Thirty-three-year-old Leon Walker was charged with a felony called “hacking” after he accessed his wife Clara Walker’s account and learned she was having an affair, with her ex husband from her second marriage, the Detroit Free Press reported.
When he saw that his wife was communicating with her second husband who had previously been arrested for beating her in front of her son, Leon Walker turned the emails over to Clara Walker’s first husband and the child’s father.
That’s when Leon Walker was charged with hacking–a statute in Michigan normally used against individuals who break into highly sensitized government or business computers or systems. This statute is labeled “Fraudulent Access to Computers” and states that a “person shall not intentionally and without authorization (a) access a computer system. If convicted of this alleged statute, Mr. Watkins could face up to 5 years in prison. Yes you read that correctly: five years in prison.
Oakland County prosecutor Jessica Cooper told the paper Walker was nothing but a “hacker” who used his skills as a computer technician to break into his soon-to-be ex’s email.
Walker told the paper he was just looking out for the child’s best interest then found out his wife was having a an affair with her second ex husband.
Matrimonial attorneys are increasingly seeing clients who have found unpleasant evidence that their spouse has been unfaithful through “cyber-infidelity” or cyber flirting. Damning pieces of information can be gleaned from reviewing e-mails, pictures and posts from websites and dating website information by spouses who have been scorned.
These documents also known as digital evidence are more and more routinely being offered into evidence during a nasty divorce case. The question becomes is it illegal to obtain emails if your spouse does not give you permission to access the account?
Certainly the digital footprints left by cheating spouses during an affair provide evidence that can’t be denied. But, family court judges are faced with tough decisions about the legality of such evidence and in the absence of established laws addressing digital footprints, they are forced to make difficult judgment calls about what constitutes a violation of online privacy, hacking and unauthorized access to personal computers all illegal is most states.
The law on both the state and federal levels are struggling to keep up with new technology. Many divorce cases settle before they make it to trial, which has greatly reduced the ability for courts to make rulings regarding digital evidence and privacy concerns. Until there are decisions and set precedents to reference, family court judges simply have to muddle through the grey areas and make decisions about the admissibility of evidence on a case-by-case basis.
Many think if Mr. Watkins does by chance get convicted on the hacking charge and is sentenced to five years in prison, the computer law community will be on its side. This case could have reverberating effects for divorce cases, as almost 50% of them have some component which a spouse uses some sort of snooping of private email or of social networking websites. It appears that the penalty for on line snooping or hacking could possibly land you in jail for the same amount of time as if you were convicted of a third DUI offense in Michigan. Does that seem fair?
Do you thin Mr. Walker should be prosecuted for hacking into his wife’s email if he didn’t have permission on their family computer? I say NO. This matter is being improperly handled. The statute has been misapplied and Mr. Walker should walk. However, it should be a lesson to any married couple or anyone in a dating relationship, it is often a violation of a marital law and sometimes a minor criminal infraction, in many state, to access a password protected email account without permission. They are different standards applied and every case is fact specific. Saving or storing emails is different that intercepting email while in transit. Regardless, talk to your loved one about you want to handle your privacy concerns and access to your home computer, emails and social networking websites. It will resolve many potential problems in the future if you have an understanding about how you want to handle your marital cyber life in this computer savvy world.