Appeals court rules sharing passwords a 'criminal act'

- A decision last week by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco opens the door to criminal charges for anyone sharing a password for a Netflix account or asking your spouse to log into your email account.

In a 2-1 decision, the court upheld the conviction of David Nosal for violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

In 2005, Nosal and two friends left their jobs at a recruiting firm, but continued to use an employee's password to access the company's computers and obtain information to help start a new firm.

In its ruling the court mentioned that:  "We are mindful...that ill-defined terms may capture arguably innocuous conduct, such as password sharing among friends and family, inadvertently 'mak(ing) criminals of large groups of people who would have little reason to suspect they are committing a federal crime'."

But the two deciding judges said that there is a clear difference between accessing a former employee's computer system versus asking a spouse to log into your own account.
 
In the sole dissent, Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt said the ruling would make sharing passwords to devices such as smartphones, laptops and iPads, a criminal act and "millions of our citizens would become potential federal criminals overnight.."
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