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Posted at 10:38 AM ET, 12/27/2010

Michigan man could go to jail for reading his wife's e-mail

By Hayley Tsukayama

A Michigan man faces five years in prison for reading his wife's e-mail, under a state law intended to prevent identity fraud. As the Detroit Free Press reports, computer technician Leon Walker accessed his wife's Gmail account on a laptop in their home. From her e-mail messages, he learned she was having an affair with her ex-husband -- a man previously arrested for domestic violence. Walker then filed for emergency custody of his wife's young son.

Walker's soon-to-be ex-wife testified that the laptop her husband used to access the e-mail account was a private laptop, and that she was the only one who knew the password.

Leon Walker, on the other hand, said the laptop was a family computer and that his wife kept all her passwords in a little book next to the computer.

The legal question at heart here is whether or not Walker's wife had an expectation of privacy.

Frederick Lane, a Vermont lawyer and electronic privacy expert, told the Free Press that the fact that the two still were living together, and that Leon Walker had routine access to the computer, might help him, Lane said.

"I would guess there is enough gray area to suggest that she could not have an absolute expectation of privacy," he said.

Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper told the Free Press she defends her decision to charge Leon Walker.

"The guy is a hacker," Cooper said in a voice mail response to the Free Press last week. "It was password protected, he had wonderful skills, and was highly trained. Then he downloaded them and used them in a very contentious way."

Other lawyers in the Detroit area told the Free Press that this application of the law was ludicrous. One told the paper that if this case is applicable under the law, the state would also have to prosecute parents monitoring their children's Facebook accounts.

By Hayley Tsukayama  | December 27, 2010; 10:38 AM ET
Categories:  Digital culture, E-mail, Policy and politics, Privacy  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Kinect hacks that'll make your jaw drop
Next: Where's the 2010 we were promised?

Comments

Hilarious. He's the "highly trained" "hacker" of the family, with "wonderful skills", but not charged with maintaining the family machines.

How does one arrange that gig?

"Frederick Lane, a Vermont lawyer and electronic privacy expert, told the Free Press that the fact that the two still were living together, and that Leon Walker had routine access to the computer, might help him..."

Yes, Mr. Lane, the married couple was still living together.

Posted by: gpsman | December 27, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

If it takes "highly trained hacking skills" to open a little notebook, read a password, and enter it into the appropriate text box on gmail, then I'm Santa Claus. The case should be thrown out of court post haste.

Posted by: foofoofoo | December 27, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

I'm trying to understand this....

The gov can confiscate your laptop and if it finds emails or whatever threatening the prez of the U.S. or child porn, the gov WILL prosecute you. But if you snoop on your husband's/wife's computer or email or FB account because you have reasonable suspicions, YOU can be held liable? I can't distinguish between the two. What makes one OK but the other not so much ok? So if you can't check your spouse's PC, you can't look at their cell phone bill, even though you pay for it. Or their credit card accounts when a joint account pays the bills, etc.

Privacy does not exist in a marriage or live-in, sharing bills, etc. relationship because it's almost synonymous with "secrecy." In these days of STDs and HIV/AIDS, I have no right to check out what my husband is doing if he's showing signs of philandering? What kind of horsechit is this - I can't see how this will ever hold up in court. As someone pointed out, this would also be relevant to kids. BUT - if the average citizen is forbidden to "snoop," why is the gov allowed?

Posted by: mooncusser | December 27, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse

In e-jail here. All she is feeding me is spam. I suspect she's having affair with ex. Chances are they are running up credit cards in my name, having a merry time. Should be getting bills in Jan...Send bail soon. Quit sending Spam. Depressing! There's always next year, for now there's always the next drink. Send bourbon.

Posted by: jobandon | December 27, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Finally! We men have been waiting for a legal defense against our wives and/or girlfriends who find porn sites in our browser histories.
:-)

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | December 27, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

I'm hoping to get sent to England in prisoner swap and look forward to mansion arrest instead of house arrest here in U/S. I leaked e-mails, wife left with the butler and I need donations for Scotch. They nailed me on a Thermos bomb charge.

