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E-mail account diversion

San Bernardino, CA |

I have been divorced for two years. My ex continued to use my ISP email account (with a sub "child" email address) but I owned the account, paid for it and therefore had the ability to forward her email to myself and she had the ability (but apparently did not use it) to see what I was doing by looking at her email settings. She now has seen that I was forwarding her email to my address, including correspondence with her lawyers. Since I owned the account, paid for the account, she knew I owned the account and had the ability to change her email and didn't and could have looked at at the settings at any time, procured another account in her own name or otherwise avoided the use of my account am I subject to felony or civil penalties/laws since it was my account?

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Attorney answers 5


I would think so. Take for example your telephone. It is illegal for you to surreptitiously tape record anyone else's conversations without their consent. Don't think that by owning an email account gives you the right to obtain it without their consent. If you get a letter addressed to a third person but dropped in your mailbox, does that mean you can open it because it is your mailbox and others' mail finds itself in it and the third person knows it. Answer: heck no.

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I have to agree with attorney Garcia on this issue. However, just to be fair I discussed it with my associate and started a discussion over which rights prevail, Property rights (yours) or privacy rights(hers). After much heated debate, we agreed that violation of a protected constitutional right, i.e. the right to privacy was stronger than your right to your ISP. So, if your wife turns you over to the D.A., the D.A., will have to go through the whole debate. The best situation will be if you just refrain from invading your EX-'s privacy and stop forwarding her emails to yourself. Best of luck.

This answer is provided by Manuel A. Juarez, Esq., aka El Abogado de Divocios de California: 510-206-4492. It is of a general context and is not intended to form an attorney client relationship. I am licensed only in California. This information is good only in California and it is not to be taken as legal advice on divorce, family matters, bankruptcy or in any other type of situation. Esta respuesta es del Abogado de Bancarrotas, Manuel A. Juárez, 510-206-4492. Abogado Hispano de Divorcios, Abogado Latino de Accidentes, y Abogado de Bancarrotas de Oakland, Hayward, San Francisco, y California. Estas respuesta son solo para información general y no consisten en consejo legal sobre divorcios, mantención de esposas, mantención de hijos o bancarrotas. Las respuestas son comentarios legales que no forman una relación de abogado y cliente. Manuel Juarez, Esq., esta licenciado solo en el Estado de California.


Yes, and I have changed your topic to criminal defense, as thats the type of attorney you may need. I would also see if you can remove this posting as it is not wise to ask on a public forum if you have committed a potential crime.

Attorney Williams practices FAMILY LAW throughout the State of California and may be reached at (831) 233-3558 and offers free consultations. The response provided in this forum is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship. The information offered in this response is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon without further consultation with a legal professional after all relevant facts are disclosed and considered. DANIEL S. WILLIAMS, ESQ. LAW OFFICES OF DANIEL S. WILLIAMS 500 LIGHTHOUSE AVENUE, STE. A MONTEREY, CA 93940 (831) 233-3558 -- OFFICE (831) 233-3560 -- FAX



Here is what the Criminal lawer said: "If you are the account administrator then you control the account and there is nothing that you would have violated with respect to Federal Law. The only problem could be if this issue was addressed in your divorce and there was some court order regarding the account and its use. Obviously your ex knew who controlled the account and if she wanted to take the risk of continued use that was her choice. Whoever controls the email has the right to open and read and forward and do anything with the account.". Clearly a different perspective than Family Law.

Daniel Seth Williams

Daniel Seth Williams


Id check with another criminal law attorney.


Well, aside from being creepy and rude, your conduct could well run afoul of state and/or federal criminal law.

Your ex had (I would expect) an expectation of privacy in her communications. This is demonstrated by the use of the account to communicate with her attorney(s). The fact that she "had the ability" to see what you were doing is irrelevant, to a point. The victim of a peeping tom "had the ability" to look out the window and see the perp. Who cares? So long as it wasn't readily apparent to the average user (or her, for that matter) that the email was compromised and not private, the fact that she could have found your secret tampering doesn't much matter. Your defense attorney may try to exploit her ability to prevent the eavesdropping (I probably would), but it sounds like a loser argument to me on the facts given.

California protects confidential communications under Penal Codes 630-638. While the codes are straining to keep up with technological advances, your conduct probably violated one or more of these statutes. Penal Code 502 deals with computer access crimes, which may or may not apply here, depending on the specific facts. Quite frankly, there are other crimes that could likely be bent to fit these circumstances, too.

The fact that it was your account might help establish that she had no expectation of privacy in the communication, but I doubt it. Typically, people just think of these things as "my email." An analogous example is the "Sent From My iPhone/iPad" signature line that is so common these days. It takes just a few clicks to change that default sig, but few people know enough and/or care enough to do so. That is simply reality. Really, one could argue that non-encrypted email traffic is inherently unsecure and carries no reasonable expectation of privacy. But that flies in the face of conventional wisdom, and may not be persuasive.

I am vaguely certain that the federal laws may be a bigger problem for you than California statutes, but that's not my area of expertise. 18 USC 2511 seems to be specifically applicable to these facts, for example. The good news is that the federal authorities are much less likely to care about this situation, even assuming that federal law was potentially violated.

Feel free to call me if you want to discuss your options. Obviously, you need to stop receiving these emails. While we can presume that she no longer thinks of communication on this account is private, it's still highly inappropriate to be accessing another person's mail.

Under no circumstances should you make any statement about this practice to anyone other than an attorney that is in a position to properly advise you. That means: Don't lie. Don't tell the truth. Just don't make a statement. Deflect, avoid, ignore.

Good luck.

Any statements I make in these forums (fora?) should not be taken as direct legal advice, merely informed guidance. This is true due to the anonymous nature of this venue, and the incomplete information which is invariably provided by the questions. It is imperative that you consult directly with an attorney regarding your specific situation before acting on or relying on anything represented here. Period.


This is a difficult question since the question of whether your access was known or authorized is critical and triggers both civil and criminal issues under both Federal and California law that you should discuss with counsel separate from a public forum.