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My neighbor has never set up password protection on his wireless router. If I wanted, I could wirelessly connect to his high-speed Internet service.

May I use his Internet service without asking him for permission? Or is this considered stealing?

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+1, exactly the question I wanted to ask. –  jutky Oct 12 '10 at 21:03
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If you have to ask, you probably shouldn't. –  Charlie Somerville Jul 29 '11 at 8:50

7 Answers 7

There are essentially two issues here:

  1. Am I somehow stealing from the owner (by taking away bandwidth)? Does the fact that the owner left it open mean he/she agrees to me using it?
  2. Am I somehow stealing from the ISP (or perhaps causing the owner to violate his/her TOS agreement with the ISP)?

In each of these 2 problems we have yet another split:

  1. What does Judaism say about the case (in terms of Halacha)?
  2. What does the government say about the case (and do we say Dina D'malchusa Dina applies)?

I'm not a Rav, but here are some articles on the web discussing this:

On Torah.org - (see question: Is there a problem with utilizing a neighbor’s Wi-Fi (wireless network) without his express permission?)

On YUTorah.org - (see section: Piggybacking on a Wi-Fi Connection starting on page 25)

Lecture on Chabad.info - (video)

[to be updated with more links as I find them]

As you can see the question is far from simple, and there are many variables to discuss. Additionally this question is also relatively new with regards to secular law, and has yet to be fully analyzed and discussed (there is very little case law available).

Also: this is the type of question who's answer may change over time.

And as always, CYLOR.

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There are several issues:

  1. If the person is paying by data used, he is losing through your download, so you are a damager and it would be forbidden
  2. Just because the person left it open doesn't mean he doesn't mind other people using it, he might just not know how to lock it.
  3. If there is a clause in his contract to the ISP not to let others use his connection, you are making him violate his terms of service, which is damage.
  4. If you slow down his connection, you damage him, which would be forbidden.
  5. If all of the above do not count, then the question would be if it is a din of "ze nehene vze lo chaser" (I gain and you don't lose) which could be permitted. In general, there are two ways a person could be nehene vze lo chaser. One is walking through someone else's unplanted field, which is permitted. The second is using someone else's (unused) room in his house (like in squatting) which is forbidden. The second case is forbidden because one cannot be forced to let another into his domain. By Wifi, the leecher doesn't physically affect the leechee, therefore, one should be able to leech.

Source: I can't copy the link to the shiur itself, but on google the video is entitled "770 live" - "Rabbi Broin - Shiur - Is it permissible to use someone else Wi-Fi without permission"

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this link might work better, since the other one will change: google.com/… . Also, is this the same as the lecture in yydl's answer: judaism.stackexchange.com/a/8115/603 –  Menachem Nov 30 '11 at 2:38
    
@Menachem yes it is, but I had issues with it before. –  Shmuel Brin Nov 30 '11 at 21:02
    
Note that it is possible to slow down or damage someone's WiFi even if you only use it during hours that they do not -- for example if you have a virus on your computer and caused your neighbor's IP address to have a worse reputation, or even if your activity using your neighbor's WiFi caused them to be shown less relevant ads or news stories while browsing the Web. –  arp Dec 9 at 2:21

It is illegal in many areas even if the case law on it is not well established. See: http://compnetworking.about.com/od/wirelessfaqs/f/legal_free_wifi.htm for some discussion on cases in various states. (There's even a case of someone having been arrested.)

You may want to brush up on the local laws to see if you have an issue of Dina D'malchuta (Halachic affirmation of state laws regarding money matters)

In my experience, as someone who has helped lots of people secure their wi-fi network, an open network is usually only open because the owner does not know how to secure it. On the other hand, most are only secured because we all fear the worst case possible for abuse of the connection and not because we're "makpid" (concerned) for the guy who just wants to check email.

If we don't have state law concerns, then the question is can you think of it, L'havdil, as someone borrowing a private talit that the rabbis tell us can be assumed to be available for the use of someone in need of a talit without their explicit permission - unless we know the person to be particular in this area. While wi-fi access may have no relation on enabling someone to do a mitzvah, for those who leave it open intentionally it would be the same idea.

I think there is a distinction to be made between irregular use such as a quick e-mail check while you're on the road at a fortuitously found spot vs establishing your neighbor's open wifi access as your unofficial free ISP without their knowledge. In the former case people are more likely not to be "makpid" and perhaps happy to help the traveler as 21st century form of hospitality, but no one likes a free-loader.

However, to be on the safe side, there are various networks of people who have explicitly granted that permission. See: http://www.whisher.com/ as an example (not endorsing the cservice just found them through a googling) There are also other sites where someone an register their open-invitation hotspot.

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"You may want to brush up on the local laws to see if you have an issue of Dina D'malchuta (Halachic affirmation of state laws regarding money matters)." Aaron, the J. Halacha & Contemporary Society article discussed this as well. The degree to which a law is (not) established and enforced by the state may have some bearing, according to some opinions, on how we respect it vis-a-vis Dina D'malchuta Dina. (NOTE: I am not advising nor condoning any violation of state law! I'm simply summarizing a point from the above article.) –  Shalom Jan 6 '10 at 12:51
    
I believe NY is the most lenient, and it puts the burden of protection on the owner of the network. Not 100% sure on the federal level though.. –  yydl May 13 '10 at 3:43

I have heard that for every additional computer connected to a wireless network, it gets slower. If this is the case, it probably would be stealing because you are making the owners computer slower.

