January 15, 2013

Spying on Your Spouse Can Get You in Trouble with the Law

Spying on Your Spouse Can Get You in Trouble with the Law


An interesting topic, which intersects both criminal and family law, has attorneys and prosecutors wondering how privacy laws function in the context of marriage. The Wall Street Journal recently débuted an article about men who have been charged with violating the federal Wiretap Act, stalking, and invasion of privacy after they took intense measures to keep tabs on their wives.

The Wiretap Act protects the privacy of oral, electronic, and wire communications. This includes any transfer of signals, writings, data, signs, sounds, intelligence, or images of any kind that are transmitted partially or whole by a radio, wire, photo-optical, photo-electronic, or electromagnetic system. “Web browsing and other Internet communications are . . .protected by the Wiretap Act.”

Put more simply, the Act prohibits the use, disclosure, or interception of any electronic communications acquired by a “device.” This would legally prevent an individual from placing a key logger on their spouse’s computer to track their chat and email conversations. It also makes it illegal to intercept any of their electronic communications.

The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers published a survey revealing that 92 percent of divorce lawyers can say that the use of smartphone evidence has increased significantly in the past three years. Courts remain to be split on whether or not the Wiretap Act applies in a marriage; some argue that when two people take their vows, they give up their privacy expectations. While five federal courts have ruled that the Act does apply in martial situations, two have ruled that it does not.

Moral of the story: be extremely cautious if you want to monitor the activities of your spouse. Intercepting or tapping their electronic communications can get you charged with cybercrimes or hacking. Similarly, putting a GPS into their car can get you arrested for stalking or harassment. As it turns out, evidence of infidelity, if acquired illegally, cannot be used in divorce court in most states.

If you mistakenly took illegal measures to track your spouse’s communications or whereabouts and are now facing charges for violating federal law

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