Court ruling would make sharing your Netflix password a federal offense
Jail overcrowding is set to increase dramatically as a ruling by a federal judge last week makes it illegal to share any password due to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). Yes, that includes Netflix.
An opinion was issued by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last Tuesday after a court ruled against a man accused of leaving his job and then using a coworker’s password to download information from one of the company’s databases for use at his new job.
The man, David Nosal, was sentenced to one year and a day in prison, probation and around $900,000 in restitution and fines.
One of the court’s judges offered a dissenting opinion, stating that the ruling could damage the legality of consensual password sharing by legitimate account holders.
“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.
For example, should the ruling stand, millions of users of increasingly popular streaming services would be in breach of the CFAA and could find themselves open to federal prosecution as a result.
“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.
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