Should Email Snoops Go to Jail?

Heather Murphy-Raines
Have you ever been tempted to take a peek at your husband's email account? Just a teensie peek? Whether your temptation is out of suspicion or curiosity, you are not alone.

I've been tempted.

Around the late 90's, when my husband [gasp] dared to transition to his own email account from our joint email account, I was taken aback. It was a strange concept for me to have him want some  privacy. My first thought: What did he have to hide?

In today's light, almost 15 years of marriage and FOUR email accounts of my own later, it seems silly. 

Yet, there are marriages where such probing might still be a smart -- even protective -- move for your family. 

Take the case of Leon Walker. He hacked his wife's account and the good news (if it can be considered good) is that his suspicions were well founded -- she was cheating. 

The bad news?  He faces prison time for his snooping.


What's a little snooping amongst spouses?
Yes, who knew snooping could put one in the land of felonies, eh?

The whole story? Well, it's complicated as affairs of the heart usually are. 

Stick with me:

Mr. Walker is his wife's third husband.  He found out she was cheating on him with ex-husband #2 who happened to have violently abused her during their marriage in front of her son. (He was arrested for this.) Walker informed ex-husband #1, who is the father of said son, of his wife's infidelity out of concern for the boy's welfare. The father promptly filed an emergency motion to obtain custody.

Yes, it sounds like a very bad S.A.T. question, doesn't it?

The end result though is that it is a felony for a spouse to log in to a spouse's email account on the family laptop. Deceitful and dishonest? Perhaps. But worthy of a FIVE YEAR prison sentence? Child molesters, rapists, and animal abusers get far less.

Love shouldn't hurt...or lead to prison sentences
Mr. Walker, who has been charged with felony hacking (a statute usually reserved for breaking into highly classified government files or or stealing trade secrets or personal identities), asks,

"Don't the prosecutors have more important things to do with their time?"

I have to concur. This borders on police getting far too involved with matters of the heart.  Would he have been prosecuted if he listened to her voice messages? What about reading her diary? Opening her snail mail?

The information gathered is the same except for the looming prison sentence possible.

Then there is the matter of the child involved. Mr. Walker claims he was motivated by his stepson's welfare: "I was doing what I had to do," he said. "We're talking about putting a child in danger."

Back to my husband and me: My temptation only got worse when he decided to get his own phone, separate from the home phone. I was confused by each wave of technology, each level of separation that my husband insisted upon. Some might have snooped. I resisted.

Today? I cannot imagine having to wade through his junk email and work email and voice messages, to get to mine.

My parents still stick to their joint account and even share a Facebook account. Perhaps that is a generational thing. There is no privacy technologically-speaking. Although for most, it's a matter of necessity for one's sanity to have that separation. 

As for that home phone? Now, even I don't use it -- yep another new wave of technology -- so we officially made our cell phones with skype our main lines last week. No more land lines.

Love is one messy motha..
That said, if I ever had real suspicion that my husband was being deceitful or cheating, you can bet my last chocolate bar that I'd be snooping ... and bashing in his head. 

Love is messy and jealousy even messier.

The Detroit Free Press reports that approximately 45 percent of divorce cases involve some snooping and gathering of email, Facebook statuses, and other online material which are usually used by the opposite parties for civil reasons -- not criminal prosecution.  So the outcome of Mr. Walker's case may reverberate throughout divorce law.

Thoughts? Do you share an account or phone with a spouse?  Is there an expectation of privacy on a shared household computer? Is snooping, unlawful or not, ever a good idea?

Images via Scout's Honor; Cara Photography, lǝuoıl sılıpoqToni Kaarttinen/Flickr

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