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e-snooping
December 28, 2010 7:03 AM   Subscribe

Oakland County man faces 5 years in prison for hacking his wife's email. So, is email snooping a crime?
posted by morganannie (85 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
I hate askme human relations questions.
posted by hal_c_on at 7:05 AM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Completely ridiculous. They were married. Is it a crime to read her regular mail? No? Why is email different? (and yes this goes both ways).

Yes, it's a betrayal of trust. Yes it might be a reason to get divorced, but there is no way that is a crime.
posted by empath at 7:07 AM on December 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


I hate askme human relations questions.

Good to know, Grouchy Smurf.

I think this is a huge stretch. I don't want to see divorce cases becoming criminal trials.
posted by inturnaround at 7:07 AM on December 28, 2010


From the article:

Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper defended her decision to charge Leon Walker.

"The guy is a hacker," Cooper said in a voice mail response to the Free Press last week. "It was password protected, he had wonderful skills, and was highly trained. Then he downloaded them and used them in a very contentious way."


Unless there's some very important information missing from the article, this prosecutor makes Ted Stevens sound like Bill Gates.
posted by rollbiz at 7:08 AM on December 28, 2010 [20 favorites]


Is it a crime to read her regular mail? No? Why is email different?

Why wouldn't reading your wife's regular mail be a crime? Is there a spousal exemption to the laws prohibiting the opening of other people's mail?
posted by enn at 7:11 AM on December 28, 2010 [7 favorites]


Yes, it's a betrayal of trust. Yes it might be a reason to get divorced, but there is no way that is a crime.

I agree with you on some level...but i dont think marriage is a get out of jail card.

"Hacking" email, if actually done, would give the hacker access to other email addreesses in that domain. Now im not talking wbout looking under the keyboard and finding the password. So yeah...id be pissed if someone got my details because they hird some douche to find out if their douchey spouse was cheating or not.

Off with their married heads.
posted by hal_c_on at 7:15 AM on December 28, 2010


I dislike when people snoop around in others' emails, but I don't think it even comes close to the realm of criminal prosecution. More likely, I could see it legitimately playing a role in divorce proceedings (as far as how any evidence was found, how the partner treated the other, etc.). I can't imagine that a jury would convict this man of a crime in this case, and I hope the public attention helps him.

Also, hearing them describe this as hacking is amusing. Even if the passwords hadn't been sitting there in a book, it's likely that he would have known what hers were. Unfortunately most of us don't make our passwords that difficult to guess. I think the general public's association with hacking is more hard-core than what's happening here. A legal definition states "knowingly accessed a computer without authorization" -- is accessing an email program on a shared computer the same?
posted by bizzyb at 7:16 AM on December 28, 2010


The article said "using her password".
posted by empath at 7:16 AM on December 28, 2010


Leon Walker told the Free Press he routinely used the computer and that she kept all of her passwords in a small book next to the computer.

You know what, if he's lying about this, I will put an honest sawbuck on the fact that he "hacked" her email account by remembering her password from that time she wanted him to check her email but didn't feel like getting up from the couch.

On the other hand: "What's the difference between that and parents who get on their kids' Facebook accounts?" attorney Deborah McKelvy said. "You're going to have to start prosecuting a whole bunch of parents."

...is the stupidest defense I have ever heard. Seriously. Is this being litigated by idiots for entertainment? What the fuck?
posted by griphus at 7:16 AM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Hacking" email, if actually done, would give the hacker access to other email addreesses in that domain.

That is not what is going on here.

From the freep article: Using her password, he accessed her Gmail account and learned she was having an affair.
posted by morganannie at 7:17 AM on December 28, 2010


Ah, the "Land Of The Free". Five years loss of liberty for a crime that basically amounts to "being a dick".

Obscene.
posted by Decani at 7:17 AM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Five years loss of liberty for a crime that basically amounts to "being a dick".

Honestly, if we made "being a dick" a jailable crime, we could do away with about 80% of our legal system, and probably make the darned thing more just in the bargain.

Of course, we'd all be felons or ex-cons, but, hey, omelets, eggs, you know.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:21 AM on December 28, 2010


bizzyb: The word "hack" doesn't appear in that act. There's no legal definition of "hacking", thank goodness.
posted by phooky at 7:23 AM on December 28, 2010


phooky: Good to know. As a layperson, I was just trying to track down some more official way of understanding it vs. how a juror might see it (someone used my computer when I didn't want them to? someone had mad computer skills?...). It seems like a case where the word is thrown in there simply to make it more ominous sounding.
posted by bizzyb at 7:26 AM on December 28, 2010


For the people who think this shouldn't be a crime, where are you making the distinction between criminal and non-criminal unauthorized access to an email account? Does it depend on whether the person is physically at your computer vs. breaking in remotely? Would it be different if he'd gotten her password by installing a keylogger? Is it only non-criminal when it is a spouse? What about a boyfriend or girlfriend? A roommate? A friend who you allowed to use your computer for some other purpose? Or do you believe that unauthorized access to computer systems shouldn't be a crime at all?
posted by enn at 7:31 AM on December 28, 2010


The lesson here is just because you spoused someone on metafilter does not mean you can read his email.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:32 AM on December 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


A legal definition states "knowingly accessed a computer without authorization" -- is accessing an email program on a shared computer the same?

