Court ruling could make sharing your password a federal crime

If you’ve been sharing your Netflix credentials or any other online password, you may want to reconsider it.

A federal judge ruled last week that it is illegal to share any password due to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion on July 5th after a court ruled against David Nosal, a case regarding a man who left his job and used a colleague’s password to download information from one of the company’s databases to use at the new firm he was working at. Nosal was sentenced to one year and a day in prison, probation and about $900,000 in restitution and fines.

Judge Stephen Reinhardt argued in a dissenting opinion that the case regarding Nosal was not about hacking but about password sharing. He argued that the ruling jeopardizes password sharing for the general public, according to Fox News.

“The majority does not provide, nor do I see, a workable line which separates the consensual password sharing in this case from the consensual password sharing of millions of legitimate account holders, which may also be contrary to the policies of system owners. There simply is no limiting principle in the majority’s world of lawful and unlawful password sharing,” Judge Reinhardt said.

Fox News reports that if the judge is correct, people who use streaming sites and share passwords “without authorization.” would be in breach of the CFAA.

“This case is about password sharing. People frequently share their passwords, notwithstanding the fact that websites and employers have policies prohibiting it. In my view, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”) does not make the millions of people who engage in this ubiquitous, useful, and generally harmless conduct into unwitting federal criminals,” Judge Reinhardt said.

It is unlikely that streaming services, like Netflix or HBO Go, would actually go after customers who share their passwords. 

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