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Following Divorce, Man Faces Jail for Reading Ex-Spouse’s E-Mail

Leon Walker, an information technology employee in Michigan and someone who knows his way around a computer, has now been suspended from work and is being criminally charged for using one.

Walker’s case has garnered national interest because it appears that it is the first time ever that prosecutors have sought to use a criminal statute that is typically used to prosecute identify theft or the stealing of trade secrets in a family law matter, namely, divorce.

Walker was not engaged in any of the acts that the statute customarily targets. Rather, he was using an e-mail password provided by his then-wife to access her account from a laptop the two shared. He discovered infidelity through this act, and the couple was eventually divorced.

For Walker to be convicted, it would have to be established that the ex-spouse had an expectation of privacy. Walker argues that she didn’t, given his access to the computer, which he actually bought before they were even married; its regular use by both of them during their marriage; and the fact that she gave him – he did not steal – her account password.

“I would guess there is enough gray area to suggest that she could not have an absolute expectation of privacy,” notes one electronic-privacy expert.

If convicted, Walker faces a potential prison term of up to five year and/or a $10,000 fine.

Related Resource: “Is reading wife’s e-mail a crime?” December 26, 2010