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Is Reading Spouse's E-Mail a Crime? 496

Posted by timothy
from the ask-the-judge dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The Detroit Free Press reports that Leon Walker is charged with unlawfully reading the e-mail of Ciara Walker, his wife at that time, which showed she was having an affair with her second husband, who once had been arrested for beating her in front of her son. Walker says he gave the e-mails to her first husband, the child's father, to protect the boy. 'I was doing what I had to do,' says Walker. 'We're talking about putting a child in danger.' Now prosecutors, relying on a Michigan statute typically used to prosecute crimes such as identity theft or stealing trade secrets, have charged Leon Walker with a felony for logging onto a laptop in the home he shared with his wife. Prosecutor Jessica Cooper defended her decision to charge Walker. 'The guy is a hacker,' says Cooper, adding that the Gmail account 'was password protected, he had wonderful skills, and was highly trained. Then he downloaded [the emails] and used them in a very contentious way.'"
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Is Reading Spouse's E-Mail a Crime?

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  • by HungryHobo (1314109) on Monday December 27, 2010 @09:02AM (#34675322)

    Is opening a spouses physical mail a crime?

    • Letter of the law? I believe so.

      However, in practice, though mail addressed to you may have your name on it, it's the address that's important. As long as you live at that address, you can open that mail.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 27, 2010 @09:16AM (#34675382)

        So by that logic, if you rent out a room in your house you can legally read that person's mail? I think that name is pretty important.

      • Almost but not quite, Look at it with the same logic that we do programming with protected\private members. If a letter is addressed to the occupent of 123 Raintree St then anyone living at that address can open it. If the same letter is addressed to John Smith at 123 Raintree St then we know that the letter had been addressed to a specific person.

        The deciding factor here is if state law in Michigan grants any power of attorney like rights to a spouse in which case he's free and clear, or if his lawyer can

        • by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Monday December 27, 2010 @11:22AM (#34676212) Homepage Journal
          How about a more common sense approach to the question? When you're married, what's yours is hers, what's hers is hers, and what's our's is hers. That's the way it's always been, unless prenuptuals were signed. My wife opens all my mail - for the most part, I never bother looking at it. I routinely open mail that has her name on it - especially if she isn't home for a couple of days. Something may need to be brought to her attention, for pity's sake! Not to mention that ALL of my dealings are her business, and ALL of her dealings are my business. Marriage. I'm responsible for her, she's responsible for me, we're a team, a partnership. Only if, and when, an announcement of separation and/or impending divorce is made, are the married couple no longer a team or a partnership. AT THAT POINT IN TIME, then yes, it should become illegal to open his/her mail, or to tamper with his/her finances, property, or whatever. Oh yeah. The article mentioned that she was having an affair? That is most definitely the husband's legitimate concern. He has the right to know that the ho is cheating on him. And, also, a child's welfare was mentioned as the reason for forwarding the emails to a third party? Extenuating circumstances. It's ILLEGAL for a large percentage of the population to FAIL to report possible child abuse and endangerment. Hacking? Horse shit. I've read nothing to indicate that the guy didn't just GUESS the Gmail password. Hacking. My ass. Stupid bitch who is prosecuting him doesn't have a clue what hacking is all about.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by xmousex (661995)

            This is also my take on it. "two become one". But I am starting to wonder if either I was mislead somewhere about what marriage was, or if marriage is quickly being redefined into something completely meaningless.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward

            This reeks of a racially motivated prosecution, quite honestly.

            • by TheABomb (180342) on Monday December 27, 2010 @02:11PM (#34677722)

              I thought that when I saw the photo in the article along with the prosecutor's contention that he possessed some sort of unnatural skill at "hacking" because he read the paper on which his wife wrote all her passwords that she kept next to the computer. In other words, due either to institutional racism or affirmative action lowering the bar so far, black people are no longer expected by our legal system to be literate or have any sort of basic problem-solving skills.

