression morality is black and white, there is no ambiguity. To me the argument that the home owner may have left it open on purpose holds no water. You are intentionally using someone else's property, without permission. If they have it posted you can use it, fine, you can not presume that.

David makes several points that do not come across right.

I also have the right to make use of other people's offers of property-use.
Yes, with their permission and understanding that they are offering it. You can not assume that.

It is sad when people are ignorant, but the existence of an ignorant person out there somewhere does not constitute a valid claim on my life and does not constitute an abridgement of my right to provide whatever free services I may feel like providing and have the right to provide, and does not form a valid basis for restricting my right to enjoy these same benefits provided by others.

You can not partake of a free service unless you KNOW that it is free and have permission. People do not always offer stuff for free simply because they are stupid.

If you decline to encrypt, and yet you think that people should somehow know what you're thinking, you have to believe that people can read minds.

This says to me that I can't read the home owners mind and see him think 'no, I don't want you using this'. I say this is an irrational argument. You can not read the person's mind and see 'Go ahead, this is free'. You can't presume anything without knowing. The ONLY things that can be presumed are that internet access is something that home owner paid for, that wireless network that is broadcasting a signal is owned by that home owner, and you can't use it without permission. This is the only stance that will not infringe on another person's property rights. You do not need law for this. When there is any ambiguity, the presumption must always fall in line with what protects the property owner, not with someone who wants something for free.

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I was under the impression morality is black and white, there is no ambiguity. To me the argument that the home owner may have left it open on purpose holds no water.
You're right, that morality is black and white -- in a given knowledge context. The problem seems to be that you don't understand what morality is about. Morality is not about whether you touch another person's property, it is about the choices which you make, especially whether your choices are proper to your goals. (I don't know if you have any familiarity with the Objectivist ethics, so rather than getting sidetracked we can arbitrarily say that this means living in a manner that respects the rights of others). If you have no idea that something is someone else's property, or have no idea that permission to touch the property has been denied, then you have done nothing immoral by touching another's property. Moral judgment is not absolute, it is contextual. If you believe that a person wants you to stay out of their house then you would be immoral to act contrary to that knowledge. If you believe that you have been invited to come in, and it would be of value to you to do so, then you would be acting immorally to fail to enter. It is simple as that.

Obviously if a person if "trying to get away with something", they deserve moral condemnation. That is not the point under discussion -- what is under discussion is whether a person if immoral for being mistaken about the intentions of a would-be free internet provider. Omniscience is not a requirement for a moral code; and it is reasonable to assume that people provide services for free because in fact you are communicating on a free forum at this very minute.

You are intentionally using someone else's property, without permission. If they have it posted you can use it, fine, you can not presume that.
This simply is not true. I've addressed the point that society operates with both explicit and implicit agreement, and you have ignored that argument. I have the right to offer free wireless access to anyone who wants to use it, and I have the right to provide that access under my terms as long as it's in compliance with the law. To put this differently, you have no right to say who I may offer free access to or how I may make that access available. What you can rationally assume is that when it is possible and trivial for someone to deny others access to a wireless connection, and it is virtually impossible to guarantee that others will know that you are offering free wireless access, then a person cannot avoid responsibility for their failure or refusal to clearly signal the intent to block access. (Please examine your suggestion about "posting" this information -- where? how?)

Let me recapitulate so that you clearly understand the point. Any man has the right to give away his property; any man has the right to accept a gift; a person who mistakenly misunderstands a person's intention -- that he did not intend there to be a gift at all -- has not stolen anything (when he learns that the would-be gift was not actually given, he will immediately return the item and/or cease and desist); omniscience is not a valid requirement of a moral system; proper agreements may be either implicit or explicit; the only way to relieve wireless-providers of the responsibility to encrypt their signals is to change society to eliminate all free internet usage (thus eliminating the reason why it is entirely rational to believe that there is such a thing as a free wireless connection) or, more strongly, to change the laws of society so that there is a clear and objective statement of what a person must do to offer a gift.

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The problem seems to be that you don't understand what morality is about. Morality is not about whether you touch another person's property, it is about the choices which you make, especially whether your choices are proper to your goals.