You don't want to go there. That particular "legal definition" comes from the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (18 U.S.C. 1030) which makes it a crime to (among other things) "intentionally access[] a computer without authorization or exceed[] authorized access" (emphasis supplied) and thereby "obtain . . . information from any protected computer". Courts routinely hold that accessing someone else's account using their password without their permission -- even if that password is valid and was validly obtained -- constitutes a violation of the CFAA. For example, if an employee has a valid password to his own corporate email account and is subsequently fired, but continues to use that valid password (which he validly obtained) to access his own email, that is a violation of the CFAA. No one would call that "hacking" (no one with a brain anyway) but it is a violation. So you don't want to conflate the two.
posted by The Bellman at 7:36 AM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Is it only non-criminal when it is a spouse?

That's the distinction I'm wondering about. I know one of my wife's passwords because she's given it to me. She also knows one of my generic passwords because I gave it to her. The law treats spouses very differently than other relationships. In most states, I can't steal my wife's car. There's implied consent. It seems that in this case the husband knew where the wife kept her passwords, so was there implied consent? Is it a crime for a spouse to open her partner's physical mail in Michigan?

I don't think the husband should be charged with a felony in this case, but I'm not sure how I feel about the larger issue of accessing the email.
posted by ryoshu at 7:38 AM on December 28, 2010


The case of For The Children vs. Omg Hackers will now be heard.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:40 AM on December 28, 2010 [27 favorites]


Consent.... If the wife gave consent real or reasonable assumption of, then reading email,or mail is not a crime, if she did not, well I think it is a lot fuzzier than many people here I guess. I, personally, don't have a big issue with it being a crime. Actually incarcerating him for 5 years for it, as opposed to s stiff fine, and/or community service is ridiculous.
posted by edgeways at 7:40 AM on December 28, 2010


is it bad to look at the ends justifying the means?

Leon was ostensibly alerting the father of his stepson that the boy's mother was bringing around an abusive authority figure for the sake of the boy's safety. I don't give too much of a shit that it is embarrassing to the mother. Child abuse sucks.

Also - the defense wasn't saying 'same as parents checking their childrens' facebooks' - that was just a man-on-the-street from a local defense attorney. I reckon the actual attorney will have a more nuanced defense.
posted by ten year lurk at 7:42 AM on December 28, 2010


Walker and his wife “were in divorce proceedings and had separate email accounts, separate computers, separate everything,” Cooper said. [WSJ]

This seems to me the crux of it. If they were, in fact, already in the middle of what sounds like a messy divorce and still living in the same house out of necessity but essentially maintaining separate lives, his "implied consent" argument is going to be very difficult.
posted by The Bellman at 7:43 AM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


I know it takes a while for the justice system to adapt to new technologies, but it's ridiculous that we are still using the same hacking laws that were written back when everyone was afraid that some kid was going to hack into NORAD and start a nuclear war like in War Games. The laws all boil down to "Unauthorized use of a computer", which is way too vague and covers too many different things. Imagine having an "Unauthroized use of a car" law which would handle stealing the car itself, keying the car, stealing the hubcaps from the car, using your spouse's car without asking, changing the radio station presets on the car, using the car without following the manufacturer's instructions, painting the car to look like a police car, driving the car the wrong way down a one-way street, using the car to cause a 30 car pile-up, etc. There are definitely a lot of acts that should be illegal and involve computers, but it makes absolutely no sense to use the same antiquated generic felony hacking law to prosecute all of them.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:43 AM on December 28, 2010 [11 favorites]


“There is no real expectation of privacy in email,” Weiss added. “It’s too out there.”

Gee, thanks for clearing that up for us with that well-thought-out and carefully-worded legal proclamation, Attorney McLawyerPants.

I wonder if this is a test case of some sort. If it's illegal for the government to do it (as decreed by the Sixth Circuit), why shouldn't it be illegal for a private citizen to do it? The parties being married complicates things because of stuff like community property laws and so forth, but still, there's a lot of he-said-she-said in this case because of the divorce. She claims that it was not a "family computer" and was hers alone, he says "nuh-uh."
posted by Gator at 7:45 AM on December 28, 2010


On the other hand: "What's the difference between that and parents who get on their kids' Facebook accounts?" attorney Deborah McKelvy said. "You're going to have to start prosecuting a whole bunch of parents."