          • by TheABomb (180342) on Monday December 27, 2010 @01:54PM (#34677576)

            My first thought was that he just went to Gmail and let the browser's stored password do the work. Then I read TFA: "Leon Walker told the Free Press he routinely used the computer and that she kept all of her passwords in a small book next to the computer."

            So no. He didn't "guess" the password. He didn't have to—she gave it to him. By this lawyer's logic, someone who enters a building via a door that has the word "PUSH" written on it is a master catburglar.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by BlueStrat (756137)

              So no. He didn't "guess" the password. He didn't have to--she gave it to him. By this lawyer's logic, someone who enters a building via a door that has the word "PUSH" written on it is a master catburglar.

              My guess is that the female prosecutor has a vicarious emotional stake in this case. The prosecutor herself likely has either gone through a contentious divorce, and/or got caught cheating herself.

              If I were the defense counsel, I'd have investigators looking more at the *prosecutor's* past marital/relationship history, rather than the defense's client or the prosecution's witness. There's probably some dirt there that makes the pursuit of this case in this manner by the prosecutor make a lot more sense.

              Stra

          • by hairyfeet (841228)

            Hell I'd be willing to bet my last dollar he didn't even have to guess, she most likely had the browser remember the fricking password! I had a buddy that was handed a laptop by a wife who believed her husband had been looking at porn on her laptop. The only "hacking" he had to do was simply pick his icon at log in and load up his browser, because Mr Moron had set everything to auto log in. dumbass. That case was why I don't take those kinds of jobs anymore, because my bud had to spend a week halfway across

      • by vlm (69642) on Monday December 27, 2010 @10:20AM (#34675724)

        Letter of the law? I believe so.

        However, in practice, though mail addressed to you may have your name on it, it's the address that's important. As long as you live at that address, you can open that mail.

        Err, not exactly. Slashdot-lawyering is always fun to watch.

        http://www.ehow.com/about_6293417_federal-mail-not-addressed-you_.html [ehow.com]

        In grotesque summary of a website's summary at the federal level "The statute is essentially about stealing mail from the Post Office.". In other words the feds pretty much don't care as long as there are no post office employees or post office property directly involved.

        In the computer world that we live in, we all know and understand there is a desperate goal to re-legislate all our crimes with the words "on a computer" suffixed at great expense and publicity, etc. But in the real physical world, they mostly use general statutes which only tangentially happen to involve a piece of physical mail in this specific case.

        So you might get charged with stealing, if you stole someones mail. Or identity theft if you do that, with someone elses mail. Or maybe some weird insider trading law, if thats what you do based on some stolen mail.

        In other words the trial will be about them doing some naughtyness, and the stolen mail will be a piece of evidence. But there will be no charge of "opening the mail"

        That being said, just as anyone can be civil sued for anything at any time by any one, the same applies to criminal court, although that doesn't mean it won't be thrown out with laughter by the judge, or involved as the start or end of a plea bargain, or tossed out on appeal by a sane judge.

    • by oodaloop (1229816) on Monday December 27, 2010 @09:17AM (#34675386)
      I don't think so. US Postal regulations forbid anyone other than the recipient to open the letter, until delivery. Once a letter is delivered, they don't care what happens to it. After all, I throw out junk mail addressed to my wife. Is that also a crime?
    • by houghi (78078)

      Is email perceived to be a letter or a postcard?

      • Hmm... considering that accessing an email address requires you to verify that it's "really" you (i.e. you have to enter a password of some sort), my guess would be that it's closer to a letter with a sealed envelope. More so, because usually only you can open it, not (only) by law but by technical means.

        • ... considering that accessing an email address requires you to verify that it's "really" you ...

          Ah- but those quotation marks are key here.

          Email only requires that you are a partner to the secret for unlocking access, not the person whose name is on the account. Gmail doesn't care that I'm neither my mother nor grandmother when I'm asked to sign into their accounts on occasion. So an identity verification analogy doesn't well. A closer analogy would be to FedEx delivering a package to my house and giving it to anybody who opens the door and signs for the package (even a burglar could get it).