I understand what morality is. You judge a choice or idea to be moral or not based in part on it's outcome. I say the result of this action is theft. Theft is immoral, I don't think anyway can dispute that. I am not talking about someone simply touching another's property. I'm talking about someone using a service someone else has paid for without permission. I am not ignoring that a person has the right to give something away for free, nor that a person has the right to accept a free gift. I am saying that those two people must be in agreement with each other. I am saying that you can not assume that someone is giving something away for free.

There can be honest mistakes, yes, but I see them only in specific instances, not as a generalizations. If several people told someone that a specific person had thrown up an open hotspot for general use and it was not the case, then I would grant that to be an honest mistake. A person could even conceivably think that every hotspot was open to the general use because that was what he was always told. But, the first time he discovers that someone does not want him to use their network, he can no longer honestly mistake that everyone would let him use thiers.

What I am understanding your postion to be is that you must always assume that if a couple people give something away for free, then everyone is by extension giving it away for free if they have not stated otherwise and has not been stated by law that they can not give away for free. I do not think that this is grounds for an honest mistaken assumption, that since a few might be willing to do it, all would. Can you honestly state that every open wireless point is meant to be a free signal? I would be interested to see just how many home owners with open wireless networks actually mean them to be open and free to all and how many just don't know how to close them properly.

It is also not trivial to everyone to block access to a wireless point. There are many many people that get lost inside simple applications, or call their monitors the computer, let alone be able to figure out how to program a wireless router.

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I understand what morality is. You judge a choice or idea to be moral or not based in part on it's outcome.
I reject that view of morality, because it is entirely impractical given that a man would have to be omniscient in order to be assured of acting morally. That would mean that morality is of no actual use to guiding volition, and only serves as an empty intellectual exercise. This "useless" aspect is why I reject results-based morality in favor of principled morality.
I say the result of this action is theft.
Okay, I understand that, and I say you're wrong. Impass, I guess.
I am saying that those two people must be in agreement with each other. I am saying that you can not assume that someone is giving something away for free.
No, I think you are saying something different, though you may not see the consequences of your position. I believe that you reject the concept of an implicit agreement. This is an important point that I'd like you to answer directly. If I'm right that you reject implicit agreements, then, as they say, game over, at least this game. (I might then try to persuade you that rejection of implicit agreements reduces to rejection of living in a society, but that's another thread). If you accept implicit agreements as valid, then I don't see how you can deny that using free internet access is perfectly moral when there is sufficient evidence for the existence of an implicit agreement.
But, the first time he discovers that someone does not want him to use their network, he can no longer honestly mistake that everyone would let him use thiers.
I wholely agree. But now it seems that you are accepting the propriety of using free internet access without an explicit agreement. Otherwise, it would make no sense for you to distinguish honest mistakes from deliberate theft. I thought you were claiming that being mistaken about the other person's intentions was no excuse.
What I am understanding your postion to be is that you must always assume that if a couple people give something away for free, then everyone is by extension giving it away for free if they have not stated otherwise and has not been stated by law that they can not give away for free.
Honk!!! Back up. In light of the massive number of free internet connections made available out there, I am saying that it is entirely reasonable for a person to conclude, when they see "Hey, cool, wireless" that it is indeed a free offer. What actual fact would tell the person that he is wrong? Not, what imaginary moral principle could you appeal to that says you should never use wireless unless you have a signed contract from the provider. The justification for the assumption in fact lies in the peculiar facts of wireless connections in our society -- just as the right to walk up to a person's front porch (the implicit permission to do so) is a fact of our society. That fact can easily be changed because it is man-made, not metaphysically given. Society can change, or the individual can explicitly say "I reject this aspect of society and assert this particular individual right". As long as you're not violating the rights of others, you can easily leave society in part or entirely (as long as you live in a relatively free society, as we do).
Can you honestly state that every open wireless point is meant to be a free signal?
That isn't the point: the unanimity is not what determines reasonable conclusions. If there were no or next to no free wireless connections, you should draw a totally different conclusion about whether people object to using their wireless connection.
I would be interested to see just how many home owners with wireless networks actually mean them to be open and free to all and how many just don't know how to close them properly.
I have two responses. First, how many wireless networks inform you that they are originating from someone's home? Second, in my neighborhood, at least one. This is not about homeowners, this is about wireless connections.
It is also not trivial to everyone to block access to a wireless point. There are many many people that get lost inside simple applications, or call their monitors the computer, let alone be able to figure out how to program a wireless router.
I'm sympathetic; I'm willing (and occasionally obliged) to tell a new neighbor how to silence their noisy box on the assumption that they don't have a clue. I believe that routers should be shipped non-open so that people have to chose to let people use the network. But that is not required by law nor is is the standard business practice, so until people stop being idiots and vote with their wallets (by preferring products that do not by default encourage accidentally-open networks), you have to take responsibility for your actions or inactions, and there is no basis for morally condemning a person who honestly is unaware that they are using someone else's wireless connnection against their wishes, if indeed it is against their wishes.
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Just wanted to say that I started reading this thread with the opinion that leaking wireless connections was quite obviously an instance of using someone's property against their will, but David's arguments have convinced me otherwise. Thank you for opening my mind.

