Husband’s email snooping may lead to prison time

A Michigan man who checked his wife's e-mail for signs of infidelity is being prosecuted under a statute aimed at hackers.

If you've ever had the urge to check someone else's email, then you've got something in common with Leon Walker, a 33-year-old computer technician from Rochester Hills, Michigan. But be warned, it may lead to prison time.

Walker suspected his wife of cheating, so he flipped through the book of passwords she conveniently kept next to the family's shared laptop, logged into her Gmail account and confirmed his suspicions. Now Oakland County prosecutors are charging him with felony computer misuse -- a charge usually reserved for identity thieves, hackers and trade secret embezzlers. He faces five years in prison.

Prosecutor Jessica Cooper believes Walker's credentials as a trained computer technician make him a threat. "The guy is a hacker. [The computer] was password protected, he had wonderful skills, and was highly trained. Then he downloaded them and used them in a very contentious way," Cooper told the Detroit Free Press.

Walker is being charged with Michigan statute 752.795, which reads, in part: "A person shall not intentionally and without authorization or by exceeding valid authorization do any of the following: Access or cause access to be made to a computer program, computer, computer system or computer network to acquire, alter, damage delete or destroy property or otherwise use the service of a computer program, computer, computer system or computer network."

Though most would agree that reading someone else's e-mail -- whether in a relationship or on a shared computer or not -- is a big no-no, the charges themselves will be difficult to prove, especially since the statute is aimed toward hackers, not Gmail Peeping Toms.

"The word 'e-mail' does not appear in this statute. This is an anti-hacking statute. It does not, in any way, shape or form, encompass reading somebody's e-mail," defense attorney Leon Weiss told ABC News.

Add to the mix the fact that Walker's wife, Clara, was allegedly having an affair with her second ex-husband, who had been arrested earlier for beating her in front of her young son, who was born from her first husband. Walker was concerned about continued abuse, so he handed the e-mails over to his wife's first husband and filed an emergency motion to obtain custody.

"I was doing what I had to do," Walker told the Free Press. "We're talking about putting a child in danger."

The trial starts February 7, 2011.

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Brennon Slattery

PC World
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