          As fo

      • by Suki I (1546431)

        Is email perceived to be a letter or a postcard?

        I prefer to think of it as those jumbled up knots of wire and other assorted junk sent to Wired.

    • by whoever57 (658626) on Monday December 27, 2010 @10:34AM (#34675852) Journal
      How many times have the Feds argued in court (or filings) that people have no expectation of privacy in emails?
    • by jbengt (874751) on Monday December 27, 2010 @10:41AM (#34675890)
      That analogy fails to address the issues in this case.

      The relevant law he is being charged with, according to TFA:

      A person shall not intentionally and without authorization or by exceeding valid authorization do any of the following:

      Access or cause access to be made to a computer program, computer, computer system or computer network

      Well, he did access a computer that he bought for his wife and that he had often used, possibly while exceeding valid authorization, but he used the password that his wife had written down in a book next to the computer, so from the provider's viewpoint, he was authorized.

      to acquire, alter, damage delete or destroy property

      No he didn't do any of those and didn't have intent to do those.

      or otherwise use the service of a computer program, computer, computer system or computer network.

      I read this as theft of services, which he did not do and he did not intend to do.

      I don't think there was\ any reason to charge him under this statute.
      IANAL, YMMV, etc.

      • In Ireland it could be,

        Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act, 2001

        9.--(1) A person who dishonestly, whether within or outside the State, operates or causes to be operated a computer within the State with the intention of making a gain for himself or herself or another, or of causing loss to another, is guilty of an offence.

        (2) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on conviction on indictment to a fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years or both.

        I had a laptop bro

      • by snowgirl (978879)

        to acquire, alter, damage delete or destroy property

        No he didn't do any of those and didn't have intent to do those.

        So, by accessing her emails and printing them out, he didn't acquire any property?

  • Depends on prenap (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mapkinase (958129)

    If they agreed that their correspondence is not private from each other in a marriage contract, then it is not.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 27, 2010 @09:15AM (#34675370)

      Pre-nap? You mean I'm bound by things I said before I first slept with her? Oh god.

    • Re:Depends on prenap (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 27, 2010 @09:36AM (#34675474)

      The state of Michigan does not recognize prenuptual agreements. State law here recognizes, in effect, one generic marriage "contract", which is very vaguely defined. Michigan law *barely* defines how property is to be divided upon divorce. It certainly does not go in to any detail about the boundaries of privacy.

      In practice, what happens in a Michigan divorce is that property is divided equally between "the parties", regardless of who filed, what caused the divorce, or either party's behavior during the marriage. Not an entirely unreasonable approach - family law judges have enough to sort out withou having to hear divorcing spouses' laundry list of grievances.

      Michigan law *does* allow for unequal distribution of marital property in cases of egregious misconduct by one spouse. Presumably this is a "out" to allow one spouse to keep the marital property if the other spouse is convicted of trying to bump them off. But the bar for unequal distribution is set pretty high, meaning you pretty much have to have a felony conviction against your ex in order to get more than 50% of the family assets. Unfortunately, this means that the spouse who made the charges in this case has a financial interest in elevating the reading of spousal e-mail to the level of a felony.

      DISCLOSURE: I am not a lawyer, but I was divorced in Michigan (more than the statute of limitations ago), and my ex tried to raise this same charge against me in family court. Judge and lawyers agreed at that time the was no clear statutory guidance on this issue, suggesting that the state courts will have to make this up as they go.

      • by mapkinase (958129)

        "The state of Michigan does not recognize prenuptual agreements"

        Here we go. Here is the problem with the state of Michigan: when government automatically annuls agreements between two sane adult parties except for very specific clauses, so the rest of the clauses of that agreement could magically become a "crime".

      • by Myopic (18616)

        Having recently gone through the pre-nuptial process, I was surprised that you claimed there is a state of the union which does not recognize prenups. So I looked it up, as you could have done, and found that -- as most of us immediately suspected -- you are totally wrong about that [divorcenet.com].

