Regina v Gold and Schifreen: CACD 17 Jul 1987

Use of Illegally Obtained Passwords not Forgery

The defendants had obtained password and ID information sufficient to secure access to British Telecom’s Prestel Service. They appealed against convictions under the 1981 Act after using the access codes to log in. Having gained such access they obtained information to which they were not entitled; made unauthorised alterations to stored data; and caused charges to be made to account-holders without their knowledge or consent.
Held: The appeals succeeded.
Lord Lane CJ said: ‘In our judgment the user segment in the instant case does not carry the necessary two types of message to bring it within the ambit of forgery at all. Moreover, neither the report nor the Act, so it seems to us, seeks to deal with information that is held for a moment whilst automatic checking takes place and is then expunged. That process is not one to which the words ‘recorded or stored’ can properly be applied, suggesting as they do a degree of continuance.
There is a further difficulty. The prosecution had to prove that the appellants intended that someone should accept as genuine the false instrument which they had made. The suggestion here is that it was a machine (under section 10(3)) which the appellants intended to induce to respond to the false instrument. But the machine (i.e., the user segment) which was intended, so it was said, to be induced seems to be the very thing which was said to be the false instrument (i.e., the user segment) which was inducing the belief. If that is a correct analysis, the prosecution case is reduced to an absurdity.
We have accordingly come to the conclusion that the language of the Act was not intended to apply to the situation which was shown to exist in this case. The submissions at the close of the prosecution case should have succeeded. It is a conclusion which we reach without regret. The Procrustean attempt to force these facts into the language of an Act not designed to fit them produced grave difficulties for both judge and jury which we would not wish to see repeated. The appellants’ conduct amounted in essence, as already stated, to dishonestly gaining access to the relevant Prestel data bank by a trick. That is not a criminal offence. If it is thought desirable to make it so, that is a matter for the legislature rather than the courts. We express no view on the matter. Our decision on this aspect of the case makes it unnecessary to determine the other issues raised by the appellants, in particular the submission that they should be found not guilty of forgery when there was no evidence that either of them had any inkling that what they were doing might amount to a contravention of the Act.’

Lord Lane CJ, Leonard and Rose JJ
[1987] QB 1116
Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981
England and Wales
Cited by:
Appeal fromRegina v Gold and Schifreen HL 21-Apr-1988
The defendants had hacked a remote computer system, by the unauthorised use of the passwords and IDs of other users of the system. The ID and password were immediately cleared by the computer once authorisation for access had been granted. They had . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Leading Case

Updated: 02 November 2021; Ref: scu.448083

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