You Read Your Spouse’s Emails and Now You’re Going to Jail
Um, so this whole transparency issue is really starting to brew up a storm. It matters where and how you get information that you share with others. For example, if you start browsing around in your spouse’s emails on their computer, you are a hacker. And if you share that information with others, well, that’s even worse. So, basically, hacking to get info you share (transparency) is not OK.
A man in Michigan is being charged with hacking into his wife’s computer. Jessica Cooper, the Oakland County prosecutor, said Leon Walker broke the law by hacking in to his former wife’s account but Walker says they shared the computer while his wife says it was her computer. Pay attention people, because this matters.
“A Michigan man has been charged under anti-hacking legislation designed to protect trade secrets after logging on to his wife’s email account and discovering she was having an affair.
Leon Walker, 33, faces a trial lawyers say could have significant repercussions given that nearly half of US divorce cases involve some form of snooping, such as reading emails, text messages or social networking.
Walker was charged after opening the Gmail account of his wife, Clara, who was married twice previously. Walker found she was having an affair with her second husband, who had once been arrested for beating her in front of her young son from her first husband. Walker handed the emails over to the boy’s father, saying he was concerned for the child’s safety. The father sought custody.
“I was doing what I had to do,” Walker told the Detroit Free Press. “We’re talking about putting a child in danger.””
Remember when Sarah Palin’s Yahoo account was hacked? That young man went to jail for guessing the password to the account where she conducted state business that she didn’t want on the state email system. He published a few of the emails but they were pretty boring. No matter, Ms Palin wanted him prosecuted to the full extent of the law and so he was. They tried him for hacking, although technically, since he guessed her password based upon publicly available information, this was a dubious charge. Part of their case rested on the obstruction charge, which was based upon the evidence that Kernell began to delete records on his hard drive with the intent to obstruct an FBI investigation:
After four days of deliberations, a federal jury found David Kernell, the 22-year-old son of a Democratic Tennessee state legislator, guilty of obstruction of justice, a felony, and unauthorized access of a computer, a misdemeanor.
Kernell was cleared of a wire fraud charge, and the jury could not agree on a verdict on a charge of identity theft….The obstruction charge alone carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years, while the misdemeanor count is punishable by up to one year in jail.
Palin issued a statement on her Facebook page, thanking the jury and prosecutors and explaining the case’s importance. “Besides the obvious invasion of privacy and security concerns surrounding this issue, many of us are concerned about the integrity of our country’s political elections. America’s elections depend upon fair competition,” the statement said. “Violating the law, or simply invading someone’s privacy for political gain, has long been repugnant to Americans’ sense of fair play. As Watergate taught us, we rightfully reject illegally breaking into candidates’ private communications for political intrigue in an attempt to derail an election.”…
“If there’s any unauthorized access to computers, the Department of Justice takes that very seriously,” said prosecutor Mark Krotoski after the verdict was announced in U.S. District Court.”
Ironically not mentioned in this case is the fact that Sarah Palin had been guilty of hacking a Republican colleague’s computer in an attempt to bring him down on ethics violations which she justified because he was doing something wrong. But it could be argued that she was also doing something wrong by using her Yahoo account to conduct state business in an effort to avoid transparency laws. Furthermore, these emails that were hacked are a part of emails requested by numerous media over two years ago under Freedom of Information Act which are still being denied by Palin’s former administration.
This brings up the real issue: When it comes to the law, we need to determine where we’re going to draw the line between transparency, privacy and the need for secrecy. It seems many people, like Sarah Palin, want to have it both ways and right now, because some of these issues are so new, they can do this. But with each case, we’re setting precedent. For example, the government can’t get Assange on hacking and yet they are reported to be attempting to establish a connection between Assange and Bradley Manning, in order to possibly charge Assange with conspiracy.
If the government goes in that direction, they’ll try to utilize statues that criminalize the dissemination of restricted information, including the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act that “governs cases with a compelling federal interest, where computers of the federal government or certain financial institutions are involved, where the crime itself is interstate in nature, or where computers are used in interstate and foreign commerce.” But since Assange merely passed the information on, IT specialists argue that Assange didn’t hack any computers and shouldn’t be charged under the hacking law.
“I suspect there is a real desire on the part of the government to avoid pursuing the publication aspect if it can pursue the leak aspect,” said Daniel C. Richman, a Columbia law professor and former federal prosecutor. “It would be so much neater and raise fewer constitutional issues.”
Though there are significant variables in all of the above cases, since the law is based on precedents, these are interesting cases to watch. For example, if the Michigan man is found guilty of hacking, you might also expect to be charged for reading your spouse’s text messages, getting on their Facebook account and reading their messages, etc if you access those accounts on a device that belongs to them.
These cases provide a fascinating look at the push-pull between transparency and the need for privacy and/or state secrets. Can you go to jail for reading your spouse’s emails? If you hacked their computer to do so, maybe.