Can apartment dwellers, share the use of a wireless connection of one of the neighbors, assuming the owner does not mind? What about if the owner is asleep or out of town — would this be a case of zeh neheneh vzeh lo chaser where there absolutely no loss whatsoever from the owner. Would this not be a case of kofin al midas sdom?
I would like to ask three questions in this connection:
1) Do I need to ask?
2) Is it mutar lechatchilah?
3) Even if he says no, in the case of being out of town or asleep, is it allowed anyway since this in no way impedes on his baalus (sevara of Pischei Teshuvah would therefore not apply).

Answer:

If nothing is said by the neighbor, it is certainly permitted to use his wireless connection. Anybody who has an unsecured wireless connection knows that neighbors or passers-by will be able to utilize it, and their leaving the connection unsecured implies a tacit granting of permission for doing so.

Even if he states that you may not use the wireless connection, there is room to argue that he does not have the right to prohibit its use. As you rightly point out, if he is away or asleep, so that others’ use of the connection causes him no loss (in the speed of his own internet surfing), it is a case of zeh neheneh vezeh lo chaser.

Although Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 363:6) rules that a person has the right to forbit others from taking benefit from his property, Rema writes that this applies only to cases in which the owner has some way of deriving benefit or income from his property. Somebody who is sleeping or out of town has no way of deriving benefit from his internet connection, and according to Rema, he would therefore not be within his rights to prohibit its use. According to noda Biyhuda (tinyana 24), Shulchan Aruch does not concur with this ruling, however, in cases for which others’ use in no way violates the ownership of the owner (unlike living in somebody else’s house, which violates his ownership), it is possible that all agree that the owner cannot prevent others from benefiting (see Rav Shimon Shkop, Bava Kama no. 19).

The rationale above applies for times in which the owner is not using the internet, and therefore loses nothing from others’ use of the connection. However, there is room to argue that the owner cannot prevent others from using the connection at any time. The reasoning for this is that a person cannot place his painting on the street, and forbid people from looking at it, thereby forcing all pedestrians to cross the road. A person’s self-made prohibitions cannot force others to take positive action to avoid ‘transgressing’ the prohibition.

[This idea fits well with the Talmudic principle statiing that there is no me’ilah concerning voice, appearance, and scent. The benefit derived from these intangibles concepts cannot be prohibited, so that a person can never cause others to take positive action to avoid transgressing.]

The same might possible be applicable to a wireless connection. A person can own his sterio system, but he cannot prohibit others from hearing the music that can be heard on the street. In a similar sense, although a person owns his router, he cannot prohibit others from benefiting from the wireless connection. [This might also fall under the category of kol, mareh, and re’ach.] By forbidding you to use his connection, the neighbor is effectively forcing you to turn of the internet function on your computer, or to turn off the automatic detection function that finds wireless connection. It can be argued that this is not within his rights. Once you are connected, it can further be argued that he cannot prevent your from using the connection to surf or to download from the internet.

The argument is strengthened by the fact that if he wishes to, the neighbor is able to secure his connection, and prevent others from using it. However, the final argument (permitting use of his connection even against hthe owner’s wishes, at all times) still requires further scrutiny.

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11 Responses to “Using Neighbor’s Wireless Connection”

  1. Kol mareh and reach stillhave an issur applied to them if there is a relation to meila and there is a concern of hezek reyah relating to a neighbor,s privacy. Maybe wireless falls into a category of hezek reyah because unsecured wifi can be hacked and accessed agst the will of the owner

    • Interesting idea, but hezek re’iah would only be a problem if a neighbor was to access his neighbor’s internet activity, and would not apply to a neighbor’s innocuous use of his neighbor’s internet connection. This would not be considered an invasion of his privacy.

  2. this post is very usefull thx!

  3. “Anybody who has an unsecured wireless connection knows that neighbors or passers-by will be able to utilize it, and their leaving the connection unsecured implies a tacit granting of permission for doing so.”

    – This is unproven. I would say that most people who have an unsecured wireless connection do not realise that it can be used by passers by and would be quite surprised to know that it was being used in this way.

    “Even if he states that you may not use the wireless connection, there is room to argue that he does not have the right to prohibit its use. As you rightly point out, if he is away or asleep, so that others’ use of the connection causes him no loss (in the speed of his own internet surfing), it is a case of zeh neheneh vezeh lo chaser.”

    – You would not know if this is zeh neheneh vezeh lo chaser unless you knew which Internet connection plan your neighbour was on. Otherwise you stand the possibility of increasing his downloads which could either cause him to be charged for his own downloads later or to have his connection speed slowed down when he goes over his monthly limit.

    “However, there is room to argue that the owner cannot prevent others from using the connection at any time. The reasoning for this is that a person cannot place his painting on the street, and forbid people from looking at it, thereby forcing all pedestrians to cross the road. A person’s self-made prohibitions cannot force others to take positive action to avoid ‘transgressing’ the prohibition.”

    – Connecting to a wireless connection is not a natural bodily function.

    • Thanks for the comments.
      Although it isn’t a bodily function, but it is something that happens automatically. Can my neighbor demand that I turn off my computer’s internet function?
      I am not aware of potential losses of surfing alone; it is true that in some cases downloading might use up a person’s download quota, so there would be some chaser.
      I think that people today are aware of the fact that anybody can pick up their connection, but I have not performed an investigation of this assumption.
      If you know of poskim who have addressed the topic, I will be interested to hear of different opinions.

  4. Many older people would be unaware that their wireless networks are not secured, some would not even know that they have a wireless network in their house, they just know that they can connect to the Internet.