...is the stupidest defense I have ever heard. Seriously. Is this being litigated by idiots for entertainment? What the fuck?


Could you answer the attorney's question or explain to me why that isn't a legitimate defense?
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 7:46 AM on December 28, 2010


Doesn't this devolve into a he said/she said unresolvable issue? How can she refute "one day she told me her password and she said check anytime"?
posted by sammyo at 7:51 AM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


empath writes "Why is email different? (and yes this goes both ways)."

Because legislatures went crazy in the last 30 years criminalizing a myriad variety of acts just because they involve a computer. Many acts wouldn't involve anything more than a raised eyebrow if it wasn't for the "unauthorized access" component of the crime get you years in prison if a computer is involved.

sammyo writes "Doesn't this devolve into a he said/she said unresolvable issue? How can she refute 'one day she told me her password and she said check anytime'?"

Courts deal with this sort of thing all the time (EG: many rape cases) and even fuzzier subjects (whether a crime is a hate crime which essentially means determining what a defendant was thinking).
posted by Mitheral at 7:55 AM on December 28, 2010


Could you answer the attorney's question or explain to me why that isn't a legitimate defense?

The legal relationship between two spouses (especially two on-the-verge-of-divorce spouses) and a parent and a minor child is very different. Parents have broad legal authority over their (minor) children that spouses do not have over one another. In the US, for example, a parent may spank a child, but if a spouse does it that's a crime. So the defense attorney is claiming a slippery slope that really isn't there.
posted by jedicus at 7:56 AM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


"A person shall not intentionally and without authorization or by exceeding valid authorization do any of the following:

"Access or cause access to be made to a computer program, computer, computer system or computer network to acquire, alter, damage delete or destroy property or otherwise use the service of a computer program, computer, computer system or computer network."
I actually don't have much of a problem with this law in general since I know people who've been burned by phishing and keylogging. This case, however, has some extra kinks as to expectations of privacy within a household.

Mitheral: (whether a crime is a hate crime which essentially means determining what a defendant was thinking).

Not even wrong.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:57 AM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


The implied consent thing is interesting. It used to be common that married people were considered a signatory of each other and signed their spouses names even on legal documents. I still see it with people over, I'd say 60. I can't imagine a newly married couple today giving up that level of autonomy. And it wasn't necessarily a sexist thing. My father just counted on my mother to sign anything that needed signing. I don't think the bank ever even saw my father's own signature.

The idea that someone could get a jail term for accessing their spouses email with a password does seem over the top. One might assume they share a bank account, credit and possessions and pay for internet access out of a joint account. It is absolutely morally wrong but the criminal element doesn't stand on its own.
posted by readery at 7:59 AM on December 28, 2010


He should have sent the emails to Wikileaks, obviously.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:59 AM on December 28, 2010


jedicus: The legal relationship between two spouses (especially two on-the-verge-of-divorce spouses) and a parent and a minor child is very different.

Yes, I think that's the key issue at stake here. Does the legal status of married couples confer an authorization that wouldn't otherwise exist?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:00 AM on December 28, 2010


Could you answer the attorney's question or explain to me why that isn't a legitimate defense?

Now that I am an adult with a husband, should he be treated as legally equivalent to my parent or guardian when I was a minor? It's absurd.

Many of the objections to this prosecution are based on an erroneous statement of facts. It seems that the couple was nominally married but in the process of an acrimonious divorce. There's no way that any sort of "prior consent" should carry over to a time when they are both seeking ammunition in court.
posted by muddgirl at 8:01 AM on December 28, 2010


"Could you answer the attorney's question or explain to me why that isn't a legitimate defense?"

If they're under 18, their rights vis-a-vis their parents are EXTREMELY limited, and parents have typically been allowed to read their offspring's mail, access their offspring's cell and text records, limit or select their offspring's reading material, choose their offspring's religious membership and mandate participation, etc. Parental rights over minor children are really quite extensive as long as parents are not actively abusing or neglecting their child. (I know: "active neglect" is quite the oxymoron.) Minors cannot enter into contracts, open bank accounts, get cell phones, get drivers' licenses, etc., without parental permission (and, typically, parental participation in the form of authorizing/signing/guaranteeing/etc.).

Spouses, on the other hand, are both adults and have adult rights. There are various special rules for spouses (can't be forced to testify against one another; marital property rules, etc.), but I don't give up my right to open a bank account in my own name, for example, by getting married. Most spouses share a lot of these things fairly freely (I can't remember the last time my husband opened his own mail; I presort for him), but that doesn't mean they HAVE to do so.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:02 AM on December 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


muddgirl: It seems that the couple was nominally married but in the process of an acrimonious divorce.

