Is It Legal to Spy on Your Spouse's Email?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on January 03, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

When it comes to infidelity, married couples can begin acting like secret spy agencies. There's the spouse that may or may not be cheating, hiding his or her tracks; and the spouse trying to catch the other, trying to catch them in a lie. But how much spousal surveillance is too much?

According to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, auto-forwarding your husband's emails to your address might cross the line. The court ruled that this could violate the federal Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Act even if "Congress probably didn't anticipate its use as a tactical weapon in a divorce proceeding."

Serial Surveillance

Divorces get nasty, and Paula and Barry Epstein's divorce sounds especially contentious. Paula accused Barry of "serial infidelity," and when Barry's attorney asked for proof, Paula's lawyer handed over emails between Barry and several women other than his wife. Believing that Paula must've been forwarding his emails without his knowledge, he sued her under the part of the Wiretap Act that allows for civil lawsuits against people that violate the law.

Paula tried to dismiss the case, but the 7th Circuit allowed it to go forward, saying the "allegations against Paula ... technically fall within the language of the act." The only problem for Barry, it seems, is proving when the emails were intercepted. The Wiretap Act "covers only contemporaneous interceptions," according to the court, so if Paula and her attorney somehow found the emails long after they were sent and received, it wouldn't be illegal.

As the Epstein divorce shows, there are legal limits to spying on your spouse. And installing monitoring software on your spouse's computer or mobile device allowing you to intercept and download his or her text messages, call logs, emails, browsing history, photos, or GPS information almost definitely crosses that line.

Playing spy games with a cheating spouse may seem tempting, especially when you think evidence of adultery will help in court. But that's not always the case, and stealing your spouse's email messages might land you in even more legal trouble than a standard divorce.

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