edit: A good (slightly more technical) analogy might be FTPs on the internet. There are many individuals and companies out there who, for various reasons, allow public access to their FTPs. If, while browsing the internet, I find an FTP which is configured to allow access using without a password (eg a FTP which accepts anonymous logins on the standard port 21), I would be fully justified in assuming that the owner has set it up for public use, and using it for upload/download. Even if it turned out that the owner had just set his daemon up incorrectly and he meant to restrict access, this would not be my fault/responsibility - I shouldnt be expected to go to the effort of trying to locate an email address for the owner of every FTP I find, just to ensure that he knows how to use a computer properly. The same applies to proxy servers - if I encounter an anonymous proxy which doesnt require a password to use, I'm justified in assuming the owner intends it for public use. I mean just how far do you want take this? Its certainly possible that any given website you visit on the internet wasnt actually intended to be publically viewable - it could just be that the site owner has configured Apache wrong. How could you know this? Well, you couldnt, hence its safe to assume that its intended to be public.

As a non technical analogy, its common for organisations in London to provide free newspapers on public transport. There is one major paper (the Metro), and several minor ones. Hence, if I were to encounter a pile of newspapers on the bus, it would be reasonable for me to assume they were free for the public, and take one. Now it could be the case that the owner had mistakenly left them on the bus and I was actually taking his property, but given that there is no way I could be expected to know this, my actions are justified.

Edited by Hal
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Okay, I can see we are going to simply have to disagree on this subject. However, I think the scope of the conversation got out of whack and a little context brought back in. I am talking about a home owners wireless point, not about business or wireless points in general. I believe I've consistently stated home owner throughout. Wireless networks that a home owner would put up broadcast at a very limited range, it's not rocket science to recognize you're in a residential area getting a signal and there's very little room for ambiguity. Also I never said someone could not be mistaken. Going on the stance that it may be free, is not the same as being mistaken in that someone had told you it is free.

Extending out to businesses, yes in today's society we are now getting used to coffee shops, hotels, even some restaraunts now putting out wireless signals for free to attract business. My wife and I on road trips have stopped several times outside hotels I know brodcast free signals to check directions, email and such. I could give an honest mistake with business networks, you expect businesses to be dealing with the public. If you could not see visibly a likely establishment that would be expected to broadcast a signal, I'd say you'd still be dancing a fine line.

For the examples of the newspapers, yes you may get used to free newspapers being there. But those newspapers I am very willing to wager state they are free on the cover. Further, every non-free paper I know states the price on it. For the ftp, with today's internet, if there is an open ftp on a domain name, it is more than likely set up to be free access, but with a use intended for that site, not just for anyone to upload their family album so they can distribute it to friends. If you're scanning ranges of ip's looking for an ftp open on 21, you would not be able to assume that it was meant to be free. For the web sites, if you found a site that wasn't properly secured, and you managed to upload files for hosting your own pages on someone else's domain, then yes, you would be wrong. Simply viewing web pages is not related to this.

