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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. Cynthia says:

    I do not believe it should be a crime if you are married to that person. If you are truley commited to your spouse you have nothing to hide. My husband and I have each others passwords. We trust each other and have nothing to hide.

  2. Elentarien says:

    Honestly, I think calling it a ‘crime’ is going to far. . .and could lead to trouble for people.

    While everyone deserves their privacy, of course, there are and can be good reasons to snooping through someone’s email. And some people might not overly mind if their spouse knows their password and trusts them to only use it if there’s an emergency or whatnot.

    If you don’t trust people not to snoop inappropriately. . .make a complicated password and don’t share it or write it down! I mean, its not that hard to maintain your computer privacy nowdays. Most everything can be passworded. .if you don’t choose a ’simple’ or ‘typical-for-you’ password then tell your entire
    family. lol

    As for reading facebook postings. . .um. . those are fairly public *anyway*. If you don’t want someone to find out. . .don’t put it out on the internet!

    I also think there are more serious ramifications than simply snooping through someone’s email. (its not like email is hugely private anyway, too easy to send to the wrong person, or be pulled up from the hard drives of the servers, etc) Such as WHY is the spouse not respecting privacy. Is there an abuse issue going on, etc.

    No, I don’t think it should be a ‘crime’.

  3. krista furguson says:

    no, if u use the internet expect no privacy, she should be ashamed of herself for having an affair, and not having the guts to say i dont wanna be with u anymore, he didnt take out a credit card in her name or anything, this is silly, besides, the article said he used her password, not he figured out her password, so if u give the password, u are giving permissions

  4. Wendy Millar says:

    I don’t think it’s a crime to snoop on your spouse, but if you trust your spouse there is no need to snoop. I never check my husbands cell phone. As for checking on his email, we have the same addy. There is only one computer in the house. (4 of us use the same one) The computer is in the living room and that is where we spend most of our evenings.

  5. jack says:

    Snooping can definitely cause major issues. When the issues involved start to SCREW WITH THE EMOTIONS OF THE CHILDREN within the immediate family then I feel it is important for the responsible parent to step up and do something to put an end to the bizarre nature of what is starting to unfold. When a parent crosses the line and the kids are affected YOU GOT TROUBLE.

  6. Beentheremyself says:

    I am in support of Leon, I too have been faced with crossing the line to find out things that I needed to know. Why ?? Because when your gut tells you something isnt right, your spouse tells you lies acts as though everything is in your head you feel forced to get to the bottom of what is going on. If this was a work email I could understand the charge but it was not, and also when your married isnt the big fight usually everything is community property well that should include emails, facebook, skype and all other types of communications. Its heart wrenching to find out your suspected betrayl is true it hurt me beyond anything to find out what I did but what hurt even more was the trust factor is then broken. True both ways I will give that but had there been no reason to look then no one would look. I am not proud of anything I did to achieve the answers but in the end it also taught me that I cant trust my spouse which is devistating. I would of felt guilty and upset had there been nothing to find but for arguments sake I would of been much happier. This exact issue has caused my marriage to split also. Yes I understand the invasion of privacy aspect but why should it reach that, why cant things be an open book to both so that none of this ever happens to begin with?? Only those who have something to hide get angry at it, those who dont could care less or ask if your happy now. This exact issue was the straw that broke the camels back in my marriage amongst other things. Im sorry for what Leon is going through, its sad it came to that. But if there was nothing to hide or nothing to find then he would of walked away feeling foolish and upset at what he did, she is just as guilty for doing thing to provoke his instinct in this so what does she get in return??