Posted by: jobandon | December 27, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

lol @ I-270Exit1's comment :)

I guess what could make this more interesting is if he has had her permission to login as her in the past. As an example, my wife and I both have separate email accounts but we both know each others passwords. My employer blocks external web mail access and she regularly checks her email as well as mine to forward the important ones to my work account if they need an immediate response.

Another interesting twist to this is when dealing with login details or monitoring related to your children. Through reviewing my kids software logs I was able to quickly address some issues that came up with my son.

Posted by: jim_maryland | December 27, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Why is the government allowed to snoop on private citizens, you ask? It's called a "search warrant." That's why. Without one, the government is NOT allowed to snoop -- or at least, not allowed to use the evidence that is gathered that way.

As to the merits of this particular case, I do not have a firm opinion and I await the legal judgment.

Posted by: ScienceTim | December 27, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Borrowed Drax Files, then Holly Goodhead seduced me. Was headed for space when busted. Send heavy firepower. An ounce of pink is worth a gallon of ink.

Posted by: jobandon | December 27, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse

My whiz-bang gadgetry is in police evidence lock up. Send lawyers, jets and money. Need to get to deep space for operation.

Posted by: jobandon | December 27, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, but wives snoop on their husbands all the time so as far as I'm concerned turnabout is fair play. Besides, if you're cheating on your spouse, there should be no defense, no matter how it's found out. An expectation of privacy in marriage is not an expectation to be able to cheat if you so desire. Married people should not have that kind of protection of secrecy. If you fool around and are found out, you suffer the consequences, not charge your spouse with spying on you. That is ridiculous and it is time the government/law get the hell out of our bedrooms.

Posted by: jfoster13 | December 27, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

Don't have firm opinion and law firm went broke. Send a firm broad and bottle of gin. We'll worry about legal judgment next year. Until then, keep wet.

Posted by: jobandon | December 27, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Is she being charged by the state with adultery?

Posted by: Marimom | December 27, 2010 2:34 PM | Report abuse

it takes a bigot as a prosecutor to pursue this. Those in Washington need to oust this flea bag prosecutor. It was his computer, he maintained it and the password was available, if it was necessary at all (one can log on for weeks at a time on gmail. without reentering the PW.

Posted by: busseja | December 27, 2010 2:34 PM | Report abuse

He should have ... what ? ... bought the information from Facebook ?

The real trouble here is that neither Facebook, Google nor ISP (employees) would have risked jail time had they read husband's or wife's email. Federal Court has no remedy.

Posted by: gannon_dick | December 27, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

Why is the government allowed to snoop on private citizens, you ask? It's called a "search warrant." That's why. Without one, the government is NOT allowed to snoop -- or at least, not allowed to use the evidence that is gathered that way.
--------

LOL - as if they "need" a search warrant... If you don't think your email is easily and searched sans warrant, you are naive.

Posted by: mooncusser | December 27, 2010 3:14 PM | Report abuse

The involvement of a young child makes this a tragedy. There's not enough info presented to know the story of the marriage. This same DA is probably a zealous prosecutor of domestic violence by men--a good thing, but her motive in attempting to put this man in stir for five years is dubious. Plainly she's more interested in proving some point than in the protecting the child. If the mother might go back to a dangerous man, who presumably beat HER, she doesn't have the best interests of her young offspring in mind.

Unfortunately, this has also brought out the usual "Bitter Men's Chorus." My sample of the chorus is in CA, in which community property laws make complete confiscation of one spouse's property almost impossible. We still have a bitter men's chorus. In my experience, many of them give very one-sided, self-serving accounts of their marriages. There certainly are plenty of exploitative women, but the bitter men's chorus has lots of male analog (NOT equivalent) members.