I am not trying to come up with a society where you need contracts from everyone to do absolutetly everything, although I have heard that stance taken before by objectivists. I am saying that you should not assume that something that is a product of someone else's work should be automatically taken to be public use rather than private property. That sets up the society we live in now, where I have to do multiple steps and protections to implicitly declare my property is mine.

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If you have no idea that something is someone else's property, or have no idea that permission to touch the property has been denied, then you have done nothing immoral by touching another's property. Moral judgment is not absolute, it is contextual. If you believe that a person wants you to stay out of their house then you would be immoral to act contrary to that knowledge. If you believe that you have been invited to come in, and it would be of value to you to do so, then you would be acting immorally to fail to enter. It is simple as that.

But if you do not know whether or not you have been invited to enter then you would find out before entering would you not? Why is the same not true for the internet connection? It seems to me, that without clearly knowing that a connection has been deliberately left open, this is theft. If you find something of value say, sitting outside a store. It's not obviously associated with the store and nobody seems to be nearby who might own it, is it reasonable to take it? Of course not, if you suspected it was abandoned or that the store owner was getting rid of it, you would go inside and ask before taking it. The fact that you cannot ask the person who's internet connection you have found open does not, imo, change the moral equivalence of the situation. Without knowing whether or not they would approve of you using the connection, the possibility exists that they would not and if they do not approve then you are stealing. So, by using it, you are potentially stealing but cannot know whether you actually are or not. In my opinion, doing so anyway, is the same as stealing.

Obviously if a person if "trying to get away with something", they deserve moral condemnation. That is not the point under discussion -- what is under discussion is whether a person if immoral for being mistaken about the intentions of a would-be free internet provider.

This is not about being mistaken at all. It's about making making an assumption which you know may not be correct. It's not that you believe all internet connections are deliberately left open. If that was the case then you find that you are mistaken. Each specific instance you simply do not know whether it is deliberate or not and you are therefore, simply taking a chance with the full knowledge that you may be using the service against the will of the owner. There is no way in this scenario that you are "mistaken" because you have no basis for an opinion one way or the other, at best all you have is odds.

To put this differently, you have no right to say who I may offer free access to or how I may make that access available. What you can rationally assume is that when it is possible and trivial for someone to deny others access to a wireless connection, and it is virtually impossible to guarantee that others will know that you are offering free wireless access, then a person cannot avoid responsibility for their failure or refusal to clearly signal the intent to block access. (Please examine your suggestion about "posting" this information -- where? how?)

The simple fact is that many people do not know they have to secure their networks and may not have the knowledge to do so. I know of several examples of this myself. You are assuming that others have your knowledge and consider the same things obvious that you do. Your argument sounds no different to me to a car thief saying that the person didn't lock their car so clearly they meant for anybody to use it. I understand that few people would actually intend for anybody to use their car whereas there clearly are some people who intend for others to use their wireless connection (though I suspect the number is very small compared to the number of unsecured connections) but the point was illustrative rather than being truly equivalent.

Let me recapitulate so that you clearly understand the point. Any man has the right to give away his property; any man has the right to accept a gift; a person who mistakenly misunderstands a person's intention -- that he did not intend there to be a gift at all -- has not stolen anything (when he learns that the would-be gift was not actually given, he will immediately return the item and/or cease and desist)

But you are not making a mistake about intention when you use somebody elses connection, you are making an assumption about their intention which you know, full well and clearly, is an unfounded assumption. That's not making a mistake, it's playing roulette and claiming it was a mistake when your number doesn't come up. You knew full well before you played that your number might not come up. How can that be a mistake? Can you see the distinction?