  7. Rebecca says:

    They have got to be CRAZY!!! I am married and have been for 3 years. My husband knows that I’m a nosey and jealous person. He knew that before we got married. I will do whatever it takes to make sure he is on the up and up regardless if I have to hack into his email, watch him through video surveillance, or even have a friend try and trap his butt. Nothing is off limits! He is MY husband and I’ll be damned if some law is going to tell me that I can’t keep tabs on him! I have his email account connected to my blackberry so that when he gets an email, I get it too! I also have a video surveillance system hooked up to where I can see and hear exactly what he is doing outside while he is out there. (He smokes and I don’t allow smoking in my home so he will go out on the front porch to smoke. He also goes there when he makes his nightly phone calls to his family members. I see and hear everything right from the comfort of my recliner.) And if they want to get technical, he uses MY laptop! He is not allowed to have one because I want access to his history. The only laptops in this house are mine, our 12 year old son’s, and our 11 year old daughters. And he is not allowed to use the kid’s, only mine. If he don’t like it, he knows where the door is!

  8. Lara N. says:

    I think it’s not a crime. When you marry and take that further to make it a legal marriage, you are publicly committing to sharing your life with that spouse. Of course there are certain exceptions: if the spouse has a job that requires government or security clearance, or if it was stipulated in the pre-nup that the spouse not be allowed to read mail or email. In which case, there’s already something fishy going on and I wouldn’t recommend a marriage if there’s that little trust to begin with.

    Most spouses don’t ’snoop’. If something about the marital situation is tipping them off that something unsavory is going on, then in those cases it’s perfectly understandable that a spouse would want to know what’s going on.

    What if a spouse had been planning to suicide? Or had a gambling addiction/debts, or drug problem that would put the family (esp. children) in danger?

    A spouse has the right to know those things, and an addicted spouse is not of sound mind or body to be making good decisions or exercising proper judgment, and the spouse needs to know that, too.

    A case could be made that if the adulterer had spent any money on their lover, they were, in effect, thieving from their committed relationship’s finances – embezzlement! (As in the case of Gov. Sanford in S.C.)

    What next? A criminal suing the government or police for stakeouts or sting operations that caught them in the act of committing crimes?

    If you can’t commit fully to a relationship, then you have no business leading that person on, or creating children with them, or asking them to trust you with their children.

    I think many concerns would be allayed if spouses regularly shared access to their accounts with each other and gave an open invitation to check things out – as they have nothing to hide. It doesn’t mean that their partner will take them up on it, and regularly read the mail, but it does indicate trust, and being trustworthy.

  9. Tammy Rosa says:

    Hard question, I do not believe it is a (criminal) crime. A moral offense, maybe. I do think if you have to read your husband/wife’s e-mail you have some serious trust issues and need to address them.

  10. jennifer from iowa says:

    i do feel everyone has the right 2 privacy.. but i think this has gone way to far! i think what he did was wrong but not crime. if they still lived together & shared everything in the house.. if she didnt want him to know & was wanting a divorce she should of left or made him leave.. this kinda sounds like a mean & hurtfull set up!

  11. Dimples says:

    My husband and I read each other’s emails all the time. We have each other’s facebook passwords. If they have nothing to hide, they won’t mind.

  12. Stacy W says:

    This is a tough issue, I’ve thought about it a few times as the case has proceeded.

    I equated this to a non-technological privacy issue and it became more clear. Say a wife hide letters from her husband (divorcing or no) in a locked box with a combination in their shared home, and the husband discovered it, broke it open, and found the letters.

    I don’t think authorities would even respond to a call in a situation like that. It is a domestic issue and a personal thing.

    The only think that is different about this case is that there is technology involved, and our legal system lags at least 10 years behind the general population when it comes to it’s understanding of and response to technical threats, crimes, issues…

    Case in point, it has taken ages and monumental efforts of coordination to give law enforcement the ability to track and arrest child predators online and they still have miles upon miles to go to protect kids.

    I don’t defend the STBX husband’s snooping nor do I doubt that the STBX wife felt violated, but these are the kinds of things that happen in divorces. I do not believe, especially considering they shared the family home, that this rises to the level of a felony.

    Additionally, a ruling against the STBX husband would set a precedent that could easily lead to the felony prosecution of parents who spy on facebook pages or journals or eavesdrop on phone calls.

