Is it Illegal to Snoop Through Spouse's Email?

By Jason Beahm on December 30, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

What's the punishment for doing a little email snooping and sneaking a peak at your wife's email account? (a) Community service? (b) A slap on the wrist? (c) Nothing at all? (d) None of the above.

This wouldn't be a very interesting article if it was a, b, or c, so I'm betting you correctly selected d.

The story goes like this, Leon Walker, of Michigan has been charged with a felony for using his wife's password to access her Gmail account. Walker learned that she was having an affair, according to the Detroit Free Press. Prosecutors are now prosecuting Walker, who divorced his wife in the wake of the incident. He now faces up to 5 years in prison.

The Sixth Circuit has recently ruled that people have a reasonable expectation that their emails will remain private and that the government needs a search warrant to intercept emails. We also recently covered the Sixth Circuit decision as it related to the Enzyte case.

So, is it shocking that a person could be charged with a felony for reading the email of his spouse? Should email snooping really be a felony offense?

"It was a family computer," Walker told the Free Press.

"The guy is a hacker," Michigan prosecutor Jessica Cooper said. The email account "was password protected ... [They] were in divorce proceedings and had separate email accounts, separate computers, separate everything," Cooper said.

However, Walker's attorney Leon Weiss said that the felony charges were unwarranted. According to Weiss, his client was wrongly charged under a law designed to punish hacking government computers.

"If the Michigan legislature had wanted to prohibit one spouse living under the same roof, with a shared computer, from reading a spouse's email, they could have constructed the statute to prohibit that," he said. "There is no real expectation of privacy in email ... It's too out there, Weiss told the Wall Street Journal.

Many people obviously share Weiss' opinion when it comes to email, but it remains to be seen whether the court will see it that way.

The prosecution obviously believes otherwise. For now it is a legal gray area that has left Walker in a major bind.

Related Resources:

Copied to clipboard