Should You Be Locked Up For Reading Your Spouse's Email?

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State prosecutors are launching a case against a Michigan man, and will seek as much as five years in jail time, on hacking charges over the man's decision to read his then-wife's email without her permission. The unusual case--and the downright bizarre family dispute at its center--raises questions about what constitutes a criminal hacker and about the limits of personal privacy. Asking, "is reading wife's e-mail a crime?" The Detroit Free Press' L.L. Brasier reports:

Oakland County prosecutors, relying on a Michigan statute typically used to prosecute crimes such as identity theft or stealing trade secrets, have charged Leon Walker, 33, with a felony after he logged onto a laptop in the home he shared with his wife, Clara Walker.

Using her password, he accessed her Gmail account and learned she was having an affair. He now is facing a Feb. 7 trial. She filed for divorce, which was finalized earlier this month.

But the strangest part of this story might be the domestic dispute--a kind of love quadrangle involving three ex-husbands--behind the alleged criminal hacking.

Leon Walker was Clara Walker's third husband. Her e-mail showed she was having an affair with her second husband, a man who once had been arrested for beating her in front of her small son. Leon Walker, worried that the child might be exposed to domestic violence again, handed the e-mails over to the child's father, Clara Walker's first husband. He promptly filed an emergency motion to obtain custody.

We're not lawyers here at the Wire, but Leon Walker doesn't exactly come away from this looking like the next Julian Assange. Fortunately for civil libertarians who might be alarmed at the precedent, Brasier writes, "Legal experts say it's the first time the statute has been used in a domestic case, and it might be hard to prove."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.