Letting your friend have your Netflix password so they can watch the newest season of “Orange Is the New Black” may seem like an innocent and friendly gesture, but it’s now a federal crime.
An opinion issued by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Court found that sharing passwords is a crime prosecutable under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). As Fortune puts it, this makes millions of people who share passwords for services like Netflix and HBOGo “unwitting federal criminals.”
The decision came in the case of David Nosal, a former employee at executive search firm Korn/Ferry International. After leaving the Korn/Ferry firm, Nosal continued to use the company’s candidate database with the login credentials of his former assistant to help launch his own search firm.
Forbes reports that Nosal was charged with conspiracy, theft of trade secrets and three counts under CFAA and eventually sentenced to prison time, probation, and nearly $900,000 in restitution and fines.
Despite the opinion in the case, Judge Stephen Reinhard, one of the Ninth Circuit judges, expressed concern that “consensual password sharing” is now a prosecutable offense. Judge Reinhard said the new decision “loses sight of the anti-hacking purpose of the CFAA, and . . . threatens to criminalize all sorts of innocuous conduct engaged in daily by ordinary citizens.”