Is sharing passwords a federal crime? Time will tell

It’s fairly normal for friends and family members to share passwords to services they use often. For instance, an entire family may share one email account, or roommates may share the same Netflix password and account.

If you share a password to a service that you pay for, does that make you a criminal? Shouldn’t the other party be paying for their own services, too? A July 13 report looked into that question for anyone who has ever used a service like Netflix or Hulu. According to a federal court ruling, sharing your password to a subscription service could be a federal crime in the future, and that’s something you might want to talk about with your attorney.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling that says sharing passwords could be prosecuted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. This isn’t a ruling against the general public; it was for a case in which a man left a company and used an employee password to access the company’s database. He was convicted of hacking charges for the action.

If the ruling is held against the general public as well, then it could mean sharing your password is an offense; it would be similar to stealing a service. Right now, that’s not the case. In fact, you have the right to authorize access to anyone who wants to use your account at the moment, as long as they are family or household members. You may be able to share with friends if you’re there to use the service as well. In the future, this case could draw questions about whose right it is to grant that access.

Source: KIRO 7, “Are you a criminal if you share your Netflix password? The top 7 questions answered,” Siemmy Kim, July 14, 2016