        Frankly, it would be quite a shock if any of the United States outright refused to recognize an entire class of contracts recognized in the other 49 states. It wouldn't be impossible, but it would be highly irregular. Luckily fo

  • What's next? Charging a husband who read his wifes diary. Oh yes there was a lock on it and he broke it. No that wouldn't reach court, but hackers - those smelly dodgy think they are smarter than us geek types - let's lock all of them up and throw away the key! They are terrorists! And they want to give away the fruit of all of hard work for free!

    What the hell are they putting in your water?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by aliquis (678370)

      Personally I think this case is a good thing. Her account, her cell phone, her diary..

      Why should you give up all personal integrity just because you're in a relationship?

      • I don't think that word means what you think it means

        In the preliminary exam, Clara Walker testified that although Leon Walker had purchased the laptop for her, it was hers alone and she kept the password a secret.

        Leon Walker told the Free Press he routinely used the computer and that she kept all of her passwords in a small book next to the computer.

        "It was a family computer," he said. "I did work on it all the time.

        Oh how I wish I could be on the jury. Reading the article - this is just a divorce getting a bit nasty.

        This isn't a great case about privacy, or hacking, or any of that. Just one divorce attorney seeing an opening and going for the kill. He already knows his client will be a less than sympathetic character, so he's doing what he can to balance the playing field.

        The Free Press is reporting it because it's racy. Sex, computers, hacking - Just like an epis

      • by robot256 (1635039) on Monday December 27, 2010 @10:29AM (#34675814)
        She was having an affair with her abusive ex-husband. What integrity?
    • by Peeteriz (821290)

      If I broke the lock on your diary or the password on your email to read it, it would definitely be a crime.
      If I broke the lock on my ex-wifes diary or the password on her email to read it, it would definitely be a crime.
      The only question is wether their current problematic-but-still-legal marriage changes that or not.

  • What a hacker! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Xelios (822510) on Monday December 27, 2010 @09:11AM (#34675362)
    According to TFA, her email password was written down in a little book kept by the family computer. And yet, "The guy is a hacker" and "It was password protected, he had wonderful skills, and was highly trained."

    Really, I don't see how it can get any more ridiculous than this. I realize the prosecutor has to put on a show to support such ridiculous charges, but good lord...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Mitsoid (837831)
      DUDE, Reading is hacking, don't you know anything about the US Legal term for hacking?!?
      • by Anonymous Coward

        DUDE, Reading is hacking, don't you know anything about the US Legal term for hacking?!?

        Given the state of large parts of the US educational system, I think reading could qualify as "wonderful skills" and being "highly trained".

      • I think breathing counts now too. Eating sugar, fat and salt are in a whole different area.
      • by selven (1556643)

        I know Slashdot likes pretending they know everything about law, but what you guys don't realize is that "hack" has a far more nuanced and complex definition than you think.

        Here you go: [google.ca]

        1) chop: cut with a hacking tool
        2) one who works hard at boring tasks
        3) be able to manage or manage successfully; "I can't hack it anymore"; "she could not cut the long days in the office"
        4) machine politician: a politician who belongs to a small clique that controls a political party for private rather than public ends
        5) cut away; "he hacked his way through the forest"
        6) a mediocre and disdained writer
        7) kick on the arms
        8) a tool (as a hoe or pick or mattock) used for breaking up the surface of the soil
        9) cab: a car driven by a person whose job is to take passengers where they want to go in exchange for money
        10) fix a computer program piecemeal until it works; "I'm not very good at hacking but I'll give it my best"
        11) an old or over-worked horse
        12) significantly cut up a manuscript
        13) a horse kept for hire
        14) cough spasmodically; "The patient with emphysema is hacking all day"
        15) a saddle horse used for transportation rather than sport etc.

        For all we know, this guy could be an expert at chopping up a manuscript with an axe while coughing.

