This thread on ask metafilter about the ethics and legalities of using a neighbors wireless internet connection without express permission was disheartening. Metafilter tends to attract some smart & thoughful people, so somehow, the opinions expressed were somehow more troubling than they might have been.
There were two ugly little assumptions running through a lot of the responses:
The first was that anyone who had an open wireless network must have intended it to be open.
The second was an ugly corralary to the first: That anyone stupid enough to have an unintended open access point deserves to have it exploited.
Most of the people adhering to the first assumption tended to be somewhat idealistic, though perhaps self-servingly so. They figured that people are smart and aware, and so must have intended to share their connections with others — why else would they leave them open? Some of the people taking this position share their own connections willingly, and assume similar generosity on the part of others. I have to wonder if some though, have just constructed a convenient rationale for exploiting those who don’t know as much as they do.
As for those adhering to the second assumption, that the stupid get what they deserve, well, yuck.
There are others taking what to me were more defensible positions, but far too many people were just appauling.