Posted by: featheredge99 | December 27, 2010 3:19 PM | Report abuse

She's got some guts to pull this, especially as it seems the snooping was to protect a child.

Like the other poster, I wonder whether there is an adultery law that she can face charges for.

Posted by: sarahabc | December 27, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Ridiculous. And had it been a diary with the key hanging on a little chain for him to open, would he have been charged with breaking and entering?

Prosecutor Jessica needs to get a life.

Posted by: Nemo24601 | December 27, 2010 3:26 PM | Report abuse

The sisterhood sticks together. The D.A.s husband better do a little investigating himself. Wives, remember this next time you go through your husbands' privately owned pants.

Posted by: jckdoors | December 27, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse

That prosecutrix would thrive in the Swedish legal system... She belongs there.

Posted by: slcn | December 27, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

The oldest crime in the world meets the newest crime in the world.

I wonder what kind of ads does Gmail show to users who are having an affair. This is one reason not to use Gmail for confidential "work." Google data mines your e-mail's contents, shares it with marketers, and generates ads based on the e-mail.

Posted by: coakl | December 27, 2010 4:35 PM | Report abuse

Some bizarre comments on this post.

IANAL, but I guess it comes down to whether e-mail should (or does) get the same treatment as snail mail with respect to privacy. Technically, it's a federal offense to open your spouse's snail mail, though obviously many spouses don't care if the other opens a bill addressed to someone else in the household. It doesn't even matter that the mailbox is accessible to all adults living in the household, and in some cases is accessible to the general public. In this case, maybe it will not matter that the laptop was a family laptop rather than a private one.

"One told the paper that if this case is applicable under the law, the state would also have to prosecute parents monitoring their children's Facebook accounts."

Doesn't that partially depend on whether the courts view FB as the same or similar as e-mail? Also, as it isn't a crime for a parent to open a minor child's snail mail, something tells me the court system will provide a similar exception for parents monitoring the online activity of their minor children.

Posted by: dkp01 | December 27, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

Look at it this way, as the affair impacted his wife's fitness to have custody, wouldn't he have been neglectful not to have checked? That probably creates a privilege broad enough to get by this thing.

Posted by: Nemo24601 | December 27, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

so his "wonderful skills" apparently were basically the ability to open the notebook and read the written-down passwords?

Posted by: fedssocr | December 27, 2010 5:28 PM | Report abuse

reminds me of that old joke,

"What do you call a busload of lawyers that goes off a cliff with one empty seat?"

....a damned shame.

Posted by: areyousaying | December 27, 2010 5:33 PM | Report abuse

I guess she had some sort of expectation of privacy, and he had an expectation of marital fidelity. It seems like snooping in email to get evidence of an affair is the lesser evil here.

If I was this presecutor's husband, I would NOT read her email, but I would hire a PI to check on her the old fashioned way. She is *way* to sympathetic to cheating wives...

Posted by: rwolf01 | December 27, 2010 5:36 PM | Report abuse

I guess she had some sort of expectation of privacy, and he had an expectation of marital fidelity. It seems like snooping in email to get evidence of an affair is the lesser evil here.

If I was this presecutor's husband, I would NOT read her email, but I would hire a PI to check on her the old fashioned way. She is *way* too sympathetic to cheating wives...

Posted by: rwolf01 | December 27, 2010 5:37 PM | Report abuse

The "right to privacy" is so over done that there never seems to be an end to it. Some one once told me that you should live your life like you are on TV at all times. That sounds very difficult and like you would always be hoping for a power outage. She should have just told her husband that she wanted to have an affair with her criminal ex-husband and that she needed a few dollars to have a good time. He probably would have said yes, and that would have been the end of it. Instead, he trotted on her privacy and that deserves punishment. That's why we have such smart prosecutors, I mean, it takes a lot to handle a case like this. Most people would just have laughed it off.

