Critics of federal court decision say it could open up password sharing to prosecution

Fraud is a serious accusation when it comes to criminal charges, and those who face charges of fraud should always work with an experienced criminal defense attorney to ensure they build the strongest possible case. This is especially true when the charges are not appropriate to the behavior being targeted.

Under a recent decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, this type of scenario is possible. The decision dealt with the issue of whether sharing a password to a digital account could constitute a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The law, which we’ve previously written about, targets those who attempt to wrongfully gain access to a protected computer.

The decision specifically dealt with a former employee of an executive recruiting firm who used an employee’s password to access company information after he had his access removed. The court ruled that password sharing in this context was a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Though the majority intended that the ruling be restricted to such situations, one of the judges commented that there is nothing in the decision to prevent conviction under the law for those who engage in password sharing for more or less harmless purposes.

There is little concern that Netflix, HBO and other companies will change their current policies and practices with respect to password-sharing based on the decision. It isn’t clear whether the decision will have much influence on courts outside the 9th Circuit, or whether the issue could eventually lead to a Supreme Court review. We’ll certainly keep our readers updated with any developments.


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