I find the statements about the timing of events to be ambiguous.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:02 AM on December 28, 2010


Or maybe not, I don't know.
posted by muddgirl at 8:03 AM on December 28, 2010


"My father just counted on my mother to sign anything that needed signing. I don't think the bank ever even saw my father's own signature. "

One time my dad actually endorsed a check intended for their joint account and the bank rejected it, because my mom had been signing his name for 30 years and the teller "knew" that wasn't his signature! :D
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:05 AM on December 28, 2010


Enn, spousal relationships are legally defined with various rights and responsibilities, unlike other examples you mention. State law generally defines what level of privacy (if any) a person has with regards to their spouse.

In Michigan, the most recent case to address the subject is Bailey v. Bailey (2008), which suggests the husband would be in the clear if he accessed the email account as described. This summary is somewhat outdated but a good introduction to the (complex) issues. I'm not a lawyer, and though this doesn't seem to be settled law in Michigan I haven't taken time to study it in any great depth.
posted by anigbrowl at 8:07 AM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Whether the home computer is shared or not is irrelevant. It was a GMail account, and their server was accessed with her password. Unless she gave him consent to do so it was a crime. I wouldn't have touched this with a ten foot pole as a DA though.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:11 AM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Great link, anigbrowl.
posted by morganannie at 8:12 AM on December 28, 2010


Wow, anigbrowl, there are some interesting claims in that piece:
An understanding of how e-mail is transmitted is necessary to grasp the basis of the courts’ rulings related to e-mail retrieval.

Sent e-mail is temporarily stored on the service provider’s server until the recipient retrieves it. E-mail is retrieved from the server after the subscriber enters a password, accesses the e-mail, and opens it. Once the e-mail is opened, it is stored on the computer’s hard drive. In the case of AOL, the e-mail is automatically stored on the computer’s hard drive in the AOL Personal File Cabinet or PFC. E-mail will remain on the PFC until manually deleted. There is usually no automatic password protection provided for the PFC. The result is that anyone can open the service provider’s software on a computer’s hard drive and read the PFC e-mails stored there.

Courts have consistently held that retrieving and accessing of e-mail stored on a computer is not a violation of ECPA or the wiretapping statutes because the ‘‘transmission’’ of the e-mail is complete, and reading stored e-mail is not an intercepted transmission. In White v White,8 White exchanged e-mails with his girlfriend that were stored on the family computer. Mrs. White hired an investigative service to obtain her husband’s e-mails from their computer. The court held that retrieving such stored e-mail did not violate the law because it was in its ‘‘post-transmission’’ storage.
Of course, web-based e-mail like Gmail works very differently than what they are describing. I wonder if the courts really want to get bogged down in these details. It seems to me like very poor law that requires you to understand so much about networking and mail protocol implementations in order to know whether or not you're committing a felony, and I'd kind of love to be in the courtroom when some poor sucker has to try to explain IMAP message state to the judge. And what if I run my own mail service locally for a domain I own? Surely there is some saner test that could be used.
posted by enn at 8:18 AM on December 28, 2010


Whether the home computer is shared or not is irrelevant. It was a GMail account, and their server was accessed with her password.

I don't know about that. If she had set the browser to remember the password on a shared computer (though that doesn't seem to have been the case here), that's another piece of evidence arguing for implied consent. Neither an necessary nor sufficient piece of evidence, but evidence nonetheless.
posted by jedicus at 8:20 AM on December 28, 2010


"The problem with prosecuting people for merely reading other people’s e-mails is that it is just so easy to do when the parties are in a relationship, Rikki Klieman, a criminal defense attorney and former Court TV anchor, told Natalie Morales Tuesday on TODAY.

If prosecutors around the country follow Michigan’s lead and apply hacking laws to husbands, wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, the criminal courts will be deluged with cases that rightly belong before family court judges, Klieman said. 'Are we going to put all of these people in prison? Are we going to prosecute people for felonies? If the legislature wants to enact a specific law that says "Thou shalt not look at thy spouse’s intimate e-mails," let them go ahead and do it,' she added. 'You would think there is more serious crime they have to deal with.'"*
posted by ericb at 8:24 AM on December 28, 2010


I was once in traffic behind a car that obviously belonged to an IT nerd (young guy, classy VW sports car) with a bumper sticker that said: "I read your e-mail."

Never forgot that.
posted by spitbull at 8:28 AM on December 28, 2010


Free Leon Walker! Oakland County Prosecutors Overstep Authority In Spousal Snooping Case
" ... Whatever was actually going on in the Walker household, one thing is abundantly clear: If Oakland County law enforcement and prosecutors have time to handle this case then Brooks Patterson needs to – in the interest of public safety – reassign some of these people to Oakland County’s understaffed road crews.