  13. Vicki says:

    I don’t believe it should be a crime to read your spouses mail, e-mail etc. My husband and I have no secrets from each other. He can get into my e-mail any time and I can get into his. I open his mail sometimes and he opens mine. It isn’t a big deal. The only things that should be off limits is if one of them has a job where things are sensitive and aren’t suppose to be seen by anyone else. The only reason people seem to get upset about a spouse looking through their mail or e-mail is if they have something they are trying to hide from them.

  14. Tracey Brown says:

    If you file for a divorce, then continue living together, isn’t that considered “reconciliation”? I know in my divorce, we swore under oath and it was written in our petition that we had been “living separately, without reconciliation”…and that is partly how the judge decides to grant the divorce. Maybe some states are different, I don’t know. If they were living together, yes, I believe he has the right to do this. It’s unfortunate that he will likely end up with a permanent criminal record for this!

  15. Glynis says:

    My husband & I know each other’s passwords, but neither of us has reason to snoop or check up on the other on our e-mail or computer accounts. I have nothing to hide nor does he. I think this case is a bit extreme. This is a husband & wife who live in the same household & there shouldn’t be things they are hiding from one another. Maybe there is a moral or trust issue here, but not criminal in my opinion. Hackers & people who get into someone’s personal computer should be prosecuted, but not a husband & wife who are together in the same house. If you aren’t doing something wrong, you have nothing to hide.

  16. Sherri "T" says:

    “NO” it should not be a crime for what the spouse had to seek closure with reasoning. After all, what if the tables were turned and she did that to him. Would she be willing to face a “Crime” charge against her instead? I highly doubt it. In addition, what diffence does it make if he was to hire a “PI”?

    My husband and I read each other’s emails all the time. We have each other’s facebook passwords. If they have nothing to hide, they won’t mind. We do not believe it should be a crime if you are married to that person. If you are truley commited to your spouse you have nothing to hide. My husband and I have each others email passwords as well. We trust each other and have nothing to hide.

  17. Rachel says:

    I think when your married you lives should be an open book just like children’s lives are open to their parents. Me and my husband are allowed to look in each others email, open envelopes named for each other. Answer each others phones. If i felt he wasn’t allowing me in something I wouldn’t trust it. As they say “If you have nothing to hide, hid nothing” If i felt when i wanted I could look at everything I would believe he wasn’t hiding anything. That’s how we live. No is it a crime to look into a spouses things. Hummm No
    When your married your married in all ways. If you don’t want them in your things divorce them. If you can’t trust them you shouldn’t be married and if you feel you need to hide something from them you shouldn’t be married to them.
    It shouldn’t be a crime

  18. Veronica says:

    No, it should NOT be a crime ! They are still married, there should be no secrets. If one of the people gets mad or angry, then what are they hiding? Maybe she wanted to be found out?

  19. Rachel says:

    NO crime they shouldn’t make it against the law to find out if your spouse is cheating on you. What is it called when you give miss information to an officer. It should be the same for husbands for wives. lol

  20. Michael Gattshall says:

    There`s a reason that my girlfriend (of almost 4 yrs) is still my girlfriend. I think too many people jump the gun and get married way too soon before really getting to know the person completely. Getting married too soon and staying together for the kids? Bad situation already before you even turned the computer on…

  21. Donna says:

    Are you kidding me. What a cop out! She better find another reason to be upset about her husband catching her in a lie! SO, my answer is NO I don’t think it should be a crime. If you are unhappy in your current marriage. Get out of it before you start a new relationship!

  22. Cherry says:

    I don’t think it’s a crime to snoop on your husband’s email, if he has nothing to hide he won’t think much of it. IF HE HAS SOMETHING TO HIDE, YOU WON’T, DEFINITELY, FIND IT ON THE EMAILS THAT YOU HAVE ACCESS TO. However, let’s just get comfort from the thought that no crime is left hidden forever, so if spouses are guilty of fooling around…you’ll find out about it sooner or later.

