Tempted to read your boyfriend's (or spouse's) e-mail because you suspect him of cheating? Consider the possibility that you could be breaking the law.
Gone are the days of snooping though your loved one's diary. We have become virtual fleas on the wall, with only a keyboard and computer screen between you and your partner's most private thoughts carefully crafted in e-mail. It's oh-so-tempting to click on the small inbox in the corner of the monitor — we tell ourselves, just this one time. Many of us do give into this temptation — especially when we suspect we're not the only one getting some love from our loved one. With the scales of justice, sometimes our emotions outweigh our code of ethics-but be careful. You may just find yourself "telling it to the judge," literally.
So, is it legal to sneak a peak at your boyfriend's e-mails? You're probably used to my answer: it depends. Angel Lee certainly knows the consequences. Mrs. Lee found herself in the middle of quite a bit of legal trouble after checking her husband's e-mails, instigated by a heated custody batter between her spouse and his ex. Judge Richard Matsen (same District Court judge who presided over the Oklahoma City case) and known for his no-nonsense demeanor said the log on and passwords were obtained without authorization and thereby sentenced her house arrest for 60 days. Ouch, two months of lock up at home sounds like a stiff penalty for snooping-that's enough to keep my eyes on my own computer.
Now, while criminal prosecution of this kind is rare, these matters are becoming more frequent as online communication is an obvious source of evidence for infidelity. Lawyers say this is a serious risk for clients accused of wrongful conduct. Private investigators who used to trail behind with cameras, now conduct stakeouts behind computer terminals. The virtual world of reading your boyfriend or husband's emails leaves us to deal with two primary legal matters.
The prime law in this area is the Electronic Privacy Act of 1986, commonly known as the "wiretap law" and there are similar state laws that mirror the EPCA. Clearly, Congress didn't pass this bill to govern your personal spying issues; they passed the act to govern third party interceptions or electronic communications. It provides civil and criminal penalties for anyone who intentionally intercepts, uses or discloses "oral or electronic communication." Most cases developed under the ECPA involve tapping phone calls and emails correspondence by the government. (Sound familiar? It's been a hot button topic regarding our surveillance of terrorist activity). Generally, courts don't review unauthorized access of a spouse's chat room conversations via ECPA; however, in states where it does exists, if your honey catches you reading his emails, he may have a case under the tort law of invasion of privacy.
Check back with me tomorrow for Part II of this column, where we discuss the necessary requirements to satisfy this charge. For tonight, maybe call a girls night out to take your mind off things.
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Lis Wiehl joined FOX News Channel as a legal analyst in October 2001. She is currently a professor of law at the New York Law School. Wiehl received her undergraduate degree from Barnard College in 1983 and received her Master of Arts in Literature from the University of Queensland in 1985.In addition, she earned her Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 1987.
Lis is also the author of The 51% Minority — How Women Still Are Not Equal and What You Can Do About It . ( Watch the Video ) and Winning Every Time: How to Use the Skills of a Lawyer in the Trials of Your Life
To read the rest of Lis's bio, click here.