His Wife’s E-mail

In 2009, Leon Walker, a 33-year-old computer technician living in Rochester Hills, Michigan, in the north-central US, noticed something strange on his telephone bill. His wife, Clara, had been making a lot of calls to her former husband. This made Leon suspicious so he decided to look at Clara’s e-mails to see if he could find out what was going on. That is how he discovered that she was having a love affair.

Leon was actually Clara’s third husband. She had two children — one, a boy, with her first husband and the other, a daughter, with Leon. The man she was having an affair with was her second husband. Clara had left him — and got a divorce — after he had beaten her up in front of her young son.

When Leon found out what was happening, he got in touch with Clara’s first husband and showed him the e-mails. He said that he did this because he knew the second husband was violent and felt the boy’s father should know he was in danger. When the first husband found out what was going on, he immediately started legal action to get custody of his son.

One result of all this is that Leon and Clara’s marriage came to an end; their divorce became final in December 2010. Another result was that Clara went to the police and had Leon charged with “computer abuse” under a Michigan law that was originally meant to be used against people who were guilty of identity theft or stealing intellectual property. If he is convicted , Leon could go to jail for up to five years. This would be the first time someone was sent to prison in the US for invading the privacy of a family member by snooping into their correspondence.

Leon admits that he snooped into his wife’s e-mails, but he defends himself by saying he was doing so for the sake of the children. And he also denies Clara’s accusation that he used his professional skills to “hack” into her e-mail account. He says that he got her password from a list she always left sitting beside the computer, and he adds that, in the past, Clara had sometimes asked him to check her e-mail for her.

Leon was scheduled to appear in court on February 7, 2011, but the trial was postponed because the lawyers had not completed their preparation. This need for extensive preparation is perhaps explained by the fact that the case is the first of its kind. Certainly, it will set an important precedent: almost half the divorce cases in the US involve evidence obtained by electronic spying of some kind.

information from: Chris McGreal, “American charged with hacking after snooping on wife’s e-mails,”The Guardian, 10.12.27; Amar Toor, “ Man faces prison for reading his wife’s e-mails, switched.com, 10.12.27”; David Lohr, “Snooping on Wife’s E-mail Could Put Man in Prison,” AolNews, 10.12.27; John Springer, “Is snooping in your spouse’s e-mail a crime?today.msnbc.msn.com, 10.12.26 (with VIDEO);