  23. Stephanie says:

    This is not a crime but to be honest the whole point of snooping suggests there is a problem. My husband and I know each others passwords and are free to go in and our of any personal account. I have it but I never go through it because I know I don’t have to. I trust him and that brings me back to snooping. If you snoop it is because you don’t trust the person you’re with. You may find nothing or there may be nothing going on which indicates that you have a problem with trust and should not be in a relationship. I don’t think any relationship can be sincere if there is a snooping issue.

  24. MARTYTHEBRAT says:

    Figures, Michigan would do that they must of had a slow crime day. Wife got caught. Wife got mad. Wife wanted out of marriage. So they helped her with getting more out of her soon be ex in court.

  25. Countrystrong says:

    I totally agree it is a crime married or not. I am going through a very ugly divorce right now and my soon to be ex has done this to me. He got someone who knows computers well and hacked into my email and facebook. He printed all my emails and facebook personal messages he made copies and sent them to friends and family. He also showed them to my daughter and due to that she no longer will speak to me or have any contact with me. It is sad that spouses ex or otherwise feel the need to go to this extreme. My only favor maybe that I am also a Michigan resident and if my ex doesn’t stop I will so the same thing Clara did. It is a total violation of a person.

  26. dannielle says:

    unfortunatly i did that with my husband who at that time was my live in boyfriend. i found out he was cheating, when confronted he swore it was over, i did not quiet trust that, so yes i did check his email that he did leave up, the second time, after we were married, he was still communicating with this woman, the first time i found his password. I hated being that way but i was looking at it as self preservation, i acted on a hunch and i was correct.

  27. Dale says:

    Think it is going a little to far charging a spouse with a fellony for reading each others mail. Can see using it for the purpose of getting divorced. Did we forget that a marriage is suppose to be established on mutual trust as well as love. If you are doing something you should not being doing, why are you married in the first place. Want to play? Don’t get married!

  28. Kimi says:

    My belief is ….. if there is probable cause as to why a person thinks their spouse is having an affair, then they have every right to play “detective” and find out the truth. The only reason someone would get mad about this is if they have something to hide. Obviously this wife in Michigan knew she was having the affair, and she didn’t want her husband to find out. She was mad when she found out he knew, and wants him to get in trouble for it. I think charging this man with a felony is little over board. We have way too many OTHER issues in this world to deal with!

  29. Juliana D says:

    I THINK THAT WE SHOULD STOP MAKING EXCUSES TO MAKE LAWS. ITS NOT FOR A ROCKET SCIENTIST TO FIGURE OUT. THEY WERE LIVING TOGETHER, THEY SHARED THE SAME HOME. THEREFORE EVERYTHING IS OPEN GAME IN THE HOME. HISTORY HAS REVEALED THAT LOVE CREATES A SPECIAL BOND. WHEN THIS BOND IS THREATENED WE DEVELOPE A SIXTH SENSE. DEVELOPED IN THE GUT, POWERED BY THE HEART. ITS THEREFORE A NATURAL INSTINCT TO ACT ON THAT INSTINCT AND TRY TO FIGURE OUT WHY THINGS ARENT AS THEY USED TO BE. I SAY LEAVE HIM ALONE AND HAVE HER ARRESTED FOR STUPIDITY, AND ADULTRY WHICH IS A CRIME! FOCUS ON THE REAL CRIME !

  30. geff says:

    This is so stupid. of course its not a crime they are still married and living together. my signiificant other and i no each others passwords and we often check each other’s mail

  31. Kelley says:

    A crime? Perhaps.

    As stated, they were going through a divorce at the time, he had no right to invade her ’space’ by hacking into her computer. I’m not sure how far this will go, but I do find it an interesting case study.

  32. Melissa O'Donoghue says:

    i don’t think its a crime to read your partner’s mail coz you shouldn’t have any secrets from each other so it shouldn’t bother you if they see your mail coz if you’ve got nothing to hide then its all good

  33. Lena Landis says:

    Thats our messed up morals. Send someone to prison for reading an email, but not the woman that was commiting adultery!!

