The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is designed to prevent computer-related crimes. However, as with many tech-based laws, the way that it's applied and interpreted is very important. After an interpretation made on July 5, in a 2-1 ruling in California, some are calling the law a potential nightmare.

Companies and Individuals

The case started when a man quit his job at an existing company so that he could go out on his own and start a new company. In doing so, he talked to a person who was still an employee at his former company, asking for a computer password. He wanted to look at the client data from his previous employer. The employee obliged, handing over the password, which he then used to access the data. The case ended up before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, where the 2-1 vote ruled that his actions had been without authorization.

The question this raises is, in part, related to the difference between individuals and companies. After all, the individual employee did authorize him to use the password, even though the company did not. If he was still charged with acting without authorization, does that mean that individuals don't actually have the right to share their own passwords?

The Nightmare

The reason this is being called a potential nightmare is that password sharing is common. People share passwords for Netflix and HBO Go to watch shows online. Couples share passwords for bank accounts and credit card accounts. In some cases, secretaries share passwords with their supervisors in order to check email messages and do all manner of other tasks.

The fear is that this law could open the door for people who are sharing passwords to be given criminal charges for acting without authorization under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The precedent may now be in place.

Computer Crime Interpretations

This case shows how important it is to keep an eye on court cases and current rulings regarding computer crime to see how the laws are interpreted. If you're facing computer crime charges, you need to know what precedents have been set.