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

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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  • Re:"Hacking" (Score:5, Informative)

    by codegen ( 103601 ) on Monday December 27, 2010 @09:17AM (#34675388) Journal

    I am going to guess that either her password was easy to guess, or that he used a keystroke logging program to learn it.

    from the TFA, the wife kept the passwords written down in a book beside the computer.

  • 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 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. []

    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 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 mounthood ( 993037 ) on Monday December 27, 2010 @12:13PM (#34676670)
    The EFF has thankfully fought that fight for all of us:
    Breaking News on EFF Victory: Appeals Court Holds that Email Privacy Protected by Fourth Amendment []
  • by darkpixel2k ( 623900 ) <> on Monday December 27, 2010 @12:43PM (#34676990) Homepage

    Don't be a disingenuous ass. Having a room mate is clearly different than being married in the legal sense. There are special rights given to married couples. You share a credit rating, your lives are linked. Again, don't be an ass.

    Ha! I wish we shared a credit rating. When my wife and I got married, we had pretty much the same credit scores. She stayed home to raise the kids, and I went back to work. When I had to unexpectedly resign and spend the next two months searching for work, a few of the credit cards got behind. I spent months simply dumping money towards paying late fees. After about a year, we started making a dent, but the credit card companies weren't too happy. All the cards were in my name.

    So fast forward a few years, we have everything paid off and I have a good job. (Hell--I have a job in this economy.) We both had been receiving credit card offers in the mail since about a week after everything was paid off. We both received offers for Discover cards with under 15% interest rates--so we both applied. I put down that I made about $40k/year. My wife put down that she made $0/year. I was approved for $1,000. She was approved for $2,500.

    You don't share credit scores when married.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 27, 2010 @05:00PM (#34679200)

    And sadly pretty normal. Guys like this set themselves up as being the only one that can give them affirmation and they are pretty controlling. That she got away from him and remarried in the first place is practically a miracle! The worst part is that by returning they affirm his behavior as being okay, submits herself, and the behavior WILL get worse. It might not happen right away but the moment he can lever her away from a support network of friends or in this case her new hubby she can pretty much expect a really shitty ride right down the drain. Women in this kind of situation usually leave many many times only to return to the abusive situation hoping it will somehow turn out different and the man often makes them feel that the reason it doesn't is their fault. Any woman that truly escapes that and get into a normal life is truly lucky :-(

    I, sadly and stupidly, dated a woman coming out of this situation (or so I thought) who had 4 kids. He DID abuse at least three of them physically complete with child services intervention and abused the entire family verbally. Verbal abuse leaves no mark except on the mind and it takes FAR longer to heal. After nearly a year of working to earn these children's trust this guy found out she had come into some money and turned on the charm full blast. He convinced a counselor for the children that he had somehow "changed" and the counselor in turn teamed with him to get him a second chance. I got the boot nearly overnight which shocked the children nearly as badly as it shocked me but she wanted to "get the family back together". Seems leaving this asshole was somehow making her feel like a failure! Well, sure enough he's burning her money, has begun hurting the kids, and my ass is as far away from her as possible. That was an E ticket ride that in hindsight I'm glad to have escaped mostly intact. I lay awake at night worrying about the kids but there's zippy I can do about the situation other than watch the obituaries and hope that I don't see anyone but him in there. I truly believe the situation will only end in violence or not at all. What a mess...

    Anyway sorry to rant but you pressed a button. Indeed it IS disturbed that someone would return to that sort of hell but it is so very very common it's not funny. I once asked her if she missed the screaming fights and she actually told me that yeah she did miss them sometimes. How screwed up is THAT?!

Vitamin C deficiency is apauling.