The story is destined to become lore in family law. A married man had sent emails. But the messages that arrived in recipients’ inboxes – he later learned – differed from those he’d sent.
The man – who was in divorce proceedings with his wife – suspected she’d meddled with the messages. He was right. Using “spyware” she’d installed on his computer, the spouse captured and altered his emails.
In the digital age, electronic communications is susceptible to digital capture and alteration by others. Whether someone hacks your system, installs snooping software to follow your activities, or loads key loggers or spyware that track your keystrokes to record password credentials, our digital lives are vulnerable.
Add to that the public visibility of social media services like Facebook, Twitter, Google + and others, and people increasingly are sharing otherwise intimate or at least private details of their lives.
What’s worse, much of that content is posted using a smart phone. If lost, stolen or hacked, online access, accounts and information are potentially accessible – and certainly at risk.
The result? Spouses are snooping on their significant others’ conversations, communications, whereabouts and plans – and divorce court cannot keep pace. Wrote one newspaper, “It’s an evolving aspect of divorce cases in which technology quickly outpaces the law’s ability to keep up. The end result is a gray area with little settled law and a lot of lingering questions.”
Yet, some personal security habits should guide our travels along the information superhighway – especially if a spouse gets the notion of snooping in his or her mate’s digital life…
- Change all your passwords. If you are considering separation of filing for divorce, immediately change your passwords. Don’t write and keep them where others can find them. Commit them to memory.
- Log off when done. If the wife walks away from the computer and fails to log off her Facebook, Twitter or email accounts – and her husband snoops around on the open account – her expectation of privacy is lost. Anything he sees or learns is open to digital discovery. If she logs off, and he logs in because he knows her user ID and password, that’s illegal evidence and is inadmissible in any divorce proceedings.
- Protect or inspect your computer. In many homes, it’s difficult to ensure computers shared by family members aren’t meddled with. If you suspect hacking or installation of software, have the computer checked by a technology expert.
- Digital snooping is never permissible or admissible as evidence in court. But, if your attorney asks the court to compel the spouse to produce specific information – emails or texts, for example – in support of its case, that may be permissible. Instead, figure out a better way to get the same information.
The saying, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse” has never been more true than in the digital age. It’s especially pertinent as family courts try to keep up with changing technology. The best way to protect your case is to protect your digital persona online.