Lots of folks sent me links yesterday to a story out of Michigan where Leon Walker is facing charges of hacking under a state statute for snooping on his wife's e-mail account.
Right now, the story seems to be swirling with misinformation. According to Mr. Walker, he was concerned about the welfare of the parties' young daughter and investigated his wife's e-mail to find out if she was having an affair with a previous husband (she was). He said that she kept a list of her passwords readily available by the parties' joint computer.
But according to the Today Show this morning, he accessed her account four months after she had filed for divorce (clearly knowing that he was not authorized to do so). Moreover, there are allegations that he had spyware on the computer which, if true, would violate both federal and state wiretap laws.
What has confounded me is all the noise, some of it coming from purported experts, saying that these charges shouldn't have been brought because the statute in question is a hacking statute. While it is true that these statutes are often primarily directed at those who attempt to steal identities, personal information or proprietary data, they are also applicable to the facts of this case.
And, no, it doesn't matter that they shared a computer or that the computer was marital property. The law is protecting privacy rights, even between husband and wife. The statute in question reads, in part:
A person shall not intentionally and without authorization or by exceeding valid authorization do any of the following:
(a) 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.
Clearly, if the wife's story is true, he violated that statute. I am amazed at the folks who have asked, "Don't prosecutors/law enforcement have more important things to do?" Enforcing computer privacy has become VERY important in our society. Now, I don't think Mr. Walker should get the maximum five year sentence - most of these cases seem to result in probation if they plea or are found guilty. And if spyware was used, jail time is not out of the question. Violating wiretap laws is a very serious business, with penlties to match. The facts of this case are by no means unique - we see dozens of these cases of spouses spying on one another every year.
With 358 news reports circulating about this story on the Internet today, I'm sure a lot of folks will be watching when Mr. Walker goes to trial on February 7th. I'll stay tuned as well and report back.
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