Jonathan Marks, STL Moms: Accessing Spouse’s Email

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Margie:  Most all of us have one or perhaps several email accounts but when it comes to divorce, snooping in your spouse’s email could result in a felony. Jonathan Marks with The Marks Law Firm is here this morning to talk more about how you could be breaking the law. Good morning to you.

JM:  Good morning Margie.

Margie:  Ya, and Jonathan you wrote a blog about this and a lot of people are interested in learning more about it.

JM:  Sure. Ya, I mean, in essence, there was an interesting case that came down in a federal court and um that talked about what the liability would be when a spouse in a divorce case starts forwarding emails from their husband, in this particular situation, that they shouldn’t have been looking at. What can happen to them from a civil and a criminal standpoint.

Margie:  Ya and there are laws about this. What are those?

JM:  Sure, the main one is the federal wiretap act where basically you know you can’t be wiretapping or intercepting someone’s communications in which you are not a participant of. So in this particular case, the situation was, the wife was uh putting a forwarding on every email that her husband was putting together and so she read through every email that was coming in and going out from her husband’s account.

Margie:  Alright. What if I uh know the password. Does that make it okay?

JM:  Well, no not really. I mean the reality is, you know, a lot of times that’s something that you hear when someone will say well I know my spouse’s password to the email account can I go in and take a look at these emails. Just knowing the password isn’t going to help you. You realistically need to have actual permission, which gets into the other problem of what if someone just tells you sure you can have permission on Tuesday but then when they actually see that there’s something they don’t want you to know about come the following day, do you still have that permission? So in reality, if you’re going to have these types of communications intercepted or be viewing them, you really need to have written permission to prove that somebody authorized you to go into their email account.

Margie:  What are some of the implications from uh the court of appeals decision?

JM:  Sure, so looked at it two different ways. From a criminal standpoint, you know somebody can basically have a felony conviction for intercepting these types of communications. From a criminal aspect, you know in a divorce aspect, you’re looking at could you have your spouse be criminally charged with a felony. From a civil standpoint, you’re looking at serious fines that can happen not just for you know the overall act but for each particular interception and that’s an individual violation that can be fined you’re looking at thousands of dollars or even tens of thousands of dollars from this type of an interception from a civil fine perspective.

Margie:  Because it would be like every email that they intercepted they could be fined for.

JM:  I mean it’s just like you know where a handful of years ago people were uh downloading music or movies illegally. You’re looking at the same thing for those types of digital communications. There was a fine for each of those intercepted, or uh downloaded movies you’re looking at the same thing for intercepted emails and electronic communications.

Margie:  Ya and uh as far as the case itself, I mean will the judge then maybe look at that differently as well and maybe say this isn’t permissible?

JM:  Well it shouldn’t be permissible. I mean you know especially from the attorney standpoint if somebody is walking into your office and you need to ask them how did you obtain this information. If it’s something that’s been obtained you know illegally, you didn’t have permission to get it, the attorney should literally shove it away from the desk and not take a look. But should somebody attempt to get that admitted into the court…no, that evidence should not be admitted and it’s also going to lead to other problems both for you know the spouse that was asking you to look at it and for the attorney as well.

Margie:  Alright, Jonathan Marks with The Marks Law Firm. Thank you so much. We appreciate it.

JM:  Thanks Margie.

Margie:  For more information on The Marks Law Firm, just head to the STL Moms tab.

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