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Sharing Password Ends With Jail Time

August 8, 2016 By Jeff King

Prosecutions involving computer crimes have increased dramatically over the last decade or so. The reason is obvious, there are many more computers today than ever before. But a problem with many of these prosecutions is that when federal laws were written to prevent crimes using computers, the technology involving computers was simple compared to today’s computers.

Computer Fraud & Abuse Act

One of those laws is found in 18 U.S.C. § 1030, et al. Known as the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act or CFAA, this law is very broad in what it considers a crime. Under the provisions of this federal statute, it is a crime for anyone to knowingly access a protected computer without authorization or exceeding authorization with the intent to defraud.

Illegal Access Penalty

It was this provision of this act that recently put a man in jail for a year, and cost him over a $1 million in fines and restitution. Among other things, the man was charged over getting access to his former company’s computer systems to glean information for his newly started business. According to the court’s opinion, the defendant in this case asked one of his former colleagues for his login information to the company’s computer system to get information to help him set up his new company.

Sharing Passwords – Felony Charges

It was this sharing of passwords and login information that resulted in felony charges of violating the CFAA. But as the opinion was handed down, it left many wondering whether the appellate court for the 9th Circuit introduced a new crime that millions of us are guilty of overnight by making password sharing illegal under the CFAA.

Slippery Slope?

There are literally millions and millions of instances each day when people share passwords and login information to do a number of things. Whether it is to access an email account for a friend, or your spouse’s Facebook account with permission, and viewing password protected content online, there is a question now about whether doing so constitutes a crime.

This is exactly the point made by the dissent in this case. In his dissent, Judge Reinhardt pointed out that the CFAA was established as a hacking crime intended to make it a crime to cross over technological barriers to access computer systems without permission. But because the language of the CFAA is so broad, increasingly prosecutors are using it to punish otherwise innocuous behavior like password sharing.

With an estimated 3,000 federal crimes on the books, the last thing prosecutors need to ensure justice across the country is an expanded view of what constitutes a crime. But that is just what has happened in this case. This is yet another tool in the work-shed of prosecutorial discretion for prosecuting crimes.

Defending and Understanding Your Rights

If you are facing a computer or other federal crime, you need the right legal team to defend your rights. Jeff King is just the Texas criminal defense attorney you need for a number of reasons: he was former prosecutor who knows the federal code and what moves the prosecution will make in your case; and, he is an accomplished and renowned defender who will defend your rights. If you are charged with a crime, whether federal or state, contact us.

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