    There is a question here of trespassing, as the societal norm is not to use other people’s networks (and doing so constitutes a criminal activity in most countries) therefore using someone else’s network constitutes a breach of privacy which besides possibly being genevah (the person may be charged for your downloads, you may be slowing down their network while they are trying to use it) is definitely bichlal hezek re’iyah (someone else mentioned this sevara).

    That means that just as I do not want you seeing me doing tashmishim tzenuim I certainly do not want you hacking into my home network and using it at your convenience.

    There is no way in the world that the umden daas of someone who has an unsecured network is – ‘I left this network unsecured because I am more than happy for anyone to come along, log on and browse the Internet.’

    • The trespassing idea is interesting. If using others’ open connection is legally classified as trespassing, and is considered illegal, it will of course be prohibited to use the Wi-Fi connection. The given answer assumes that there is nothing in the law prohibiting the use. From very elementary research, it appears that there is no clear legal answer (in the US, and certainly in Israel) to the question of using others’ connections.

      The question referred to somebody away, so that use will not slow down his connection, and the downloading issue depends on “download limits”–I don’t know of any such limits in Israel for Wi-Fi connections, but perhaps there are limits in the US.

      As to hezek re’iyah, I assume you mean the concern that a user will access the browsing history, and check which sites his neighbor has visited. I would define this as the neighbor having left an open window, through which his privacy can be invaded–my computer connects automatically to the connection, and the neighbor cannot obligate me to disable the Internet function on my computer. It is forbidden to look through the window (viewing the browsing history), but not necessarily forbidden to use the connection to check the weather forecast, which does not invade the owner’s privacy.

  5. The sm”a says (CM 153:1) that the reason that it is forbidden to extend a beam into a neighbour’s courtyard is that notwithstanding that the owner of the beam (who lives in the upper storey) could say that he will use the beam with his face turned away from his neighbour’s courtyard, seeing as he could intend to look into his neighbour’s courtyard this is still assur.

    Similarly here, seeing as by connecting to my neighbour’s network I have the potential to access his personal documents etc. stored on his computer this should be assur.

    Computer’s are not generally set up to connect to the first available network, normally they will display a list of available networks and then you have to click on the network that you want the computer to connect to. Hence there is no automation here that you are not responsible for.

    Interestingly, there was a case in America where someone was jailed by the FBI for accessing inappropriate content online, he denied ever having done this. After investigating the logs on his computer the FBI discovered that he had not accessed the content, rather this had been his neighbour who had accessed his insecure network.

    Another point is that if I connect to your home network through your wireless network, I can potentially cause damage to your computers through the spread of viruses. i.e. the most common ways for viruses to spread is within the same network from computer to computer. There is no difference between me logging on to your wireless network and between me walking into your house and plugging a network cable into your router, either way your computers will have equal succeptibility to a virus that may be present on my computer.

    Regarding leaving the network unsecured: If I leave a box of tools by my front door, this does not mean that I don’t mind you using them. I just left them by my front door because that was a convenient place for me to leave them. I do not need to stand with a hammer ready to hit you over the head to express my displeasure at you using something of mine which is accessable to you.

    • From my personal experience, the computer connects automatically to open connections. However, there are surely ways to change this setting. The question is whether the connection is considered entering a person’s home/private domain, or entering a public domain of the internet.

      Certainly, the way in which people see it is the latter. From a short survey, I have found that across the spectrum of Israeli society (Charedi, Orthodox, and secular) the universal custom is to piggyback on others’ connections. Some made the point that there are potential download limits, and therefore don’t use others’ connections for downloads. The way people see an insecure internet connection is an “open door” to the public domain of the Internet. Of course, the fact that everybody does something doesn’t mean it is permitted, but it gives an indication of how the concept is perceived to the human eye.

      Does the fact that it will be possible to see the browsing history (I don’t know how somebody could get into the files on my computer) make this a “private domain”? I don’t believe that this is an accurate classification, and if all I do is look up the weather forecast (etc.) I would consider this oseh betoch shelo, and not entering somebody else’s domain.

      The virus question will perhaps be of relevance for the issue of zeh neheneh vezeh no chaser. The potential exposure to a virus might be a cause for a “chaser.” If I know that I have no viruses on my computer, this might not be a consideration. In any event, after consultation, I have been informed that the connection of another computer will not pose any threat to a regular router-based connection. Perhaps check this matter out.

      The difference between the toolbox and an internet connection is fairly clear, and this is reflected in the fact that to my knowledge, there is no general legal restriction on “piggybacking” on somebody else’s connection, whereas all agree that it is forbidden to steal a toolbox. Moreover, for the vast majority of people, leaving a connection unsecured means “aveidah midaas” with regard to others’ use of the connection (unlike the toolbox). However, I concede that there might be a small minority who don’t understand the significance.

  6. There is a Wikipedia article that discusses the legality of ‘piggybacking’ in various countries. In the USA this varies from state to state and seems to be prohibited in England;
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legality_of_piggybacking

    An interesting point is that the person accessing the wireless network may be stealing from the Internet Service Provider in cases where the Internet Service Provider sells the Internet access to their customer for his (or families) use only.

    I don’t think that from a moral standpoint it is advisable to pasken that this is mutar because it is a haphazard situation (different laws in different places, you may or may not be affecting the owner of the wireless network, they may or may not know that they have an unsecure network, they may or may not be charged for your Internet access, their Internet Service Provider may or may not be happy with someone else piggybacking off their Internet access).

  7. Even with permission of the router owner, this could be considered stealing from the ISP. It could depend on the terms of service, if they cover that sort of thing. I imagine it could even differ in terms of occasional/situational use and regular use: i.e., the difference b/t using a friend’s wifi when you’re at his house, and using a neighbor’s wifi as your regular home Internet source. I wonder if secular law covers any of these particular cases.

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