Have you checked your spouse's e-mail account lately? If you have, you may have committed a crime. In a case generating national attention, Michigan resident Leon Walker was charged under the state's anti-hacking law for checking his wife's email without permission, a crime normally reserved for charging those who have committed identity theft or stolen trade secrets. If convicted, Walker may be sentenced up to five years in prison.
Walker and his wife were in the process of divorcing, but still sharing a residence, at the time he checked her personal email account. While he did not have permission to check her email, Walker had purchased the computer for her, the computer was kept in their home and he regularly used it. Walker's wife also kept all of the passwords to her accounts in a book she stored next to the computer.
Walker said that he read her emails because he believed she was having an affair with her second ex-husband and feared for the safety of his children. His wife's emails confirmed that she was having the affair with her ex, whom she had accused of physical abuse at the time of her second divorce. Walker's wife, however, has contended that her now ex-husband violated her privacy rights and he should be convicted of the crime.
Lawmakers have gone on the record saying that their intent behind the anti-hacking law was not to charge spouses who have been spying on each other, but to punish much more serious criminal offenders. The county prosecutor, however, believed that Walker had violated the law as it was written. Walker's trial is scheduled for the beginning of April.
Leon Walker is the first spouse to be charged criminally for reading his wife's emails. While all states have criminal laws prohibiting unauthorized access of information stored on a computer, these laws generally are reserved to punish those who have committed serious breaches of electronically stored data.
Some legal commentators worry that if the Michigan court decides to convict Walker of the criminal charges, it could have a watershed effect in other states choosing to follow its example. There's simply not enough courts in the country to handle all of the potential cases of spousal snooping.