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But if you do not know whether or not you have been invited to enter then you would find out before entering would you not?
No, obviously not. The right analogy, btw, is going up the the porch to knock on the door -- that is an act of trespassing. But we forgive that act of trespassing, because in our society we have implicitly agreed on a particular convention, that you can go up to a person's door and knock unless they explicitly opt out of that convention, by putting up a No Trespassing sign. So I would assume if I haven't been told otherwise that I can knock on that guy's door. I have no idea how I could "find out" in advance.
If you find something of value say, sitting outside a store. It's not obviously associated with the store and nobody seems to be nearby who might own it, is it reasonable to take it?
That's not the issue. First, whether or not it is owned by the store owner is irrelevant -- ownership is ownership, regardless if you're a store owner. If I find a pen on the ground and I know it's not my property, then I know that I am, in a very narrow technical sense, violating someone's rights by picking it up. I am assuming implicit permission to pick up the pen and, perhaps, give it over to the police or the store owner, or maybe search for the owner myself. But I have no explicit permission to pick up the pen.
Without knowing whether or not they would approve of you using the connection, the possibility exists that they would not and if they do not approve then you are stealing.
This same reasoning would also tell you that picking up any dropped item is theft, because the possibility exists that you are using without permission. In other words, you're assuming that there can be no implicit agreements in society, and that all agreements must be overt. Thus it is always trespassing to knock on a door, unless there is a "Trespassers Welcome" sign or you have an explicit invitation to step on the person's sidewalk.
So, by using it, you are potentially stealing but cannot know whether you actually are or not. In my opinion, doing so anyway, is the same as stealing.
No, mens rea is fundamental to the concept of theft. Theft is not just the unsanctioned use of property, it is the knowingly unsanctioned use of property. The knowledge that you might be in error is the skeptic's appeal: you cannot rationally deny knowledge just on the basis that you might be wrong. Rational man acts on the basis of what he knows, not what he conjectures.
The simple fact is that many people do not know they have to secure their networks and may not have the knowledge to do so.
We've had this argument already; the other simple fact is that many people do not know that the wireless connection that they are using is someone else's and is not being used with permission. Ignorance abounds: this is one of the basic reasons why we need a system of objective law as opposed to anarchy, where each side gets to make rationalistic declarations about what is "obviously right". If there were an objectively articulated law -- it could go either way -- then we can just throw out the ignorance argument, because ignorance of the law is no excuse. Do everything that you can to dispel this ignorance -- teach your neighbor how lock down his network.
But you are not making a mistake about intention when you use somebody else's connection, you are making an assumption about their intention which you know, full well and clearly, is an unfounded assumption. When you catch a person knowingly stealing wireless access, berate him publicly as a thief. If you find a person deliberately running an open network, giving away the service, criticize him publicly for encouraging a culture of thievery. Just be clear about the moral foundation.
It's perfectly well founded, and the foundation is the very existence of various free wireless connections, a phenomenon which is growing on a daily basis. People have an obligation to use ordinary precaution on both sides -- the person with the network should use ordinary caution in setting it up and the person using some wireless network should use ordinary caution in using a connection.

Because we live in the kind of society that we live in, free wireless is a fact. In judging a person for using a wireless connection without explicit permission, there are two kinds of judgment: legal and moral. There can be no legal sanctions until objective law is first created, which means the only viable question is whether moral condemnation should fall upon such a person. Knowledge context cannot be dropped: a person who is unaware that a thing is someone else's property or is mistaken in believing that he has permission to use the thing has acted morally, and deserves no condemnation.

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I do not think that the knocking on a person's door is a correct analogy for this. Every social convention to allow trespassing I can think of is that it only allows for someone to try and contact the home owner to ask for permission to come in or discuss something with the owner. You know someone owns that property, you know know that at any point that you step on that property the owner can come out and kick you off, and you also know you need to get the owners permission to even stay. There is also little I can think of that you could do to actually get something of value out of entering a property to contact that owner, and your not using a service he has purchased, or even he has received for free. Standing on a person's lawn and looking in their window to watch TV is not implicitly allowed. Walking into someone's home to use their telephone if they are not home also is not allowed.

With wireless access, you are using it for your own ends, without anything to do with the owner. No attempt to ask permission, nothing. It is not the same thing. You need to come up with something where someone has purchased a service, and just leaves it out for anyone to use without giving anything in return, and that no agreement that anyone can use it being posted.