    • Sounds more like the guy had a lousy defence team. Either that or it is was some crazy cowboy court where as soon as the hacker word was mentioned it was deemed over.

    • by CODiNE (27417) on Monday December 27, 2010 @09:30AM (#34675448) Homepage

      "he had wonderful skills, and was highly trained."

      Perhaps he's an MCSE??

    • Calm down, most likely the prosecutor is highly trained, too.

    • by will_die (586523)
      You are missing the best part.
      That he has wonderful computer skills because he could download and print the messages from googlemail.

      Is the google email user interface so bad that you have to be highly trained to use it? Should we as computer professionals be worried that something as simple is considered needing a high level of training?
    • Re:What a hacker! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Monday December 27, 2010 @10:49AM (#34675946)

      According to TFA, her email password was written down in a little book kept by the family computer. And yet, "The guy is a hacker" and "It was password protected, he had wonderful skills, and was highly trained." Really, I don't see how it can get any more ridiculous than this. I realize the prosecutor has to put on a show to support such ridiculous charges, but good lord...

      You obviously have not seen some of the products of the US education system - being able to recognize and open a book, and then actually read what is inside may very well qualify someone as having "wonderful skills" and being "highly trained."

  • I am going to guess that either her password was easy to guess, or that he used a keystroke logging program to learn it. Either way, we are not talking about something that requires "wonderful skills," we are talking about something anyone could do. From the way the prosecutor is talking about him, you would think that this guy was involved in the Chinese government's Google hack.
  • Considering... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ewhenn (647989) on Monday December 27, 2010 @09:23AM (#34675412)
    Considering that when you are married, in terms of property rights, you are considered a single legal entity, I honestly don't see how this would stand up in court.
  • by Xugumad (39311)

    It's odd to see something this minor go to court, but... yes, why wouldn't it be illegal?

    Really going to have to talk about the difference between "easy" and "legal".

  • Stupid prosecution (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Monday December 27, 2010 @09:35AM (#34675468)
    I think it is ridiculous that this is being brought as a criminal prosecution. If his ex-wife had brought a civil suit, I would still think he should win, but that would be a sensible case. The man's fear of the child being exposed to domestic violence (possibly even physical abuse of the child) was perfectly legitimate. I would really like to know why the prosecutor is really going after this man. It sounds personal.
  • by cob666 (656740) on Monday December 27, 2010 @09:38AM (#34675486) Homepage
    Imagine if the second husband DID assault the child? Then the new husband would be in trouble for NOT doing anything to prevent this atrocious act.

    Funny that when we actually SHOULD be thinking about the children something else gets in the way.
  • Hey Hugh Pickens, (Score:5, Insightful)

    by netsharc (195805) on Monday December 27, 2010 @09:39AM (#34675492)

    i.e. summary writer: learn to summarize better! Your first sentence had me so fucking confused. My mind as I read through that mess: "so he's the guy's husband, and he read his wife's email, he finds out his wife is having an affair with the second husband. Second husband? Oh, so do you mean the "hacker" is the first husband, and at the time the article was written, she's married to the guy she's been having an affair with? OK. But then he printed the emails and handed them to the woman's first husband. Wait, what? Isn't the hacker the first husband?"

    You could have added ", who is Ciara Walker's third husband," in there to make the whole fucking thing easier to comprehend! I even RTFA to see if that incomprehensible mess was a copy/paste job, but lookie there: "Leon Walker was Clara Walker's third husband."

    *mumble mumble kids and stupid American education these days.*

  • Sexism? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AmberBlackCat (829689) on Monday December 27, 2010 @09:55AM (#34675572)
    In this particular case I wonder, if the wife had checked the husband's email and found out about an affair, would she have been charged with a felony too? This seems almost like an attempt to abuse the law for sexist purposes to me. Unless the prosecutor just needs attention.
  • If I was the email-reader, I'd just sue the beater saying that "He beats women".

    So it would be an accusation of reading an email vs an accusation of beating a woman. The other parties will have much more to loose.