Posted by: rryder1 | December 27, 2010 5:38 PM | Report abuse

It seems as though a lot of people are missing the issue here. The issue is not accessing the wife's email and reading it. The issue is accessing the computer itself. The story's headline and main emphasis is misleading - and IMHO very poorly written. The article seems to state (though not very well) that it was the computer that was password protected. The email account may or may not have been. The alleged crime lay in accessing the laptop.
Just my take on it.
Still pretty ridiculous on the part of the DA.

Posted by: overed | December 27, 2010 5:49 PM | Report abuse

Typical of nasty divorce cases. Try to disguise your own extra-marital sins by having your husband arrested for being a 'hacker'.

Hey, if the computer was in the house, and she was using it to have an extra-marital affair, SHE is the one who's wrong, here. She wasn't smart enough to 'hide' her affair better. Or maybe she wanted to get caught.

Posted by: momof20yo | December 27, 2010 6:46 PM | Report abuse

News Flash: Prosecutor charges man with subjecting his children to "improperly clothed (actually, they were naked) ginger bread men and women cookies" for dessert following the holiday dinner. According to the prosecutor, hIs wife broke in to his laptop using a recipe that was in a cook book on the side of his computer, although he denies baking the cookies. She stated that "he only thought the cook book was protected." What a jerk.

Posted by: rryder1 | December 27, 2010 6:46 PM | Report abuse

Frankly, this is more of a civil affair, than criminal. To really push the limits, it is more of a "simple tresspass" than "hacking" or "identity theft."

Posted by: Computer_Forensics_Expert_Computer_Expert_Witness | December 27, 2010 6:53 PM | Report abuse

So, am I to understand that the hiring of a private detective to stalk a spouse and take photos showing "cheating" activities is not a privacy invasion, but reading spousal e-mail is?

The only explanation is that Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper is also having and affair with said cheating wife.

Posted by: the_observer1 | December 27, 2010 7:31 PM | Report abuse

So, am I to understand that the hiring of a private detective to stalk a spouse and take photos showing "cheating" activities is not a privacy invasion, but reading spousal e-mail is?

The only explanation is that Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper is also having an affair with said cheating wife.

Posted by: the_observer1 | December 27, 2010 7:33 PM | Report abuse

Why is the government allowed to snoop on private citizens, you ask? It's called a "search warrant." That's why. Without one, the government is NOT allowed to snoop -- or at least, not allowed to use the evidence that is gathered that way.

As to the merits of this particular case, I do not have a firm opinion and I await the legal judgment.

Posted by: ScienceTim | December 27, 2010 2:12 PM
========================================
You're a little behind in the news.

Suppose you go on a trip to a foreign country say, Canada, Mexico, Europe, etc.

When you return Homeland Gestapo are allowed to copy all of your electronics - laptop hard drives, telephones, camera SD cards, etc. And they don't need a search warrant to do it either.

Oh, and they can use any information against you, even though it was obtained without a search warrant.

Posted by: krankyman | December 27, 2010 8:07 PM | Report abuse

Just turn this around.........
If the Leon Walker was cheating and wife (whose name is conveniently left-out) found out by snooping around, Leon would be charged for adultry, as he should be, but the wife would never get charged.
Leon Walker is a not done right! He is a victim of reverse gender-disrimination (which also is discrimination).
Just my 2 cents......

Posted by: Alert2 | December 27, 2010 8:33 PM | Report abuse

ahhhhh. the joys of love.

Posted by: jato11 | December 27, 2010 8:54 PM | Report abuse

He should say to the judge, "Yeah, but she's a WH0RE!"

Posted by: taonima2000 | December 27, 2010 9:14 PM | Report abuse

So, if Ms. Jessica Cooper, the Oakland County prosecutor, is so gung-ho on enforcing the law whenever it's broken, I'm sure she must have charged Mrs. Walker with the felony of adultery.

