Video: Man faces 5 years in prison for reading wife’s e-mail

posted at 11:00 am on December 28, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

Can a person check his spouse’s e-mail without running afoul of anti-hacker laws? Apparently not in Michigan, where Leon Walker faces five years in prison as a result of his snooping during an ugly end to his marriage. Today looks at Walker’s investigation of his wife’s alleged infidelity, assisted in no small part by the lack of security on her e-mail account:

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Walker says he conducted his snooping before the marriage fell apart; his estranged wife says it happened months after she filed for divorce. He says she had given him permission in earlier transactions to access her e-mail; she says that he installed a “hacking device” that allowed him to capture the data. The success or failure of the prosecution will probably rest on which allegations are true, and it may be impossible to unravel which competing claims come closest to the truth.

But should the law apply to spouses at all? Michigan is not a community-property state, but at least in those states that assume half-interests in all property acquired or possessed during the marriage (states vary on the application), e-mail would appear to qualify as property, giving spouses an interest. This is no mere academic question either, as spousal snooping is quite common, and not just in formal marriages:

Earlier this year, Retrevo.com, a consumer electronics shopping and review site, polled 1,000 U.S. residents of varying age, gender, income and location to see whether they have ever spied on their significant others’ e-mail. The results showed that 38 percent of those under 25 who are in a dating relationship have “snooped.” Ten percent of the spies in that age group discovered the other person was unfaithful.

Retrevo’s study found that 36 percent of people in committed relationships have spied on a partner’s e-mail and call logs. Of those, only 3 percent found incriminating evidence.

I agree with Today’s analyst, who suggests that if the state wants anti-hacking and privacy laws to apply to spouses, they should write laws specific to that situation.  In this case, it seems like a prosecutorial innovation and an application of criminal law where divorce court would be a better forum for adjudication.   As Walker’s attorney warns, if we start sticking spouses in prison for snooping on e-mail accounts, we’re going to need a lot more courtrooms and jail cells.

Let’s poll this.  Would you snoop on a spouse’s e-mail, and under what circumstances?


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With the proliferation of key loggers on personal computers and cell phone monitoring applications, this is going to come to a head soon.

The reality is simply, if there is a reasonable belief that a spouse is cheating, the other spouse is going to snoop and the computer and cell phones are the prime target. The availability and ease of use of these monitoring and tracking technologies means there are going to be similar cases bubbling up in the media. Give the guy a break.

Infidelity is a b***h, clouds the mind and makes people think and do things they might not normally do. She was wrong and he shouldn’t face a penalty for going to reasonable means to uncover the fact that she broke her marital vows.

R Square on December 29, 2010 at 10:51 AM

To be honest, I think this issue is truly a spiritual matter. I think that snooping is trying to control life, in essence. It’s a superstitious attitude.

Just relaxing and trusting that no matter what, you’ll deal fine, is much smarter.

When it’s time, the “evidence” will drop in your lap.

AnninCA on December 29, 2010 at 10:54 AM

Infidelity is a b***h, clouds the mind and makes people think and do things they might not normally do. She was wrong and he shouldn’t face a penalty for going to reasonable means to uncover the fact that she broke her marital vows.

R Square on December 29, 2010 at 10:51 AM

But I think that most people do find a backdoor when they are ready to exit a marriage.

It’s just a part of life.

AnninCA on December 29, 2010 at 10:56 AM

If this flies, then you can get every wife that is not working, who takes money from the husbands account without asking.

WoosterOh on December 29, 2010 at 11:08 AM

Did this idiot wife ever hear of this unique and technologically innovative concept known as CHANGING YOUR DAMN PASSWORD?!!!!

pilamaye on December 28, 2010 at 11:08 AM

I think that’s what will get him off — she shared the passwords with him; if she was worried about privacy during their marital problems, then she should have changed her password.

Btw, it’s pretty pathetic when a person who is clearly committing adultery is the one who’s characterized as the victim.

Richard Romano on December 29, 2010 at 3:26 PM

Comment pages: 1 2