The Jig Is Up: You Can Be Prosecuted For Sharing Passwords

A federal appeals court ruled password sharing is essentially hacking.

By Eugene Daniels | July 6, 2016

Using your dad's Netflix password to catch up on your favorite binge-worthy show now officially makes you a criminal hacker. Don't freak out yet — I'll explain. 

A federal appeals court upheld a hacking conviction under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for David Nosal. Nosal left his job to form his own firm but kept downloading information from the company using a password given to him willingly by his former assistant. The panel decided that was basically hacking. 

Nosal's case is unique because he had permission from the password holder but not the company. That broad interpretation of the CFAA would basically make sharing your Hulu, Netflix or HBO Go password a federal crime.  

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The dissenting judge in the case made that same connection, writing: "A friend or colleague accessing an account with a shared password would most certainly believe — and with good reason — that his access had been 'authorized' by the account holder who shared his password with him." 

But let's be clear, though the interpretation sounds terrifying, it's highly unlikely you're going to get prosecuted, making it sort of pointless. But it sets up a precedent that can be used by any court in the U.S. 

This video includes clips from United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and Netflix.

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