  34. When my husband and I were living together, under the same roof, he always had access to all of my passwords and accounts. I live my life like an “open book.” I had nothing to hide. In fact, he requested that I include him in all forwards or any emails I sent to friends. I complied. My husband, on the other hand, would frequently change his passwords to deny me access to his accounts, bank records, etc. leaving me unable to pay bills or read his emails. He also had a secret email account where he hid photos sent to him from a woman, emails and contact information for other women. He also locked me out of “our” cell phone account so I could not see who he was calling or texting but he checked all of my calls and text messages. When we separated, I felt it would be a violation of his privacy to access any of his accounts. He, on the other hand, continued to access my accounts, locked me out of my accounts, cyber stalked me to find new accounts that I opened and accessed them. He also continued to access my cell phone records and even refused to release my cell number to me. My experience has been that if they are hiding their passwords, they are hiding a lot more too!

  35. Ranchgirl49 says:

    I myself am open and have nothing to hide. So I expect the people that I am with do the same. When I got married I trusted my husband to be honest and forthright because that is what I described I wanted in a mate. He responded to my post and said that he was honest and had nothing to hide. Well he did. I made it very clear to him that I would not tolerate a man that was involved with porn. He claimed he did not do that sort of thing. What he did was erase all bhis porn videos but forgot one which I found by accident. Then one day he was showing me something on his lap top and up popped up a pair of boobs, well that made me suspicious and he claimed he did not know how that got on their.
    He had given me a key to his place and while he was gone on a business trip I logged onto his computer and found a payload of porn..which led me to snoop through his papers and found that he had had lied about many things or lied by omission..

  36. Nita Waggoner says:

    No it should not be a crime to read your spouses e-mail. When you are married and have a truely committed relationship there should be no secrets.

  37. Sydnee says:

    My husband and I are in agreement that there are no secrets between a husband and wife unless you’re buying a great gift or planning a surprise party. Otherwise, you better not be “surprising” your spouse for any other reason. When one gets married, the two do become one. Your house is my house. Your car is my car. Your money is my money. Your computer password & email are my computer password & email, or at least information to which we each have access. If one wants to have something all to themselves that is not to be shared, they should remain single or make arrangements to be single again.

  38. Melissa S. Chinn says:

    Yes, I think it should be a crime. It is a crime to open somebody mail through the post office, and most of the business’s are going paperless and sending e-mails. That is personal information. If you wanted that person to know what was in your stuff you would of gave them your password or told them about it. In that situation definetly they where already seperated he was just being spitful. I think he should be charged with a felony he new what he was doing before he done it. Thats only right he is trying to ruin a person name and that could haunt her for the rest of her life if he racked up to much money,

  39. Sally says:

    what? she couldn’t wait till she moved out? she is having an affair, and that is ok but he is checking up on her and that is not? something is really wrong with that picture

  40. Terry M says:

    I believe that if you have your wife’s permission, then you are able to read them. Never go on a hunch or think she is hiding anything from you if you know she is honest and faithful. If you feel that the marriage is in jeopardy, ask her if she is receiving emails from other men or looking toward resources for ending the marriage. You do not want to be caught up in the jealous role because you might find what you are looking for.

  41. Brandi says:

    If you’re going to be in a relationship with someone then you shouldn’t hide things, yes you should have privacy to a point but you also have to realize that getting into a relationship is surrendering some of that privacy.

    People who get together learn each others ways (in most cases) after a while and then if something changes for example they stop contacting you as often, they start working late or going in early a lot these types of things are tips that something has changed. A person can tell you all day long that things are ok and nothing is wrong but people can lie just as easy as they can tell the truth. If you’re in love with them then you try to give the benefit of the doubt and try to believe them but if the issues continue then you have to also be aware and it’s not always easy to just have a confrontation and hope they tell the truth so going through emails and texts things like this I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it because innocent people don’t have anything to hide. It’s only guilty people who get upset about things like this because they know they are hiding something.