Laura Berman expressed what is likely the conventional wisdom on this case in her Detroit News column this morning. Leon Walker was wrong, but not really that wrong.

Dec. 28, Detroit News:
'At its best, Leon Walker's behavior was likely inappropriate and perhaps obnoxious.

But Clara Walker's behavior wasn't great either.'
Why were Leon Walker’s actions inappropriate, exactly? Why is it necessary to equivocate a defense?

Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper accuses him of 'hacking' but it’s not as though the guy was trolling Gawker for passwords or implanting a virus on a corporate network. Dude checked his wife’s email.

And yes, his actions prove he has the technical ability to engage in even more nefarious hacking. Of course, I have the physical ability to chop up my neighbor with a machete but (promise) I’m no more likely to do that than Leon Walker is likely to steal your credit card information from Amazon.

Sex columnist Dan Savage, no one’s idea of a prudish busybody, makes a compelling argument that spousal snooping isn’t only not obnoxious but normal behavior.

April 8, The Stranger:
'Expecting your partner not to snoop is like expecting your partner not to fart or fantasize about other people. It's a nice thought, JB, but knowing what we know about human nature—and knowing that we ourselves snoop, fart, and fantasize about other people—it's a little unrealistic.

And I'm sorry, but when someone goes snooping and discovers that their partner is doing sex work—or is secretly gay or is sleeping with or visiting lesbian-bondage-themed nightclubs with Michael Steele—then the snooping is retroactively justified."
Consider this case from another angle. If Leon Walker suspected his wife had a drug or gambling problem and (after a bit of digital or analog snooping) discovered she was squirreling away money for her special vice, would anyone find his behavior distasteful?

Good Lord, no.

If Walker’s snooping discovered misappropriated money instead of misappropriated sex, we’d self-righteously prattle on about the legal principles of community property in marriage, how she was technically stealing from the marital pot.

He might even score an invite on Oprah or some equally dreary program to share his heart-breaking story about bravely trying to help his wife fight her addiction.

But Leon Walker’s case is about sex instead of money so Oakland County law enforcement thinks society has a compelling interest in protecting Clara Walker’s right to hide her infidelity from her husband.

That says more about the cops and prosecutors in Oakland County than it does about Leon Walker."
posted by ericb at 8:33 AM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Walker and his wife “were in divorce proceedings and had separate email accounts, separate computers, separate everything,”

Actually, this makes things very different. I didn't see that on the original gloss of the article.
posted by empath at 8:40 AM on December 28, 2010


As someone who was advised by the police to file a restraining order due to hacked emails, I certainly hope it is a crime.
posted by JLovebomb at 8:42 AM on December 28, 2010


Holy crap, if your estranged spouse ever new your password, let's go ahead and change it, mkay?
posted by Brocktoon at 8:44 AM on December 28, 2010


Pdf link to Bailey v. Bailey. Remember that other link is a decade out of date as far as technology is concerned.
posted by anigbrowl at 8:44 AM on December 28, 2010


As for criminality: the simple question might be: "how did you get the password"?
posted by rmmcclay at 8:50 AM on December 28, 2010


If Walker’s snooping discovered misappropriated money instead of misappropriated sex, we’d self-righteously prattle on about the legal principles of community property in marriage, how she was technically stealing from the marital pot.

If (Leon) Walker's snooping discovered counseling appointments, conversations with a lawyer, and attempts to contact domestic violence shelters, we'd self-righteously prattle on about the need for women to have private space within marital relationships.

Sex columnist Dan Savage, no one’s idea of a prudish busybody...

A man who's been quite successful at displacing Ann Landers as the agony aunt who routinely dishes up bad advice.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:55 AM on December 28, 2010


It seems that what he did with the info after reading would be the crime, not hacking/reading in and of itself.

1. did he lose his temper and threaten her? Crime
2. did he take financial info and use it for personal gain? Crime

I'm not into the whole breaking of trust but I also get why he did it. But I find the whole crime vs allowable intrusion because you're married odd. For example when my DH and I were going through rough times the police told me he could yell and it's not a crime. But if he hits me it's battery. If it's in front of our kid, it's a felony. So emotional/verbal abuse is not a crime. Same with taking our child on a trip. We weren't legally separated but I didn't want him to travel alone with our infant son. The police (and lawyer) told me he was allowed to since we weren't legally separated. So he could take a child on a trip without my consent and it's not a crime?

Marriage and the law is wacked.
posted by stormpooper at 8:58 AM on December 28, 2010


Honestly, if we made "being a dick" a jailable crime, we could do away with about 80% of our legal system

We'd have to, since about 80% of the people who work in it would be in jail themselves.
posted by JaredSeth at 9:00 AM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Pdf link to Bailey v. Bailey.