Posted by: pundito | December 27, 2010 9:56 PM | Report abuse

This is the same state that tried to prosecute someone for public cursing.

Taliban Michigan!

Posted by: bs2004 | December 27, 2010 10:29 PM | Report abuse

My Fellow Americans: Is this the kind of America we want to live in. If they pass enough laws, soon we'll all be guilty.

WAKE UP AMERICA. LET YOUR VOICES BE HEARD!

Posted by: barrysal | December 28, 2010 3:21 AM | Report abuse

Unless you have your computer password protected and you lock it whenever you leave it, there's no expectation of privacy.

Maybe if he used Ophcrack, but it sounds like he just got on the computer, looked in the notebook for the password, and was in.

Posted by: antispy | December 28, 2010 3:30 AM | Report abuse

Remember the failed "bomber" in Oregon?

What if his parents had snooped on his computer and alerted the authorities?

Would they also be sent to jail?

Posted by: antispy | December 28, 2010 3:37 AM | Report abuse

This prosecuter should be disciplined by the judge for taking on this ridiculous case.

Posted by: creamy | December 28, 2010 5:19 AM | Report abuse

This prosecuter should be disciplined by the judge for taking on this ridiculous case.

Posted by: creamy | December 28, 2010 5:20 AM | Report abuse

OFCS

1) not all married couples are living together, it is the living together with access to the machine that is critical, not the marital status

2) Nothing in the story says he got the password from the notebook, rather than hacking the machine.

3) the question is not whether she had an "expectation of privacy" which she clearly did, but whether the husband was within the zone of privacy, which is the question.

Posted by: Vince5 | December 28, 2010 6:39 AM | Report abuse

Ah...what is the problem here?

The wife is just mad because she got caught by her own stupid personal security behaviors. Hasn't she read or seen a million times that you NEVER write passwords down for anything.

And oh, by the way, people have a reasonable expectation of privacy from the POLICE, but when third parties are involved, almost 99% of the time, it is thrown out.

I applaud this guy, it if were a woman on the other end, this would not even be news, the courts would have immediately sided with her because of the child.

Posted by: duckie86 | December 28, 2010 7:14 AM | Report abuse

This brings up a subject that really irritates me. My wife can have credit cards and other forms of indebtiness but I am not allowed to "know" about them. If I call and ask I am told it would violate her right to privacy. On the other hand if anything happens to her I am responsible for her debts. That is simply not right! If I am not allowed to know about them how is it even remotely just that I am responsible for them????

Posted by: ransr01 | December 28, 2010 7:20 AM | Report abuse

The argument about monitoring one's children's Facebook account seems specious. Your wife doesn't need your permission or have to make any arrangements with you to have an e-mail account. If you tell your children they can have a Facebook account only on the condition that they give you access so you can monitor it, and they agree, then your access isn't without permission.

Posted by: hmessinger2 | December 28, 2010 7:38 AM | Report abuse

Michigan is a matriarchy and any man who gets married there deserves to be kicked for stupidity.

Posted by: politbureau | December 28, 2010 7:50 AM | Report abuse

"highly trained hacking skills"

Is this your first case? Look around, they are using you.

Posted by: nanonano1 | December 28, 2010 8:09 AM | Report abuse

What??? My wife and I routinely read each other's emails. Last year she even found her Christmas gift I had hidden in the basement. I wonder how many years this judge would give for gift snooping.

Posted by: fury60 | December 28, 2010 8:35 AM | Report abuse

Its Obama's fault.

Posted by: nomorewholefoods | December 28, 2010 8:36 AM | Report abuse

ok, some computer techie put a keylogger on his wife's laptop and then tries to use the info about the affair to file for "emergency custody" of the kid.

Sounds to me like he's the drama queen, and deserves to at least get his hands slapped for waging cyberwarfare in his own family.