  42. Clarice says:

    I believe we are seeing the darker side of Internet – distrust between spouses. One can argue that at home, spouses can mutually agree to access one another’s accounts. But these communications become widespread, and have spouses acting as private detectives trying to catch one another in adultery or accessing pornography.

    When I was working for a company, I visited a plant that I supported. Evidently, the plant manager and his administrative assistant were having an affair. Her husband worked for the company. The situation resulted in all 3 parties being fired; the plant manager and his administrative assistant for having sexual relations at work at fraternization and her husband for hacking into the Internet to find the “love” emails being sent.

  43. Sandy says:

    In my opinion they had community property and that laptop was half his until the divorce was finalized and the division of assets
    settled by a judge. With computers so prevalant in today’s society, that with just a few click of the keystrokes you can find a sex partner,or join a 3D world where you can have pixel sex, marry, have land, house, all while sitting at the computer. You just never know who you are living with until you have spied on them and then you don’t want to live with them any more. Why have we become such a needy society where your wife and family just aren’t enough any more, that we have to constantly have an ego massage?

  44. Annoymous says:

    Since he was not abusive nor using her e-mail account for any illegal attivities I don’t believe he deserves jail time or commited a crime.

    As for the first Rebecca who gave a long speech about her husbend only being allowed on her laptop well I think she needs therapy b/c it sounds like she has control trusting issues.

  45. Cara says:

    If you’re asking a question of criminality, I believe you have to answer this question: Did the alleged victim (Clara) have a REASONABLE expectation of privacy? Hacking is one thing, but in a shared residence, with a shared computer and possibly a password lying around, there seems to be no reasonable expectation of privacy, LEGALLY. Privately and morally, I believe there should be expectation of a certain degree of privacy, and I am shocked to see how many responders think that snooping on your spouse is just fine. There was even one woman who proudly reported keeping her husband under constant surveillance; which seems like no way to live for EITHER of them! If you feel the need to snoop, the relationship is already in trouble. I believe if you are determined to catch your spouse doing something wrong, you eventually will, and you may have driven them to it!

  46. Annette says:

    While logging onto somoeone else’s email is morally incorrect, he had access to her personal passwords so….who’s fault is that. Also, she is having an affair while being married – shouldnt that be a crime? In some countries, IT IS.

  47. Jessi says:

    I believe this is ridiculous! True they were going threw a divorce but honestly they weren’t separated yet and she was still living with him. If she wanted to hide things they should have been hidden. He knew her password, weather she gave it to him or wrote it down it does not matter and i don’t believe this applies only to spouses. Everyone knows how easy it is for your privacy to be invaded online now. Its her fault he found out shes a sleeze! And if your married and in love then there is no reason for your spouse not to already know your passwords and who you send e-mails to! i really hope this man does not get into any trouble for this or we are just seeing the beginning of a long series of court trials for the same thing.

  48. Jasmine says:

    I think they both did a crime.Clara’s crime is obvious (having an affair).Leon’s crime is implicit(snooping through his wife’s email).I believe that if you don’t trust someone leave them without looking for an evidence or wait a while (if you can!) until the evidence come to you without looking for it by snooping or something else.God will help you when you don’t harm anyone.
    Mmm
    We shouldn’t mix between the trust and the unprivacy issue.I trust all my loved Ones but I appreciate my own privacy.For instance: If you email your mother, sister, friend maybe there is some girls talk you and them don’t want your husband to know it.So between any people there is a private things they don’t want to share it with others even though they trust them.

  49. p-ann says:

    drama drama drama !!! there should be no “hidden” skeletons on your e-mail, period!!! if you have nothing to hide so what if your spouse checks in. it goes both ways. if you wanted privacy from your partner than you should not have married.

  50. Amy Julian says:

    It shouldn’t be a crime to snoop, but there must be a problem if you feel you need to look at your spouses emails.

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