Husband Facing Five Years in Jail After Hacking Wife’s Email

According to Michigan prosecutors, reading your cheating wife’s email on shared home computer is the same thing as hacking into the Pentagon.

Leon Walker of Rochester Hills is charged with unlawfully reading his then-wife's e-mail, which showed she was having an affair with her second husband, who once had been arrested for beating her in front of her son. Photo: Spencer E Holtaway/Flickr

Leon Walker has been charged under anti-hacking laws aimed at preventing identity theft in the US. The 33-year-old man from Rochester Hills, Michigan had suspected his wife Clara, who had been married twice before was having an affair with her former husband.

Leon Walker became suspicious that his wife was cheating on him with her abusive second husband, and that she was bringing her child from her first husband along.

To confirm his suspicions, he read his wife’s emails in her Gmail account through a family computer using a password she kept in a nearby book.

When he discovered the affair, Walker printed out some of her emails and provided them to the woman’s first husband so that he could file for custody of the child.

Mr. Walker was arrested in February 2009 after his wife found out what he did. With nearly half US divorce cases involving some form of privacy invasion such as the reading of text messages or social networking web pages, the case could have significant legal repercussions.

Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper calls Walker a “highly-trained hacker,” perhaps displaying a misunderstanding of his actions. Walker is being tried for violating Michigan statute 752.795.

“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,” according to the statute.

Walker’s attorney says that the statute was created to protect against identity theft, to guard government information, and to protect trade secrets, not to stop a husband from exposing an affair by using a password that was within arm’s reach, and to protect a child from abuse no less. He wonders: “Don’t the prosecutors have more important things to do with their time?”

He now is facing a Feb. 7 trial. She filed for divorce, which was finalized earlier this month.Legal experts say it’s the first time the statute has been used in a domestic case, and it might be hard to prove.

“It’s going to be interesting because there are no clear legal answers here,” said Frederick Lane, a Vermont attorney and nationally recognized expert who has published five books on electronic privacy. The fact that the two still were living together, and that Leon Walker had routine access to the computer, may help him, Lane said.

“I would guess there is enough gray area to suggest that she could not have an absolute expectation of privacy,” he said.

About 45% of divorce cases involve some snooping — and gathering — of e-mail, Facebook and other online material, Lane said. But he added that those are generally used by the warring parties for civil reasons — not for criminal prosecution. [via The Telegraph (UK) and Detroit Free Press]

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