It seems that people have an account for almost everything these days. From email to social media to bank accounts and investment accounts, everything is password protected — whether you access it on a computer, phone or some other device.
You may wonder what the law says about logging into an account that you do not own. Is this strictly illegal, or are there any gray areas?
You need direct permission
Generally, accessing any account that is password protected is illegal. You can’t read someone’s emails or check their bank balance, for instance. If you need a password to get into that account, you’re breaking the law to enter it, even if you got in by correctly guessing that password.
In fact, there have been cases where even married spouses using the same computers have been accused of illegal activity. Both people may use the same browser to check their email. That doesn’t mean that they can both access the same email accounts, however, if those are behind a password and intended to have a restricted access.
In some cases, getting direct permission can make this legal. But you cannot assume that you have that permission. Just being in a relationship with someone does not make it legal to access their accounts, nor does sharing a computer with them.
What if you’re facing charges?
Computer crimes are often very complex and involve extensive electronic records. If you’re facing charges, you need to take the matter seriously and understand the legal options you have at your disposal, as a conviction could change your life.