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If someone could confirm if it does make a computer slower or not, I'd appreciate it. –  N123 Jan 4 '10 at 13:56
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Indeed, the more computers connected through a single wireless router, the slower connection each of them experiences. This is because they essentially have to take turns getting information from the Internet. Computers using low-bandwidth Internet applications, such as an email client, don't have too much effect since they're not asking for very much information at any given time. Computers using high-bandwidth applications, like streaming or downloading video, have a big effect on other computers. I know this both in theory and from experience. –  Isaac Moses Jan 4 '10 at 14:09
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The Journal of Halacha & Contemporary Society had an article about this about a year ago. They also discuss if it's in violation of any US law. My impression (I just skimmed the article) was that if we don't know that the owner minds, and you're not slowing it down, it should be okay. –  Shalom Jan 4 '10 at 14:54
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Shalom, if you can cite and summarize that article, it would make a fine Answer. –  Isaac Moses Jan 4 '10 at 15:12
    
@Shalom: I believe the article is either issue 46 or 56...he didn't conclude anything, but raised a lot of issues in both American and Jewish law. –  Shokhet May 2 at 5:07

I've known of people who used wifi without asking, with the justification that "if the owner minded, he would put a password". Later the owner found out and was annoyed about the fact that their internet had been slowed by trespassers.

On the other hand, if you're sure the owner isn't using it at the same time as you, perhaps it would be OK, since you're not affecting them in any way, and are not actually taking anything physical from them.

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"not actually taking anything physical from them" mitigates the laws against stealing per se but the Torah also prohibits intangible forms of impingement and undue usage (cf. interpretation of דברים יט:יד. Also see the Ritv"a (I think) on Baba Basra who, as opposed to Ramba"m, rules strictly in some cases of zeh neheneh v'zeh lo chaser.). –  WAF Jun 5 '11 at 17:45
    
zeh neheneh v'zeh lo chaser is more of a problem if you e.g use their house without permission. but here, you're just using the wifi which is coming out from the house, so it seems like less of a problem, almost like smelling a bakery when walking by (sort of). –  Ariel K Jun 5 '11 at 17:56
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I hear the argument against, but when it comes to modern instances of hasagas g'vul it is important to note that Internet service providing is something that universally people are willing to and do pay money for, whereas aroma wafting is not. –  WAF Jun 5 '11 at 17:58
    
@WAF However, cf. Sticky Cinnamon Bun Room Spray –  Seth J May 29 '12 at 20:03

My brother this Kuntress about Hilchot internet (written by Rabbi David Lichtenstein) and in conclusion it brought sources (based off Mordechai and Rama) that said that as long as your neighbor isn't using the Wifi it would be mutar to use it.

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Can you identify the sefer and its author? –  Monica Cellio Jun 7 '13 at 16:57

In the second perek of the gemoro in bava kama the question is raised about someone who occupies an empty house without the owners knowledge, if he has to pay rent. This is a house which is usually not rented and this person had access to other lodgings in the town. The gemoro calls it then no loss and no gain and he does not have to pay. The question arises when there is either a loss meaning not an actual one but in a case where he usually rents it out, and charges for it, or this person had no other lodgings and would have had to pay elsewhere so he has a gain. The basic rule is that in Jewish law there is nothing for nothing. If one profits from someone else one has to pay for it even though money was never 'talked' about in advance. If someone suggests a shidduch or suggests a property for you, since this is something, one usually pays for he has to be paid. In our case this person definitely has a gain from the wifi. So it depends, is this called a hypothetical loss. I maintain that it is unlike a house where he doesnt pay a monthly rent, (if he did he definitely would not allow it to be vacant) and sometimes leaves it vacant and therefore its not considered a loss, our case where he does pay some type of monthly or yearly figure, even though he may not be using it all the time, it is similar to paying per minute, and that constitutes a loss. One must remember that even in a case where he usually leaves it vacant he can always tell the man to leave or pay. The whole question is only if he does not know about it at the time. So my point is that even though there are no other issues involved and he may be allowed to use it, he would have to pay for it, even though it may be a very minimal charge.

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First, who said anything about paying per minute? (It could be a relevant detail that makes the question unanswerable, possibly, but without its inclusion I don't know why you assume it.) Second, your answer is full of sophisticated, technical jargon. Please edit it to make it meaningful to a wider audience. –  Seth J Apr 22 '13 at 1:23
    
When I said per minute, I meant he was paying for 'time'. Which jargon have I mentioned that has not been mentioned before in a comment. –  meir Apr 22 '13 at 18:15
    
"ze nehne etc" is assuming knowledge on the part of the reader. If your intent was to comment on Shmuel Brin's answer, I'll flag it for the mods to move this there. If you meant this as a stand-alone answer, you should explain what you mean, not just the term but how it could be used to answer the question differently than your answer, and not assume the reader has read the other answer. –  Seth J Apr 22 '13 at 19:46

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