Interesting. I can't find, on a quick Googling, any indication that the two claims on which summary judgment was denied in that ruling (Stored Communications Act violations and invasion of privacy) were ever adjudicated. It's not as clear to me that the husband in this case is in the clear, since at least the SCA claim would seem to apply here.
posted by enn at 9:03 AM on December 28, 2010


I clicked the link, thinking, "I bet he's black." Otherwise, prison time wouldn't even be on the table.

Leaving aside the issue of whether reading someone else's mail should be illegal, in what universe is five years in the slammer an appropriate punishment for this? I $100 fine would be enough to make most people say, "huh, best not do that again..."
posted by klanawa at 9:07 AM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


5 years is extreemly excessive, however, unlike regular mail you can't read someone's email unless they give you your password. Hacking someone's email is pretty easy if you share a computer, but hacking laws aren't based on how difficult it is -- they simply state you can't access a computer without authorization.

It's unlikely he'll server five years, I hope. But there's no legal difference between hacking your wife's email and hacking anyone elses' as far as I know.
posted by delmoi at 9:13 AM on December 28, 2010




It seems that what he did with the info after reading would be the crime, not hacking/reading in and of itself.

1. did he lose his temper and threaten her? Crime
2. did he take financial info and use it for personal gain? Crime
Ugh, dude the law isn't "it's illegal if you think it's wrong". They are very specific, and the laws that ban hacking simply state that you can't access a computer system without appropriate authorization. It's very unlikely that prosecutors would prosecute a case like this, but they are on firm legal ground.
posted by delmoi at 9:16 AM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's not clear to me from the article whether the prosecutor is even asking for five years or whether that's merely the maximum sentence under the statute. I agree that a five-year sentence would be very excessive.
posted by enn at 9:16 AM on December 28, 2010


DTMFA
posted by banshee at 9:17 AM on December 28, 2010


It's very unlikely that prosecutors would prosecute a case like this, but they are on firm legal ground.

Adultery is still a felony in Michigan, but I don't see the prosecutor jumping on that charge.
posted by ryoshu at 9:19 AM on December 28, 2010


DTMFA
posted by banshee

Which asshole? The one that snooped on her, or the one that she's currently cheating on him with and who beat her in front of her kid?
posted by Challahtronix at 9:31 AM on December 28, 2010


Enn, the criminal statute (rather than a tort) at issue here seems to be this one. In Bailey, on page 18?, a person's sex life is generally their private business, but there is a public interest at stake where a person's fitness to parent a minor is in question.

By the way, this pre-hype story seems to provide a clearer timeline of events.
posted by anigbrowl at 9:50 AM on December 28, 2010


Argh - deleted a sentence. I meant to say that the MI statute appears to require conversion of another's property as an element of the unauthorized access. His ex-wife might argue a property interest in the private data of her sex life, but I'm guessing the minor's safety obviates this.

Again, I'm not a lawyer and have done only casual research on this. Also, I haven't had my coffee yet.
posted by anigbrowl at 9:59 AM on December 28, 2010


Hello, Young IT Nerd Type Guy here...

In regards to us types reading your e-mail.

I personally have not and never will read the contents of e-mail messages passing through mail exchanges that I am responsible for, whether they be client or server. I have a very strict personal guideline as I highly value the privacy of the individual. The content isn't my business, nor will it ever be.

The only valuable thing in this world is trust. Trust is necessary for much of society to function smoothly, and is an absolute requirement for the electronic realm to function. Trust between systems, trust between sysop and user.

The only thing I'm concerned with is the technical aspects of mail delivery when things don't go according to plan. In these instances I may learn who sent a message, who the intended recipient was, transmission time, and mail exchange routing data.

In a previous position I held, I was a the primary technical support representative for all C-level executives, the Legal department lead attorneys, and Marketing executives and managers.

I treated all correspondence that I had temporary custody of as if it were radioactive.

I do NOT read your e-mail.

It's not my damn job.

Some people are indeed douchey... nee the young buck in the VW... but then this sounds like a pretentious asshole that should never have been given so much as a shell account let alone administrative duties on a network.

***ENDOFRANT***
posted by PROD_TPSL at 10:08 AM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


ericb: “Sex columnist Dan Savage, no one’s idea of a prudish busybody...”

KirkJobSluder: “A man who's been quite successful at displacing Ann Landers as the agony aunt who routinely dishes up bad advice.”

Thank you for saying it so I don't have to.

ericb: “Why were Leon Walker’s actions inappropriate, exactly? Why is it necessary to equivocate a defense?”

