Reading your Spouse’s emails: Snooping or Hacking?
In my experience as a Northville divorce lawyer, I have seen countless instances where one suspecting spouse has read the other spouse’s emails, facebook entries, or text messages, discovering that their spouse was cheating on them. These emails or text messages have been brought into my office to prove the affair, and have sometimes been used as evidence in divorce cases.
That may all change this year. Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper has criminally charged Oakland county resident Leon Walker for doing just that, and the case is set to go to trial, ironically, on Valentine’s Day.
Leon Walker was the third husband of Clara Walker, and suspected that she was having an affair with her second husband. Leon Walker accessed Clara’s laptop (that he had purchased for her), and opened her Gmail account by using her password, which he asserts that she kept in a book by the computer. Her emails revealed that she was in fact having an affair with her second husband.
Leon Walker took those emails and gave them to Clara Walker’s first husband, because Clara Walker had previously told Leon Walker that her second husband had previously beat her in front of her son from her first marriage. Leon Walker then filed for Divorce, and Clara Walker’s first husband filed for custody of their son. Clara Walker turned those emails over to the Prosecutor.
Leon Walker was charged with violating Michigan law MCL 752.795, which states that a person cannot “intentionally and without authorization" access a computer, computer program, computer network, or computer system, to “acquire, alter, damage, delete, or destroy property." The same law prohibits spam and viruses. Despite the fact that they were married at the time he accessed her email, and despite the fact that the computer was purchased by him and her password was not kept a secret, Prosecutor Jessica Cooper charged him with a felony that is normally reserved for serious hackers—and Leon Walker now faces a penalty of up to five years in prison.
Prosecutor Jessica Cooper has publicly defended her decision to prosecute Leon Walker despite the public outcry and support for Leon Walker. Lawmakers have indicated a concern that this law would be used to prosecute parents for reading their child’s emails, and have indicated that legislation will be introduced to clarify who should be targeted by the law. It appears that lawmakers and the majority of the public share the opinion that this particular hacking law should not be used against spouses.
Unfortunately despite what will happen on the Valentine’s Day trial, the mere fact that Leon Walker was charged under this law should make people cautious about accessing the email & facebook accounts of their spouses without permission, whether or not they are going through a divorce.