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Origins of the Act

It is generally agreed that it was the actions of two computer hobbyists; Robert Schifreen and Stephen Gold, who used their home computers to access without authorisation British Telecom's (BT) Prestel system that highlighted the need for new legislation.

The two "hackers" managed to get access to Prince Phillip's personal message box. They did this, when they were visiting an ICT trade fair, by surreptitiously observing a BT engineer entering a user name of 1234 and a password of 22222222. This technique for finding out restricted information is known as shoulder surfing.

After this unauthorised access was discovered, the authorities struggled to find a law that covered the perpetrator's actions and this led to the drawing up of the Computer Misuse Act.

The case against Gold and Schifreen took place in 1988.

Next: Specifics of the Computer Misuse Act