Tuesday, 28 December 2010 15:37

Read your partner's email without their knowledge, go to jail?


If you live in the US state of Michigan, read your partner's emails without their knowledge, get caught doing so and are reported to the police, Michigan state law could see you spending up to 5 years in jail!

Although parents are advised to have full knowledge of their children's passwords for social networking sites and email, the same is not a standard recommendation for relationship partners, whatever the official status of their relationship, usually for simple privacy reasons.

Of course there will be plenty of people in committed relationships that know virtually everything about each other, from passwords through to shared bank account details, but in a digital world where the concept of privacy seems to be more and more illusory, the fact that Michigan man, Leon Walker, faces the potential of five years behind bars for reading Clara Walker's (his now ex-wife's) emails is startling.

The fact the two are now separated isn't that surprising, given that Mr Walker allegedly found emails between his then-wife and her previous husband proving that an affair was going on - clearly something wasn't right in the relationship, and the email discovery seems to have only hastened the relationship's demise.

All of the details are contained in the Detroit Free Press, where it appears Mr Walker discovered his then-wife was having an affair with her previous husband, who it is alleged mistreated her physically.

Details of these liaisons were then apparently passed to Mrs Walker's first husband, with whom she had a child, who was present when Mrs Walker's second husband would physically mistreat her, with Mr Leon Walker being the third husband, and now third ex-husband.

If it all sounds a bit complicated, with the threat of a 5 year jail term on top, that's because it is - affairs of the heart are never simple, after all.

So, what does it all come down to? Please read on to page two!

Still, what it all comes down to is this: is it a crime to read your partner's emails, especially if you don't have their password and you don't have their permission?

Mr Walker is reported to have said that found the needed password to access his now ex-wife's Gmail account in a book she kept near the computer.

Although Mr Walker works in IT and has been accused of being a 'hacker', it's hardly hacking when the password is written down somewhere in close proximity to the screen - that's simply a bit of luck and detective work.

I am no lawyer, but in Michigan State, Mr Walker could well find that reading his partner's emails without her permission is against the law.

While it is likely to be a different story for minors under 18 who are your children or are otherwise legally under your control, reading your partner's emails without their consent isn't morally right if no permission to do so has been given, or at least, it isn't right in my opinion. 

Given that humans are individuals, even when in a relationship, some privacy should still exist after all, and I can think of no good reason why privacy should die just because we now live in a digital age. 

So'¦ the world will watch to see what Michigan's jurors and courts decide, but if you want your privacy respected in a relationship, then you should respect the privacy of your partner, and if you're really suspicious that some affair is going on, deal with it in some other way - accessing password protected email, even if you 'find' the password without any 'hacking', just isn't right if no permission to read said emails has been given.

After all, as has been said since time immemorial, do unto others has you would have them do unto you. Nowhere does it say 'read others' emails without their permission whatever your suspicion!".

Again - it's a different story when it comes to your children, where absolute knowledge of their passwords for email accounts and social networking services is recommended by Internet safety experts to prevent your children being targeted by predators, but when it comes to your relationship, business or other partner, thinking twice before venturing into areas you know aren't yours to venture into is good advice.


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

Alex Zaharov-Reutt is iTWire's Technology Editor is one of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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