Originally published on LinkedIn July 14, 2016

Unfortunately in our busy lives too many of us seem to obtain our information from nothing more than the headlines which are all too often misleading.  This story is a perfect example.  Sharing your Netflix Password is Now a Federal Crime

Nowhere in the underlying opinion does the court state that sharing a Netflix password would be a federal offense.  US v Nosal   In his sole dissent, Justice  Reinhardt cites concerns about password sharing becoming criminalized, but the majority decision cites examples of how this case is NOT about password sharing but about “former employees whose computer access was categorically revoked and who surreptitiously accessed data owned by their former employer”.    The defendant then used that data to benefit his new company that was in direct competition with his former employer.

To put this conduct in the same light as that of Aaron Schwartz is also disturbing.  Aaron’s goal was to make public data more available to the public – not steal data for his own personal gain.

Does the author of this story not feel that the former employees’ conduct rises to the level of a crime ?  Stealing is stealing, isn’t it?   Wouldn’t using somebody else’s Netflix account also be considered stealing?  But wouldn’t it also be along the lines of sampling a grape in the grocery store.   Just one will be overlooked, but not a whole bunch.

Having worked with many companies whose data was stolen by former employees I have sympathy for the employers.  It is quite expensive to pursue such a matter in the civil courts and many companies simply don’t have those resources.

It is not unreasonable to believe that the threat of federal criminal charges would dissuade employees from engaging in this conduct in the first place and isn’t that the reason we make certain conduct criminal?

Undoubtedly the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act has problems that should be addressed.  But if after reading this decision you still feel that its application in this case is wrong I’d be interested in your thoughts.

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