Spouse Can't Hack Your Email, says Michigan

As the Detroit Free Press reported, a Michigan resident faces felony hacking charges for accessing his wife's email account sans her consent. Is this a case of a good deed gone wrong, or a line that never should have been crossed? I'm potentially on the fence, but overall, I think you shouldn't be snooping in somebody else's email, period, full stop. After all, the government isn't allowed to do it without a warrant. (H/T: Consumerist)


  1. So, when I read your blurb, my first thought is that abusers often keep tabs on their spouses by reading their e-mail, and maybe this is a creative prosecutor trying to put one in jail when she can't convict him on domestic violence charges. Which I would not be too sad about, frankly (especially since I don't think spouses should have a right to read each other's private e-mails under better circumstances, so I wouldn't mind the legal precedent being set).

    Then I read the whole story, and I see the guy is claiming he's trying to protect a kid from a past abusive spouse -- and if that's true, I certainly wouldn't want to see him prosecuted (even if I still don't think he should have been reading his wife's e-mail). And it's all too common for an African-American man to be the target of an overzealous prosecution.

    But but but... people often have more than one abusive relationship. So it's ALSO possible that this guy is abusive and controlling, hence reading the e-mails, and he's just using the kid as a pawn to punish the wife for cheating.

    Conclusion: I just don't know enough about this case to really have an opinion on it. But I definitely think spouses should have the same expectation of privacy as anyone else when it comes to e-mail.

  2. Here's a tip: if you think your wife may be cheating on you, and you're tempted to read her email? Don't. A) It's already over, and B) you're happier with your worst fears and some doubt than you will be knowing that they're true.

    Trust me on this one.

  3. It's a good thing this guy isn't in North Dakota. Based on how they treated David Ritz, this would probably be a death penalty offense.

  4. What if you're going along just fine until one day you accidentally find out your spouse is on facebook, connecting with dozens of past lovers? You dig a little deeper and find out he's regularly communicating with one of them on a sexual level. I would want to know that, I would not want to be deceived like that. At least if you know you have the option to leave. Just saying.....

  5. Al, your title is wrong. "Michigan" hasn't said diddly squat about this case. One county prosecutor has filed charges, in a case where significant facts are in dispute. The guy seems to be arguing that they shared the machine and passwords, and so it wasn't private. The prosecutor says he used some sort of "wonderful skills" to get the email. It's going to come down to trying facts: for a jury to decide what to believe about how he gained access and why. Based on a filing title, it appears that he is charged under http://legislature.mi.gov/doc.aspx?mcl-752-795 which is a blanket unauthorized access prohibition: a 5-year felony. The "hacker" has a tough defense to make given that law, and will likely have to depend on convincing the jury that he was justified by how dangerous the boyfriend was.

    The important issue this case should make people think about is how our online behavior is subject to loose legal language largely written ~30 years ago (like MI 792.795, key parts of 18USC1030, and dozens of very similar laws in other states.) The prosecutor had the ability to file a felony charge in this case because she has that ability in just about any circumstance where she thinks someone has used any system without proper authorization. She doesn't have a lesser charge she could file. This both puts too much power in the hands of prosecutors and places an unreasonable burden on them. It also has led to a widespread culture of acceptance around low-grade "hacking." Prosecuting solely for unauthorized access is so rare that this sort of case always generates surprise. If there were varying degrees of unauthorized access, such as there are for other crimes, this case would not be a story getting run even in the Freep, because this guy would just be one of the dozens of people tried for misdemeanor violations


Comments policy: Al is always right. Kidding, mostly. Be polite, and you're welcome to join in, even if it's a differing viewpoint.