A ruling by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals could prove troublesome for everyone who’s been mooching off shared Netflix passwords.
According to the decision in United States v. Nosal—a case that has been in contention for almost a decade—“sharing online passwords could be considered a federal crime under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act,” Uproxx reports.
The case involved David Nosal, a former employee of a search firm called Korn/Ferry. After leaving the firm, Nosal allegedly used another employee’s password to download information from Korn/Ferry’s database that he later used at his new company.
Due to this, “Nosal was charged in 2008 with hacking under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA),” according to Fusion.
The Ninth Circuit decision underscores the original ruling and essentially criminalizes anyone who has ever shared their password. If Netflix chose to do so, it could bring action against any of its users who have been sharing passwords.
This is problematic for anyone who has given passwords to family members of close friends; these benign acts are suddenly federal crimes.
Dissenting judge Stephen Reinhardt agreed (the Ninth Circuit ruled 2-1 in favor of the original decision). Reinhardt noted that, “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 does not make the millions of people who engage in this ubiquitous, useful, and generally harmless conduct into unwitting federal criminals.”
Reinhardt rightfully addressed the practical implications of the court’s ruling, but it is unfortunately a moot point—this decision sets terrible precedent and undoubtedly ruins user experience.
While people will undeniably continue to share passwords, the fact that this is no longer protected under the law is worrisome.
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