His actions were inappropriate because human beings, even married human beings, have a right to a reasonable expectation of privacy, and he violated that privacy. He was in a difficult circumstance, and some good came of the snooping – I might even do the same thing in his situation – but that doesn't change the fact that the snooping itself was wrong. Ethics aren't conditional; we're not allowed to abrogate right and wrong simply because someone else has attempted to do so.

Of course there are extenuating circumstances here, and that should effect Leon Walker's punishment. I would hope that a judge would weigh that in his favor. Moreover, I take haste to point out that these articles say he faces up to five years in prison; he has not been convicted or sentenced yet. All the same, though I think he deserves leniency, and though his ex-wife is clearly guilty of a far greater betrayal, none of that changes the fact that violating her privacy was wrong.
posted by koeselitz at 10:15 AM on December 28, 2010


With birthdays and Christmas aside, are you emailing someone something you don't want your spouse to see, ever? Then you're doing something wrong and probably shouldn't be married.

My husband and I know our emails, passwords, game accounts and passwords, etc. I don't search his email but I do check it from time to time when his email noise dings. Not a big deal, and he does the same for mine.

If you're married, you should expect that your spouse may look at your email and shouldn't have anything to hide, either.

This goes for snail mail as well.
posted by Malice at 10:19 AM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


There may be a little more going on here. First, the guy is black and he's from Rochester Hills, part of lilly white Oakland County. There is no better way to appeal to the rubes than to prosecute a black guy. (I don't know if the wife or former husbands are white or black)


Jessica Cooper, the county prosecutor, just might be interested in the county executive job if the current jerk ever retires. This is a good way to make a name for yourself if you are an ambitious prosecutor.
posted by melkozek at 10:20 AM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Walker and his wife “were in divorce proceedings and had separate email accounts, separate computers, separate everything,”


I didn't see this in the article, maybe I skimmed over it. If this is true, then yes, there is some degree of privacy to be expected and he shouldn't have done that. IF it's true.
posted by Malice at 10:22 AM on December 28, 2010


From the link anigbrowl posted, I'm seeing everything from misdemeanor with a $500 fine to felony with 5-year max.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:26 AM on December 28, 2010


Apparently, my boss has a right to read my email.

My wife *thinks* she's the boss of me. She therefore believes this also gives *her* a right to read my email as well.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:39 AM on December 28, 2010


It all seemed so ludicrous, until I clicked on the picture and saw that he was indeed a black man. It all makes sense now, unfortunately.
posted by nikoniko at 11:42 AM on December 28, 2010


This just seems like a personal issue between a couple. If you think your spouse is cheating on you, you're going to snoop. People who cheat, often lie about it. Is going through coat pockets (and I don't mean things in the hamper) inappropriate? I'd say, 'yes,' but it's certainly not illegal - and I know we're talking about a legal issue in this case, but they seem similar. What about calling his credit card company to check on charges because you know the card number and his social security number cause you're pretty sure he's been going to hotels in the city where you live?

I consider my email private and wouldn't want it read by anyone, even a husband. Not that there's anything to hide but if I want to share an email, I'll forward it. If I found out my husband was reading my emails or snail mail (I used to be a big letter writer before email), this would cause a major fight. If I thought my husband was cheating, I would snoop into his email in a heartbeat.

On the other hand, this is the kind of behavior that one sometimes sees with abusers trying to control their spouses. Still, I'd put it in the personal issues box.

I also thought the man in this story would be black.
posted by shoesietart at 11:59 AM on December 28, 2010


I know that speeding is illegal, yet I still speed, and sometimes I even have a good reason to. That does not excuse the fact that I am breaking the law.
posted by muddgirl at 12:17 PM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Glad I didn't live in Michigan...
posted by Fezboy! at 12:38 PM on December 28, 2010


What is bizarre to me is that the entire criminal aspect seems to hinge on the fact that the private information was viewed on a computer. If he had taken the tiny key out of her jewelry box and unlocked and read her diary, there would apparently be no crime, correct? So the invasion of privacy is not really the significant charge? I'm trying to think of comparable instances in which the act is only becomes illegal by way of the means with which it was committed (outside of violent crimes).

I imagine there are some things regarding use of the postal service, but I haven't actually thought of something that would be illegal only if it was delivered via government postal service versus private carrier; threats, blackmail, ransom, extortion, various scams are all going to be illegal anyway, with perhaps other charges tacked on for using U.S. Mail to carry out a crime ... I'm not coming up with something that would be illegal only if you use the mail.
posted by taz at 1:37 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Um ... this might sound like an odd question but, what exactly makes an email account with a free service such as GMail, your account? Is it because you set up the account? Or because you clicked on Google's EULA? How then exactly is the "Authorized User" of such an account determined? And shouldn't it be up to Google to decide that the email account was accessed illegally? Sounds impossible. Even if you set up the account, do you even have the right to determine who the Authorized Users of a gmail address are, or aren't for that matter? Maybe I'm just splitting hairs here but if we are going to be putting people in jail over unauthorized access to email, I think the law needs to deal with some of these questions.
posted by Stu-Pendous at 3:35 PM on December 28, 2010


I can't help look at this from the perspective of the token geek in my household...

