Is password sharing illegal? Recent actions from the 9th circuit court have sparked slightly erroneous headlines claiming that sharing your password is a federal crime. To grossly simplify the case, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) was used against a fired employee that accessed a company database with a password obtained from a former co-worker. Upon appeal, the appeals court ruling reaffirmed the conviction of the ex-employee, David Nosal, because accessing a work database after you have been fired is illegal no matter how it is done. Though the ruling can, and has, been misconstrued as banning password sharing at a federal level, password sharing is still legal. Unless you live in Tennessee, that is.
Password Sharing is still illegal in Tennessee
The “Tennessee Login Law” makes it a crime to share login information, namely your password, for sites such as Netflix and iTunes. The new rule was added as an update to decades old cable TV theft laws, and have been in effect since July of 2011. Not surprisingly, the Tennessee password sharing law was heavily lobbied for by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
The law was written to prosecute hackers that sell bulk Netflix logins – a fringe black market industry that has been shaken up by Netflix itself. The streaming giant has clarified that it is OK to share your account details with immediate family members, significant others, roommates – but only if you pay for the feature. Even if the service you are using doesn’t specifically disallow password sharing, the law in Tennessee still does. When the law passed, lawmakers admitted that the law could be used beyond its original intention and used to prosecute a simple password sharing. Why, oh why, do politicians waste time on such laws?