A few months ago, I launched a 3-part blog series on Connecticut Snooping Spouse Law. Part One covered the legality of CGS 53a-189 Eavesdropping, CGS 53a-189a Voyeurism, Wiretapping, and Installing Spyware onto computers without permission. Here we have the second installment in our Connecticut Snooping Spouse series where I discuss another emerging area of Connecticut cyberlaw and cybersnooping—that is, the legality of reading your spouse’s or significant other’s emails without permission, breaking through password protected files, and copying and printing files and documents belonging to your spouse.
We regularly get calls from some of the best Fairfield County divorce lawyers in the area who are asked by their clients whether they can legally and secretly read their spouse’s emails. What may have once been tolerated by and between feuding spouses has now become a flagrant violation of state and federal laws.
So can you really get arrested for reading your spouse’s or ex’s emails without permission? The answer is yes.
Ask any of the top Greenwich and Stamford domestic violence criminal lawyers and they will likely agree that reading your spouse’s emails without permission is not a good idea. There’s a body of federal law out there called the Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2701 (the “SCA”), which provides that whoever intentionally accesses an email account not belonging to that person without authorization, or intentionally exceeds an authorization to access that email account, shall be civilly liable to the violated party.
There’s also a criminal federal law that prohibits any individual from intentionally accessing a computer without authorization and obtaining any information from such protected computer (codified in 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(2)(C)). What this means is that any protected information on a family computer—that is, any information specifically protected by a password to which you are not privy—cannot be accessed, read, copied or distributed by you without authorization of the password holder. Guessing the password based on your knowledge of or familiarity with the password holder is NOT a defense and does NOT make it legal. The computer or email password must be communicated to you by the password holder. Thus, in the event that any emails, message, documents or information have come into your possession that were protected by one or more of your spouse’s passwords to which you were not privy, then the possession of such documents and information is illegal. And don’t try to bring these documents to your attorneys. Understand that any experienced Stamford or Greenwich criminal or divorce attorney would generally not take possession of such documents. Further, any destruction of such materials would constitute criminal activity in and of itself—such as tampering with evidence. Thus, if you find yourself in possession of documents that you believe may have been illegally obtained, then you should call a top Greenwich, New Canaan, Darien or Stamford criminal lawyer attorney right away.
While it appears that Connecticut authorities have rarely, if ever, arrested anyone for violating these federal email hacking laws, there have been cases throughout the country where ex-husbands, ex-wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, creeps, and cyber-stalkers have in fact been indicted and arrested by the FBI for violating these federal laws. For instance, a high profile criminal case of email hacking occurred in Philadelphia where a well-known anchorman was arrested by federal authorities for hacking into his co-anchor’s AOL email account and reading her emails. In the civil arena of civil liability, in an Arkansas case, 766 F. Supp. 2d 919 (W.D. Ark 2011), an ex-husband intentionally faced SCA civil liability when he was accused of accessing his wife’s email account without authorization. He allegedly installed spyware and a “keylogger” program onto his ex-wife’s computer and allegedly used this spyware to obtain his ex-wife’s passwords to allegedly hack into her email accounts.
Point is it can happen to anyone whether you are a TV star or just an average man or woman mired in nasty divorce proceedings.
You can imagine that in the most hotly contested and litigated divorce actions, husbands and wives can spend tens (and even hundreds) of thousands of dollars at war in a divorce case. As many of the top Greenwich, New Canaan, Stamford and Darien divorce lawyers and attorneys can confirm, their clients often hire the best private investigators in the area to assist them in monitoring and following their spouses. They try to catch them cheating. They try to find out who or what they are spending money on. And they even ask investigators to come into their home and install spyware on family-owned or jointly owned computers and laptops. These requests are extremely dangerous as, in our earlier blog entry, prosecutors can view this as criminal activity. The lesson then is to tread carefully in this activity and make sure anything you do with your spouse’s computer or your family computer is sanctioned and approved of by your criminal and divorce lawyers.
As you can see, these are very dangerous waters. So before you start fishing, “phishing,” or hacking into another person’s computer…appreciate the legal—and sometimes criminal—consequences of your actions. Contact a Connecticut Snooping Spouse / Cybercrime lawyer at Mark Sherman Law today for a consultation on these technical issues. The criminal laws of Connecticut have very much caught up with technology so you will want to be very careful before you consider using computers and viewing email accounts that do not belong to you. Call us today to learn more at (203) 358-4700.
Finally, come back and visit our blog for Part III of our series on Connecticut Snooping Spouse Law where we tackle the issue of GPS Tracking Devices. Are they legal? Are they an invasion of privacy? Can police install them on your car?