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Every social convention to allow trespassing I can think of is that it only allows for someone to try and contact the home owner to ask for permission to come in or discuss something with the owner.
Another example is delivering something without any attempt to make contact, including informational pamphlets. Object-retrieval is another example (usually involving soccer balls, dogs, or blown garbage).
There is also little I can think of that you could do to actually get something of value out of entering a property to contact that owner, and your not using a service he has purchased, or even he has received for free.
If I understand your point, you're saying that often a person who trespasses does so in hopes of gaining some value from contacting the owner. Numerically speaking I know that that is untrue in my case, since most trespassing is non-contactual (forgive the pun), coming in the form of the weekly advertising shoves and the kid-paper. The balance may change during elections or between 6:00-9:00 pm some night at the end of October when people want to talk to you, but overall I would say that more people come up uninvited just in order to drop something off, making no contact with me.
Standing on a person's lawn and looking in their window to watch TV is not implicitly allowed. Walking into someone's home to use their telephone if they are not home also is not allowed.
I agree, though the first point is more interesting since I've already made it clear that entry into the house is forbidden in non-emergency urban contexts. Of course the exact nature of the allowed / not-allowed acts are different in the case of entering physical space and using an EM signal.
With wireless access, you are using it for your own ends, without anything to do with the owner.
But it does have to do with the owner. The person who runs an open wireless network receives a personal value from doing so. You could argue that he is misguided in his beliefs and that it will devolve into one-way abuse where the network owner gives and gives, and gets nothing in return. But that's the network owner's problem.
No attempt to ask permission, nothing.
That is because of the nature of EM property (interacting with current technology) versus physical property. It is not possible to contact the owner of the signal (or, it is unreasonably complicated to do so, depending on the radius and population density, and how skilled the user is in triangulation).
You need to come up with something where someone has purchased a service, and just leaves it out for anyone to use without giving anything in return, and that no agreement that anyone can use it being posted.
I don't need to, because the basis of the analogy is implicit permission to use. The service / thing and pay / non-pay distinction is irrelevant. An analogy is different from total identity: analogous things have partial identity, measurement omitted.
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Another example is delivering something without any attempt to make contact, including informational pamphlets. Object-retrieval is another example (usually involving soccer balls, dogs, or blown garbage).If I understand your point, you're saying that often a person who trespasses does so in hopes of gaining some value from contacting the owner. Numerically speaking I know that that is untrue in my case, since most trespassing is non-contactual (forgive the pun), coming in the form of the weekly advertising shoves and the kid-paper. The balance may change during elections or between 6:00-9:00 pm some night at the end of October when people want to talk to you, but overall I would say that more people come up uninvited just in order to drop something off, making no contact with me.

Object retrieval are results of accidents, a kid getting a ball that accidently went onto someone's property is very different then a kid playing on someone's property. When I was a kid and such happened, I would go onto the yard to get the ball and run off real quick hoping no one would come out and yell about getting out of their yard. I still knew I really shouldn;t be going on their yard. People dropping off pamphlets, flyers and such, the little things they attach to the door handles, they are trying to get something of value, they are trying to get your business or attention for their groups or whatnot. These are all just as bad, and should not be allowed, it's a misues of my property. Putting an ad on my door is as bad as putting a billboard in my yard. NOTHING gives society a right to dictate the use of private property.

The person who runs an open wireless network receives a personal value from doing so. You could argue that he is misguided in his beliefs and that it will devolve into one-way abuse where the network owner gives and gives, and gets nothing in return. But that's the network owner's problem.

You're right, they may be misguided, the one's giving it away for free as charity trying to promote a free internet, but that does not make an implicit agreement that all networks are that way. The more this discussion goes on the more I'm convinced that there is no such thing as society creating an implicit permission to use of private property.

Person A lives in a commune where everyone got together and said, hey, lets create a wireless network and we're all going to share in it. Life is good, all can move freely about without losing connection. Person A then moves to a large city and then proceeds to go about using everyone else's network without permission. Does the mere fact that the commune that he lived on that had an agreement within the community now allow him to go out and assume that wireless networks now have an implicit agreement that they are free and can use as he sees fit?

