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Divorce and Privacy: Protecting Your Personal Information

Respect for personal privacy is one of the key values underlying American culture. Politically, we don’t want Uncle Sam to become Big Brother. We want to be free from other people spying on us for any reason.

What about married or cohabitating couples, however, and the access to personal information that often comes with emotional intimacy? How does someone maintain or regain a sense of privacy when a relationship partner is involved?

This article will explore that question by analyzing a recent Michigan divorce case in which both partners inappropriately accessed the other’s personal data. The case involved a husband who was charged with computer hacking and a wife who read her husband’s text messages.

Invasion of Email Privacy

In the case in question, a 34-year-old computer technician from Rochester Hills suspected his wife of having an affair. His wife had been married twice before. The computer technician suspected she was having an affair with her second husband. The wife had left the second husband after he allegedly beat her in front of her son from her first marriage.

Allegations of domestic violence are always a problematic factor in divorce cases. Possibly out of concern for the child’s well-being, the computer technician hacked into his wife’s Gmail account on their shared PC. He then passed messages along to his wife’s first husband, who used them in a child custody fight with his ex-wife.

When authorities learned how the computer technician had gained access to the emails, they brought hacking charges against him. Those charges were dropped after it became known that his wife had been simultaneously snooping on his text messages.

Social Media and Divorce

In this Internet age, it is scarcely surprising that the husband quickly trumpeted the dismissed charges through social media. On his personal blog and on Twitter, he immediately exulted in being free of the hacking charges. He also vowed to rebuild his life after the divorce from the wife whose emails he had been so eager to read.

A case like this is not only a cautionary tale about avoiding criminal charges for breaching a spouse’s online privacy. More broadly, it suggests that spouses who are considering divorce must begin to reorient their sense of personal privacy.

This reorientation does not only mean making sure that you alone decide what your webmail or Facebook passwords will be. It also includes considering other areas, such as bank accounts, where you and your spouse may have shared personal information with each other.