By Matt Allen
Do you have a suspicion that your spouse is cheating or hiding money from you? Well, think twice before you go through her computer and e-mails because you could end up spending five years in jail as one Michigan man has learned.
Criminal charges are rarely brought from conduct in a divorce action, other than domestic violence, but a zealous prosecutor is using a Michigan statute to go after Walker.
“Laws like these were meant for the state to have recourse against computer hackers in cases like identity theft and stealing trade secrets, but have occasionally been used in other contexts,” said Cordell & Cordell attorney Jill Duffy, who is licensed in Michigan. “The open ended language in the statute allows the prosecutors to broaden its context beyond what the legislature originally intended to accommodate changes in technology.”
Technically, in Michigan, it is illegal to read your wife’s e-mails without her permission, according to Duffy. Michigan law prohibits reading or copying messages sent on a computer without authorization. However, Duffy reminded that it is also a felony to commit adultery in Michigan, but that crime has not been prosecuted in years.
Walker, who is a computer technician, told the newspaper that it was a family computer and he had access to his wife’s passwords that she kept nearby.
But the prosecuting attorney, Jessica Cooper, told the paper, “The guy is a hacker. It was password protected, he had wonderful skills, and was highly trained. Then he downloaded them and used them in a very contentious way.”
Duffy outlined other surveillance techniques that are outlawed:
Eavesdropping: recording a private conversation (audio or video) without all parties consent. Felony, up to 2 years in prison and/or up to $2,000 fine. However, if you are a party to the conversation you do not need the other person’s consent to record.
Installing a tracking device on a car without the owners consent. Misdemeanor, up to 1 year in jail and/or up to $1,000 fine.
Trespassing: entering another’s property without consent. Misdemeanor.
Installing recording devices in a private place: Install, place, or use in any private place, without the consent of the person or persons entitled to privacy in that place, any device for observing, recording, transmitting, photographing, or eavesdropping upon the sounds or events in that place. Could include installing a key logger on someone else’s computer. Felony, up to 2 years in prison and/or up to $2,000 fine.
Using information illegally obtained: Felony, up to 2 years in prison and/or up to a $2,000 fine.
Taking “compromising” photos of another without their consent: Cannot photograph a person naked (genitalia or female breasts) or in their undergarments without that person’s consent when the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Felony, up to 2 years in prison and/or up to $2,000 fine.
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