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Protecting Electronic Privacy During Divorce

By Alisse C. Camazine

So you think your husband is having an affair. Would it hurt to go through his emails and see what you can find? We receive this question all the time. The laws that prohibit people from accessing other people’s computers and electronic communications without permission also apply to spouses. If you try to offer these communications into evidence at a trial, the judge will likely exclude it and you and your attorney could be subject to legal sanctions. In some cases, there may be a possibility of criminal prosecution.

Judges are not fans of snooping and those who spy on their spouses, as well as their attorneys, are being reprimanded for this conduct throughout the country. Missouri law provides that if a person accesses a computer and takes or even examines information without authorization, they may be committing the offense of tampering with computer data, which is a misdemeanor. Depending upon the goal of your spying, you could be charged with a felony.

You also need to be careful to protect your own privacy during a divorce proceeding. As we have all learned over the last few years, that means protecting your electronic communications, particularly emails, given how frequently we use them to communicate confidential information. Even if you believe that your email is completely private, consider the following suggestions to ensure that your privacy is well-protected:

  • Always Log Off. Be sure to always log out of your email account and never leave it open on your computer when you are away.
  • Change your Password and Security Questions. This is important not only for emails, but for bank accounts in your name alone, social media accounts, and all other accounts you access online that are solely in your name. Even if you think your spouse could never guess your password, change it. Make your password obscure enough that it cannot be merely guessed at. Further, do not have your passwords handwritten or saved somewhere to access in the event you forget it. Instead, if you are worried you may forget the password, leave yourself clues as to what the password is that only you understand. For security questions, change your questions and answers to those that your spouse is unlikely to guess.
  • Start a New Email Account. Use this email account for confidential emails with your attorney and for financial information and records, etc.
  • Do Not Access Your Email from Public Computers or Public Wi-Fi. This makes your email more susceptible to hacking and interference. Instead, always use a trusted internet connection from your own personal computer to access your accounts.
  • Revoke Your Spouse’s Access. If you had previously given your spouse access to your email, be sure to clearly and explicitly revoke that access. Furthermore, if your accounts are saved to a spouse’s computer, remember to change your password or start a new account.

For questions about this or other privacy issues arising during divorce, contact one of the family law attorneys at Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal, P.C.


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