My SO has a computer we call "hers" merely out of convention. I bought it, built it, administer it, and help her get into her email (an account I created for her) when she somehow accidentally makes it forget her password and doesn't actually know it when asked.

Does it fall within the realm of physical possibility that I could ever "exceed my authorized access" on that machine?

Trust issues aside, though, this seems like an absurdity. If you don't want your employer to know about your anti-corporate political views, don't post to the MotherJones forums from work. And if you don't want your spouse to know about your affair with an abusive ex...


...And what gives with that? I can't believe this even came up - For once, "for the children" actually makes a good excuse for someone's behavior, and instead he faces prison time? WTF?
posted by pla at 5:27 PM on December 28, 2010


I like Dan Savage's idea of "retroactive validation" - because I think snooping is just a tool, that can be used either agressively or defensively. If a woman snoops and finds out her husband has been doing hard drugs and sleeping around and this saves her from getting an incurable STD because she breaks up with him, she's protecting and defending herself. In this case, the husband was snooping looking for ammunition as a way to exert more control over someone and mess with their business.

You could argue that he was concerned for the child, but many, many many angry, divorcing spouses argue out of "concern for the child" when it is very clear they're only concerned with revenge and power games. In any case, what is best for the child is cooperating with the mother, who will always be the child's mother no matter what. Freshly divorced or divorcing parents tend to think in black and white terms, when nine times out of ten, once people cool off, the child will have some communication with both parents for the rest of all of their lives.

So for me, if someone is snooping because they feel they're in danger of imminent harm, and the result is that they leave or break up with the person wronging them, that's one thing. If someone is snooping with no intention of protecting themselves and every intention of finding dirt in order to blackmail or otherwise exert control or revenge over someone, or get custody of their child or otherwise gain in some way, it is completely different.

Of course this is just my 2 cents morally and has nothing to do with the legality of anything.
posted by Nixy at 6:28 PM on December 28, 2010


Nixy : If a woman snoops [...] she's protecting and defending herself. In this case, the husband was snooping looking for ammunition as a way to exert more control over someone and mess with their business.

I so hope I missed your sarcasm there.
posted by pla at 7:22 PM on December 28, 2010


I'm building up quite the little file on various bass-ackward law enforcement practices in Oakland County. (The county sheriff's office also wastes manpower trying to catch gays having teh sex in a near-deserted park and raids medical marijuana clinics.)

And now this story explains why Jessica Cooper may be too busy to spend time addressing questions on the infamous but decades-old Oakland County child killing case. http://www.detnews.com/article/20101228/METRO02/12280367
posted by NorthernLite at 9:07 PM on December 28, 2010


I don't even know my own email or banking passwords any more. Access requires physical possession of one of the USB sticks I keep my KeePassX database on, plus the master password to that database. I've been working this way for a few months now, and so far it's still quite convenient enough.
posted by flabdablet at 12:45 AM on December 29, 2010


What if a minor child "hacked" into their parent's email?

Would they also face prison time?
posted by morganannie at 10:00 AM on December 29, 2010


From this CNN article:


"She'd asked me to read her e-mails before," Walker said in an interview this week. "She gave me the password before. She didn't hide it."
posted by morganannie at 10:37 AM on December 29, 2010


"I house-sat for him before... I knew the key was under the rug. He didn't hide it (from me)... that's why I could go into his house and rifle through all his stuff!"

Yeah, still don't like it.
posted by muddgirl at 10:39 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I mean, it's still going to be a crime to gain unauthorized access to someone's documents. If your ex-wife's mail is still coming to the place and you conveniently opened up an important letter . . . you're still committing a crime. You can't even use the "If I wasn't legally allowed to, the letter would be harder to open" excuse for that one. Sometimes doing something illegal is absurdly easy and there really isn't a lot from stopping you except that it's against the law. People who have fruit stands? Very easy to shoplift from. Still against the law, even if the guy running the fruit stand went to the bathroom. Stealing a bicycle that someone didn't lock properly? Still against the las. You get the idea. Just because it was hella easy for the guy to put in a password and look at her email doesn't mean that it was legal for him to do so.

Of course, five years is beyond overboard and I don't think it'll come to that. And yes, there are extenuating circumstances that might prevent him doing anything other than perhaps having a fine. But that doesn't stop the action of going through someone's email or mail as being illegal.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 11:40 AM on December 29, 2010


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