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Should reading spouse's email be illegal?

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This is one of those mixed-up cases that, it seems to me, will likely be difficult for a jury to sort out. A man is being charged with "hacking" and faces up to five years in prison after he read his wife's email and apparently (it's not real clear) discovered she was cheating on him. She filed for divorce, which according to the link below was finalized, but she still lives with him. She also gave him her password on previous occasions.

 

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/technology/2010/12/michigan-man-faces-felony-charges-5-years-in-prison-for-reading-wifes-e-mail.html

 

In terms of this specific case, to me this crosses the line into that gray zone of marital disputes where both sides seem to share responsibility. I actually have a personal rule about not getting involved in marital disputes between friends for exactly this same reason, and I imagine a lot of you feel the same.

 

But there's a larger issue here which is interesting. Should it be legal for spouses to read each other's email without the other's permission?

 

Most would agree it's wrong for someone to hack into someone else's mail. Why should it become legal just because they're married? On the other hand, is it really that different from sending a private investigator to see if a spouse has been cheating? Also, getting married changes the law in other ways, so maybe it should apply differently here as well?

 

My personal opinion is that it's illegal and should be illegal. But it does raise a bit of a question in terms of the simple mechanics of a relationship. The problem I forsee here is that one partner says it's okay for the other partner to read their email, and then, during a nasty breakup, they tell a judge that they never gave any such permission. If proof exists that they read the mail, but no proof exists of permission being given, then the first partner is screwed. Egad, do I really need to get that permission in writing?

 

What do you all think?

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I think it should stay legal. Married people should be able to trust their spouses, otherwise what would the point of marriage be? Besides, passwords are there for a reason, and if you have something to hide, you can always change your password if you've previously given it to your spouse, then changed your mind later. And people shouldn't be keeping secrets and cheating on their spouses anyway. It serves them right if they get caught.

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It should definitely be legal by precedence of spousal privilege. We have already determined that spouses enjoy an additional degree of privacy and protection from invasion by the state. This is partly why 'Law and Order' can create such great court room drama out of spousal testimony.

 

I think it should stay legal. Married people should be able to trust their spouses, otherwise what would the point of marriage be? Besides, passwords are there for a reason, and if you have something to hide, you can always change your password if you've previously given it to your spouse, then changed your mind later. And people shouldn't be keeping secrets and cheating on their spouses anyway. It serves them right if they get caught.

 

You're making a lot of assumptions here about how we should all approach marriage, and using those assumptions to then determine legal status. That is akin to me saying Lima Beans should be legal because parents should be giving their children a variety of vegetables. No, Lima Beans should be legal because of freedom of choice, individual liberty, all that jazz. My point about vegetable diversity may have personal merit, but it has no legal merit and is not factual, and thus is forcing a personal preference onto others. Same with your personal views on marriage.

 

I agree that trust is important. But it's not a legal condition. We don't throw people in jail because there's no trust in their marriage.

 

The point of marriage may otherwise be for resource pooling. Or perhaps to create a family unit for their offspring, with complete disregard for each other. Or perhaps to facilitate the transfer of property without taxation. Or maybe just so they can run around saying they have a spouse. Any of these are perfectly valid reasons to get married. I would not do them myself, and I would advise anyone else not to as well, but I must not conflate my personal whims with legal consequences on others.

 

Just something to think about. It's almost autonomic to merge personal preferences with politics without realizing how we're overriding personal choice for others.

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If proof exists that they read the mail, but no proof exists of permission being given, then the first partner is screwed. Egad, do I really need to get that permission in writing?

 

How's the law worded?

 

If it's "you can't read another's email without their permission" then I guess presumption of innocence would be on your side: she'd have to prove both readage and a lack of permission(?); no idea how burden of proof to prove a negative works...

 

otoh, if it's "you can't read another's email", and it's been established that you did, and you're trying to use permission as a defence, then I think the burden of proof would be on the defendant, in which case they're shafted(?)

 

IANAL, so I really don't know.

 

---

 

for a minor crime like this, i'd be inclined to ignore it if they don't get divorced (if she doesn't care, why should we?), and ignore it if they do get divorsed (to minor, to 'your word vs. mine'). Leave the post-divorce punishment for stuff like rape.

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It's not or should not be legal to hack your spouse. But if she gave him the password, that's not hacking and that is also pretty much indistinguishable from giving permission. Unless she can prove that he acquired the password illicitly, there really is nothing to go on. Innocent until proven guilty would be pretty tough for this one.

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It's not or should not be legal to hack your spouse. But if she gave him the password, that's not hacking and that is also pretty much indistinguishable from giving permission. Unless she can prove that he acquired the password illicitly, there really is nothing to go on. Innocent until proven guilty would be pretty tough for this one.

Giving access on one occasion does not transfer into future consent. She should have changed her password, yes, but without giving him consent on THAT occasion, he has no consent. It is a felony to read another person's snail mail, so it's not a giant leap to apply that law to e-mail.

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Giving access on one occasion does not transfer into future consent. She should have changed her password, yes, but without giving him consent on THAT occasion, he has no consent. It is a felony to read another person's snail mail, so it's not a giant leap to apply that law to e-mail.

 

True enough, but add to that the presumption of innocent until proven guilty, and it seems nearly impossible that someone could be charged with reading her mail without her permission given that she gave him the password at one point in time. It would just be her word against his.

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True enough, but add to that the presumption of innocent until proven guilty, and it seems nearly impossible that someone could be charged with reading her mail without her permission given that she gave him the password at one point in time. It would just be her word against his.

How is that different than snail mail?

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Because the entire charge is 'hacking' not 'invasion of privacy'. Michigan's hacking laws are as follows;

A person shall not intentionally access or cause access to be made to a computer program, computer, computer system, or computer network to devise or execute a scheme or artifice with the intent to defraud or to obtain money, property, or a service by a false or fraudulent pretense, representation, or promise.

 

And

 

 

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.

 

Found Here and here respectively.

 

 

I don't believe he broke any laws unless it is proven he had malicious intent or that he didn't have 'valid authorization'. There is no way to show she never said, 'I don't care if you access my e-mail,' thus possibly giving permission for future access. This is probably what will be argued since legal battles tend to be semantic arguments.

 

[edit] Sun glass guy should be a B and ). I'm too lazy to turn off emoticons[/edit]

Edited by Dak
killeth sunglass dude

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'Intentionally' in criminal law statutes in common law jurisdictions just means 'knowingly.' You don't need malice.

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Even so, if there is no proof he used a keylogger or some other way to get into her account without her knowledge of him being able to do so wouldn't be enough to convict him. Without these there is no way to prove he didn't have authorization to access the account.

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Even so, if there is no proof he used a keylogger or some other way to get into her account without her knowledge of him being able to do so wouldn't be enough to convict him. Without these there is no way to prove he didn't have authorization to access the account.

That's why perjury is a crime.

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Maybe their should be a specific law governing the privacy policies, Such as an addendum to the state rules and regulations. For instances reading someone elses mail is ileagle weather snail or e-mail. But for the sake of free america, privacy is king. Or maybe a prenumph agreement which defines the terms.

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