    The other option would be to just plead guilty. Probably the judge will just give him a night behind bars or just let him go, if he's a first "offender".

  • detroit area prosecutors just looking for work? so it looks like they have a job to do?

    I hope They get some smart people to do the jury duty.

  • by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Monday December 27, 2010 @10:53AM (#34675976)
    This would seem like a classic ad - "XX wants to protect child abusers...prosecuted someone for warning a parent of potential abuse...weak on crime...wrong then, and wrong for MI..."
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 27, 2010 @11:00AM (#34676030)
    Here is another case where she made a big mistake, was proven wrong by evidence and wouldn't admit that she made a mistake. http://www.mlive.com/news/detroit/index.ssf/2010/09/did_oakland_county_prosecutor.html [mlive.com] http://www.myfoxdetroit.com/dpp/news/local/prosecutor-laura-johnson-freed-murder-evidence-not-enough-20100927-wpms [myfoxdetroit.com]
  • by realsilly (186931) on Monday December 27, 2010 @11:05AM (#34676058)

    First of all, the woman is now divorced from her 3rd husband. So she marries the 1st one and has a child, then Divorces #1 for some reason. Marries a second man who BEATS her in front of the child from the 1st Marriage. Why was the child not taken from the mother then? Probably because she sought a better life, divorcing husband #2 and found a third man to call husband.

    While we don't have the full story, and of course the News doesn't always provide all the facts, so this assessment is one of pure speculation based on information available, here is how I see the situation.

    The third husband is a smart guy, and knows his way around a computer, and may likely make a decent living. The third husband seems to give a shit about the wife's son from a previous marriage, which provides the impression that he's a decent guy. The wife CHEATS on her third husband with the second husband, the one who BEAT her. So husband number three figures out his wife is cheating on him, and finds proof via her email, and in finding proof he notifies husband #1 to offer protection to the child. Here he could have gone to authorities and tried to protect the child that was living under his roof, but he went back to the birth father and say "hey man, you might want to know the potential danger your child is in..." (not an actual quote).

    I suspect the Wife is pissed off because she's caught cheating which likely means she's lied to husband #3. I suspect she is probably pissed off, for child being removed from her custody, which she may have used the child as a tool against husband #1 for Child Support or as a power play . Now she's made to look the fool, by all three of her husbands past and present. The 1st husband has the child now, the 2nd husband is having sex with her again, and the 3rd husband caught her violating the vows of marriage. So she punishes the 3rd with legal action and finds a prosecutor to find possible Felony charges against husband #3.

    She's already proven, by cheating, that she has the ability to lie, so why should her version of the story be more credible? At this point, based on a limited amount of facts, I see the 3rd husband as a victim. And when you are married there is a measure of trust between spouses, or should be. If he was always using the PC and she has the passwords in a book then only the act of him reading and typing in the password to an account that was not his is in question, right? The one thing that helps him is that he's no longer married to someone who didn't respect him enough not to cheat on him.

    I believe we have a right to privacy even in our own homes from our spouses. I feel that while the man did violate her privacy, I honestly feel that his motives were right. I hope that a judge looks at this case and treats both parties fairly. He did violate privacy, but she, in my eyes has violated far more and deserves to be punished.

    Again, all this is based on speculation of the facts as the new has reported them up to now.

  • by unity100 (970058) on Monday December 27, 2010 @11:09AM (#34676104) Homepage Journal
    IT IS SO EASY. all you need to do is to grab a laptop which some idiot have logged into a website with autologin cookies and YOU ARE A HACKER !!!

    so thinks a moron, who somehow ended up as prosecutor in united states of america, random state. tells millions about the quality of education in usa (helloo capitalism) and justice system. (hi again capitalism)
  • by pgn674 (995941) on Monday December 27, 2010 @12:06PM (#34676596) Homepage

    I've been told... actually, that's not good enough. I'm going to look it up.