My mother and all my friends mothers sat cookies out in a bowl on the kitchen counter and told me I can have one whenever I wanted. Does that mean that I can now assume that every house I go into that has a cookie dish I can just take on without asking? That person has every right to call me a thief and kick me out. Even if honestly mistaken about something, you ARE mistaken. You recognize that what you were doing was wrong. That does not make the act itself ok.

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a person who is unaware that a thing is someone else's property or is mistaken in believing that he has permission to use the thing has acted morally, and deserves no condemnation.

You appear to have avoided or missed the major point I was making. There is no mistake in this case, there is a deliberate action taken with the full knowledge that the owner of the connection may not approve of you using it. If you put a bullet and in a revolver, spin the barrel, point it at somebody and pull the trigger and end up shooting them you cannot claim that it was a mistake because you didn't know the bullet was in that chamber. What's the difference? You are deliberately taking an act which you know may be violating somebody's rghts. You say that you are making a mistake in believing that you have permission but you have no reason for believing this at all. You have reason to believe that that it's possible you have permission (maybe even likely). This is not the same thing. In each actual instance you have no information to inform your belief at all. How can you form an opinion that you have permission when you have no information to support that opinion?

I assert that you do not have a belief that you have permission. If you did, you could be mistaken. What you have is a knowledge that the connection may have been deliberately left open. If you saw a gift wrapped sitting on a table in a friends house, with no card or label and you took it, do you think it would be reasonable to claim you were mistaken when it turns out it wasn't for you? It could have been for you but it could also have been for somebody else and you had no information to determine which and therefore no reason to believe it was for you and no justification for taking it or claiming that doing so was an honest mistake. It would be different if, perhaps, it was your birthday and they had previously said they had a gift for you. In this instance you have some information from which to form an opinion, without that, it's just roulette.

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This same reasoning would also tell you that picking up any dropped item is theft, because the possibility exists that you are using without permission. In other words, you're assuming that there can be no implicit agreements in society, and that all agreements must be overt.

Using somebody elses internet connection is not equivalent to picking up a dropped pen. The connection has not been "dropped" by anybody. It is not dissociated from it's owner, you just don't know who it's owner is. These are very different things. You don't know what kind of internet plan they have, whether they are charged by the megabyte, or have download limits. You don't know anything about the thing you are taking or the person you are taking it from all you have is generalities and odds.

Of course there can be implicit agreements in society but those involved must know about them. Also, because there are always likely to be people who do not wish to abide by this implicit agreement I think such agreements cannot involve the use of others property where that use involves the consumption or temporal monopolising of a potentially limited or valuable resource. If you have an agreement with a friend that you share your bicycles with each other, it doesn't make it right to just take an unkown persons unlocked bicycle when you need it simply because you and your friend are willing to share yours with others. Nor can you claim you had made a mistake in believing that they had left it unlocked specifically so that others could use it given that you had no reason for believing that in the first place aside from projecting your own knowledge, actions and attitudes onto an unknown stranger.

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David,

I thought of a better analogy for your "mistake" argument.

You have somebody elses money and you lose it gambling at a casino. Could you claim that the loss was a mistake because you believed you were going to win and that nobody can really pin blame on you for having a mistaken belief? I see your internet connection argument to be identical to this scenario. You are deliberately taking a risk and then claiming it was a mistake when the dice do not fall your way. This, to me, is not a mistake at all.

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This is the way I look at it. As long as you have every right to assume that the network is being offered from free, then it would be morally right to use it. For example you are near a bunch of shops offering free wifi connection and there is one of them who doesn't then if you accidentaly use that connection (without knowing it is not being offered for free), you would not be committing a moral crime.

However if say you are passing by a bunch of houses, then it is very unreasonable to assume that the homeowner is offering the whole world his wifi for free. At that point, it would be morally wrong for you to use a network which you are able to access. I don't think using it for a short time, say 5-10 minutes for some very important stuff would be wrong, but using it for browsing the net or downloading say music or software definitely would be.

Edited by tommyedison
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