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April 11th, 2011 by Dr. Phil

Is it a Crime to Snoop on Your Spouse?

spouseEmail1Should it be considered a crime to read your spouse’s email?

That’s what some prosecutors in Michigan believe. Relying on a legal statute typically used to prosecute crimes such as identity theft, they have charged 33-year-old Leon Walker with a felony, after he logged onto a laptop in the home he shared with his wife, Clara.

Why did Leon use her computer? According to reports, he used her password to access her Gmail account, because he suspected she was having an affair. Indeed, he found out, she was. And what did playing detective get him? A trial date this month where he could be sent to prison for up to five years. Prosecutors insist that by snooping through his wife’s email, Walker was committing a felony.

Seriously? Reading your spouse’s email is now supposedly a crime?

Well, in truth, Clara and Leon were going through divorce proceedings at the time the snooping took place last summer. Clara says she had a right to privacy, and she felt “violated“ by Leon’s actions, attempting to discover things about her new personal life.

But they were still sharing a residence, and Leon was still regularly using that very computer. According to Leon, Clara also kept all of the passwords to her accounts in a book she stored next to the computer, an allegation Clara denies, so it wasn’t as if he had to do something really underhanded to access them. Leon claims he felt obligated to look through her Gmail account because he was worried about the affair (it turned out she was having an affair with her second husband) and the effect it might have on their daughter and his stepson.

We all hate hackers who illegally try to access our private online information. Is it reasonable to consider Leon just another criminal hacker? Or does someone have a legitimate right to know about his spouse’s online activities, even while going through a divorce?

Actually, Leon’s upcoming trial could have a lot of repercussions. It’s estimated that about 45 percent of divorce cases involve some online snooping: gathering emails, reading Facebook postings, and so on. But divorces are civil cases. No one has ever heard of a criminal case getting filed because someone sneaked onto his or her spouse’s computer — until now.

I look forward to reading your comments.

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155 Responses to “Is it a Crime to Snoop on Your Spouse?”

  1. Sharon Moczygemba says:

    Let go and let God. Satin is having a field day.

  2. CB says:

    Dr. Phil,

    I’m a current victim of this as well (being charged with a crime for accessing email with access allowed by significant other). PLEASE do more on this topic!

  3. Cash Lidd says:

    I believe that snooping or reading someone else’s email or regular mail should be a crime. If your name is not on it, it wasn’t meant for you.

  4. CarolG says:

    Dear Robin, don’t let this subject die out. I would never have dis cured my husbands email affair with another one if I had not accidentally seen his emails on his ipad. It wasn’t intentional, but still a way to maybe save our marriage.

  5. CoriB says:

    Dr. Phil – as usual, you are right on with common sense.
    But our common sense seems to be going out the window these days!

    As I “grew up” on the Internet in the early days, computer related activities were not considered crimes unless they involved using the computer as a tool for true criminal activity – such as theft, damage to property, etc.

    If we start criminalizing personal lives and personal activity like this, we are going down a slippery slope of government interference in personal life, loss of freedom and using the law for purposes that it wasn’t intended for, such as revenge, and avoiding personal responsibility.

    What happens in an intimate personal relationship regarding email is always a personal matter!

    If something were considered to be a “breach of trust” by one party, that may be a subjectively unethical action, but it is not equivalent to a crime. And the correct response should not be criminal prosecution.

    What if a parent reads a child’s email…..would that be a criminal activity?

    What is someone left their diary laying around, would reading that be a criminal activity? (Reminds me of a “Bread” song from the 70’s.)

    Sometimes people compare this to entering someone’s home without permission, or even “rape”, but we cannot make such an analogy with the physical world! Especially since the power to control this is in the hands of the accuser who can set or change their password – physical force or coercion is not involved.

    And information sharing is the fundamental element of the online world. How, when and where this sharing happens should not be controlled by government.

    Reading a document – without causing harm, cannot be made to be a crime, except to the detriment of our society, and it’s a waste of financial resources.

    Leon Walker whose public case is referred to in this blog, has been contacted by others who have been charged similarly since then. He states that In every such case, there has been a political connection between the accuser and law enforcement – which is an abuse of the system, and bullying at its finest.

    Dr. Phil, could you please do a show on this topic!

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