While the family computer has many times been replaced with an iPad or tablet, the idea remains that devices with internet access are commonly shared among household members. With that, you run the risk of sharing passwords, access to email, bank accounts, or various social media accounts. Although spouses may have the ability to access such information, it does not mean they have the authority to do so. Unlike a stranger who spies on you or hacks into your computer, the rules for what constitutes an illegal action are pretty clear. However, in a case when the one spying is a spouse the line is blurred.
The spying may not involve installing spyware on a computer or cell phone. Instead, it may include more commonplace acts such as leaving a cell phone unlocked on the kitchen counter or leaving a Facebook account or email account accessible on a household device. Unfortunately, the lengths to which a paranoid spouse will go to confirm suspicions that their spouse or partner is having an affair are great. Ultimately, their discovery may well lead to the filing for divorce. The issue remains whether or not the damaging emails, texts, or Facebook messages that contain the lurid behavior can be admitted as evidence in the impending litigation. There is no bright-line rule as it largely depends on how the information was collected.
Pennsylvania, like many other states, has a law governing the unlawful use of a computer (see 18 Pa.C.S. § 7611). While the law's purpose is broad, if a spouse left his or her work computer unattended or forgot their phone leaving in a rush for work, this law is absolutely applicable in those situations. Particularly, if the snooping spouse accesses information without the other person's knowledge.
Activities that may be illegal or constitute unlawful use of a computer include the following:
- · Hacking password-protected accounts including email, social media, and other forms of electronically stored information
- · Snooping on a spouse’s computer or phone that is owned by his or her place of work.
- · The use of hidden cameras, tracking devices, and listening devices to stalk a spouse or partner’s whereabouts without their knowledge.
- · Using a webcam or other cameras in a situation where the spouse or partner has an expectation of privacy.
- · Installing software surreptitiously onto another person’s computer or cell phone.
If you believe your spouse has utilized one of the aforementioned tactics to access your private information, do not think your spouse will automatically be hauled off to jail. Instead, you should speak with a lawyer to learn about your rights and to discuss whether the illegally obtained information can be used in court. Consult with an attorney at Williams Family Law before taking any immediate action, and always explain where you obtained any computer or digital evidence. If you have questions, please contact us at 215-340-2207 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.