Posted by: AsperGirl | December 28, 2010 8:41 AM | Report abuse

LOL. The corrupt prosecutor said he's a hacker. Prosecutor's are scumbags. They don't care what the truth is, they only want the conviction.

Posted by: johnfchick1 | December 28, 2010 8:41 AM | Report abuse

I can read any webmail (yahoo, gmail, whatever) that was sent or received/read at anytime on my office computers because they use google desktop search. No passwords required.

Posted by: Michael2255 | December 28, 2010 8:41 AM | Report abuse

Prosecutors are scumbags.

Posted by: johnfchick1 | December 28, 2010 8:43 AM | Report abuse

I think he showed great restraint. Enraged by the secret knowledge in her emails, he could have loaded her computer with child porn, or taliban explosives videos, and just turned her in to the FBI...

Posted by: Apostrophe | December 28, 2010 8:45 AM | Report abuse

I've been fighting computers since 1980 and because I know how to use them I am a so called techie. I grew up in the DOS and Unix worlds where you navigated directories and used BASIC commands. I used to solder RAM chips but now you just pop them in. Replacing a hard drive takes about 5 minutes. It's like saying because I can change my own oil that I'm an auto mechanic. Since I know basic stuff that others don't, I am a "techie" or a hacker even though I know nothing about the hacking that the banks, hospitals and government fight against daily.

I've been an attorney for about 20 years and I find that usually where a prosecutor is going after something like this, they have had something similar happen to them or someone they know. Considering any email a public employee/prosecutor sends on a government account is subject to an Open Records, just request and read her emails to find out her agenda. Isn't Detroit's former Mayor in prison for text messages the Detroit Free Press discovered in a records request?

Posted by: Michael2255 | December 28, 2010 8:51 AM | Report abuse

Is this REALLY the best use of the state's funds?

It seems pretty obvious that his suspicions were correct, and that she didn't have a strong enough (or hidden) password.

Let's leave domestic disputes domestic. Otherwise the courts won't have time to prosecute murderers, rapists, and thieves.

Posted by: Benson | December 28, 2010 9:09 AM | Report abuse

Didn't Rihanna go through Chris Brown's phone before he beat her up?

Shouldn't they have been sharing a cell?

Posted by: antispy | December 28, 2010 9:14 AM | Report abuse

lawyers lawyers lawyers.... who cares.

why cannot basic logic help us get rid of lawyers.

THEY WERE LIVING TOGETHER.... they were married.

big govt and lawyers (same thing, right?) are ruining this country.

Posted by: docwhocuts | December 28, 2010 9:29 AM | Report abuse

This case makes an extremely important issue seem ludicrous. They're married, they live together, she's cheating on him, etc. Privacy within a marriage is a gray area, and in this case she seems like the villian and he the victim. But don't be naive about the skills of a "highly trained" computer tech. Consider the young man who was recently arrested for stealing more than 100,000 credit card account #s -- he was an ex-US operative, was on the payroll and was trained by our government. Privacy is a human right and is absolutely essential for an individual's mental health. Don't let this case fool you into thinking your right to privacy is ridiculous. Don't knock privacy, and don't think you've got it, not since Bush and Cheney repealed the Constitution.

Posted by: rubyredshoes | December 28, 2010 9:43 AM | Report abuse

He might be a hacker but at least he is not a cheater; he doesn't deserve the punishment, she does!

Posted by: RKSahni | December 28, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

He might be a hacker (not that reading your wife's email on a home computer qualifies you as a hacker) but at least he is not a cheater; committing adultery, he doesn't deserve the punishment, she does!

Posted by: RKSahni | December 28, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Is this not really a case of an overtly eager prosecutor trying to railroad a situation to more than what was intended or surmised. After all one day the mere act of looking at a computer, especially one run by a government agency will be tantamount to espionage and hacking.

http://scallywagandvagabond.com/2010/12/husband-faces-5-years-in-jail-after-hacking-wifes-email/

Posted by: iamandami | December 28, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

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