    OK, in Maine, under the Maine Revised Statutes, Title 17-A: Maine Criminal Code, Part 2: Substantive Offenses, Chapter 18: Computer Crimes [mainelegislature.org], unauthorized access is a Class D crime, and unauthorized copying, computer resource damaging, and virus introduction is a Class C crime. The classes are defined as such [maine.gov]:

    • Class D: Crimes punishable by up to 364 days incarceration and a $2,000 fine
    • Class C: Crimes punishable by up to 5 years incarceration and a $5,000 fine

    If I recall correctly, beating up a small child is also a Class C crime. By printing or forwarding these emails, this person in the article could be accused of a Class C crime in Maine.

    So yeah, the courts may actually try and be reasonable, but be bound and restricted by the unreasonableness and especially the vagueness of the law.

  • by drew30319 (828970) on Monday December 27, 2010 @02:07PM (#34677690) Homepage Journal
    (First, IANAL but am on break before my final semester of law school)

    When we're asking if something is a crime I believe that we're actually asking two things: (1) is it a crime, and (2) should it be a crime? Here, the answer to (1) is pretty straightforward because it's been addressed by the state legislature. The trickier issue is if it *should* be a crime, for example, if the statute is held to be unconstitutional then it would be invalidated; trickier still are public policy issues. In any case I'll focus on the straightforward aspect.

    Here's, the Michigan statute in question: Section 752.795 FRAUDULENT ACCESS TO COMPUTERS, COMPUTER SYSTEMS, AND COMPUTER NETWORKS (EXCERPT) [mi.gov]

    A person shall not intentionally and without authorization or by exceeding valid authorization do any of the following:

    (a) Access or cause access to be made to a computer program, computer, computer system, or computer network to acquire, alter, damage, delete, or destroy property or otherwise use the service of a computer program, computer, computer system, or computer network.

    (b) Insert or attach or knowingly create the opportunity for an unknowing and unwanted insertion or attachment of a set of instructions or a computer program into a computer program, computer, computer system, or computer network, that is intended to acquire, alter, damage, delete, disrupt, or destroy property or otherwise use the services of a computer program, computer, computer system, or computer network. This subdivision does not prohibit conduct protected under section 5 of article I of the state constitution of 1963 or under the first amendment of the constitution of the United States. [note: the section of the Michigan constitution alluded to here relates to freedom of speech & the press]

    History: 1979, Act 53, Eff. Mar. 27, 1980 ;-- Am. 1996, Act 326, Eff. Apr. 1, 1997

    As his actions were presumably intentional it appears that the issue is: Were his actions without authorization or did they exceed his valid authorization? According to the following article this is a fact-based issue that will be up to the jury to decide. Essentially "she" claims that the computer was hers alone and the password was a secret and "he" claims that he regularly used the computer and had easy access to the passwords. Ease of access to the password will likely be the determinative factor as to if he had "authorization" to access those emails.

    Although his rationale for accessing those emails do not appear to be relevant per the statute, I imagine that it would be an issue when it comes time for sentencing. If instead of finding out that she was (presumably) engaged in adultery with an ex-spouse who (presumably) beat her, how would the prosecutor's office have reacted if he had accessed emails showing that:
    - she was a drug dealer?
    - she was a child pornographer?
    - she was a terrorist?

    Is reading wife's e-mail a crime? Rochester Hills man faces trial [freep.com]

    In the preliminary exam, Clara Walker testified that although Leon Walker had purchased the laptop for her, it was hers alone and she kept the password a secret.

    Leon Walker told the Free Press he routinely used the computer and that she kept all of her passwords in a small book next to the computer.

    "It was a family computer," he said. "I did work on it all the time."

    My initial question was why the prosecutor's office pursued this case in the first place; the following article discusses Cooper's decision to stop supporting treatment courts due to its need to "deal with the surge in violent crime and the surge in technically complex cases." The pursuit of the case at hand doesn't fit with the purported need to focus on a "surge in violent crime...".

Don't steal; thou'lt never thus compete successfully in business. Cheat. -- Ambrose Bierce

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