Is it illegal to snoop on your spouse’s e-mail? That will be the question before the court in the case of Mr. Leon Walker. He “hacked” into his wife’s e-mail (she kept the password in her address book next to the computer), and found that she was having an affair. Now the couple has filed for divorce, and Walker has been charged with unauthorized access to a computer in order to “acquire, alter, damage, delete or destroy property.” Currently there is case law in Florida that prevents spouses from using intercepted communications from the other spouse’s computer in court. See O’Brien v. O’Brien, 899 So 2d 1133, Fla. 5th DCA, 2005.
The case is being heard in Michigan, but Florida and Marion County divorce lawyers will be very interested in the outcome of the case. Many Florida divorce cases begin with the discovery, via e-mail, text messages or social media, of infidelity or other secrets. If one spouse can be prosecuted for looking at another spouse’s private communications, it could change the situation in many family law cases.
The law Walker is being charged under is usually used against hackers intent on making money or causing damage.
Walker’s wife had been married twice before. By snooping, Walker discovered that she was having an affair with her second husband. Walker says that he had every right to poke around in the computer because he was concerned that his wife’s ex-husband might be abusive around their young children. The ex-husband had previously been convicted of abuse.
Other arguments Walker will make include: that he bought the computer in question, that it was in his home, and that his wife left the password where anyone could find it.
Walker said, “I felt that with the risk to my daughter and to my stepson, I had an obligation to check. I had no choice.”
The prosecutors in the case disagree. They feel the case is justified. But the defense will say that the law does not apply to domestic snooping.
A bigger question will be whether it is worthwhile for police and courts to pursue criminal cases when people have been looking at someone else’s e-mail or other private communications.