Sharing Internet With Neighbors A Felony?

In the most recent iteration of U.S. v. Nosal the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has held that using someone else’s password beyond the system provider’s authorization is a felony under the CFAA. (18 U.S. Code § 1030)

This is being reported as it might apply to things like Netflix accounts, commonly (though improperly) shared. But this opinion has applications far beyond things like Netflix, as it goes to just about any service or access that might be provided, including basic residential internet service.

As noted in the dissent by Reinhardt:

This case is about password sharing. People frequently share their passwords, notwithstanding the fact that websites and employers have policies prohibiting it.

So what happens when you share you Internet service? Arguably sharing internet service in violation of the terms of service is now a felony.

As noted by the court:

The key section of the CFAA at issue is 18 U.S.C. Sec. 1030(a)(4), which provides in relevant part:

Whoever . . . knowingly and with intent to defraud, accesses a protected computer without authorization, or exceeds authorized access, and by means of such conduct furthers the intended fraud and obtains anything of value . . . shall be punished . . . .

An examination of the terms of service for a common internet service provider (Time Warner) makes clear:

Your Right to Use our Services and Property is Limited

d) Personal, Non-commercial Use Only. The Services and Software are for your reasonable personal, non-commercial use only… You may not share our in-home Services or related Software with any person who is not a member or guest of your household or to persons outside your premises. You may not enable any person who is not a member of your household to access our out-of-home Services or related Software (for example, by providing them with your TWC ID and password).

This is further clarified:

(f) Theft of Service. If you knowingly access Services that you have not paid for, enable others to access Services that they have not paid for, or damage or alter our Equipment (or use Customer-Owned Equipment) in order to do so, you will have breached this Agreement and possibly subjected yourself to statutory damages, fines or criminal charges. Only TWC may service Customer Use Equipment. You will not allow anyone else to open, take apart or modify Customer Use Equipment.


In other words – you are authorized to allow others in your home to use your internet service, but once they leave your home the authorization is revoked opening the door to CFAA liability.

So before you share your internet service with neighbors, keep in mind this may now be a felony under the CFAA.

But this should not be a surprise as most states have laws in place that already make theft of services criminal. Such as Texas Penal Code § 31.04:

(a) A person commits theft of service if, with intent to avoid payment for service that the actor knows is provided only for compensation:

(1) the actor intentionally or knowingly secures performance of the service by deception, threat, or false token;

(2) having control over the disposition of services of another to which the actor is not entitled, the actor intentionally or knowingly diverts the other’s services to the actor’s own benefit or to the benefit of another not entitled to the services;

(3) having control of personal property under a written rental agreement, the actor holds the property beyond the expiration of the rental period without the effective consent of the owner of the property, thereby depriving the owner of the property of its use in further rentals;  or

(4) the actor intentionally or knowingly secures the performance of the service by agreeing to provide compensation and, after the service is rendered, fails to make full payment after receiving notice demanding payment.

A full copy of the Nosal opinion may be found here: U.S. v. Nosal, 14-10037 (9th Cir. July 5, 2016)

Leave a Reply

Post Navigation