Divorce and Computer Spying

Spying on one’s spouse goes back to the era of Shakespeare and beyond. However, in modern day Maryland and elsewhere, the advise of a knowledgeable Divorce Lawyer is advisable. This is especially true if you are curious about what your spouse has been doing on the computer.

Maryland and Federal laws curtail what one can do to spy on another. That includes one’s spouse. There are three Federal Laws that may apply: The Wiretap Act and Electronic Privacy Act of 1986; the Federal Stored Communications Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

A Florida court held that a wife who had installed a spyware program on her husband’s PC had violated the Federal Wiretap Act.

Maryland has two statutes that may come into play, the Maryland Wiretap Act and Maryland Stored Wire Act.

These are criminal statutes that need to be taken seriously. Conduct that may seem innocent to a spouse who may have been the victim of cheating, may allow the cheater to turn the tables. Some examples of prohibited activities include taping a phone call or private conversation without the consent of the other party or guessing a spouse’s password to access an email account.

There are several court opinions that have considered the use of spyware to monitor a spouse’s computer activity. In O’Brien vs.O’Brien, Florida appeals court held that a wife who had installed Spector, a spyware program on her husband’s computer and recorded his online chats had violated the Federal Wiretap Act. As a result the husband was granted an injunction and wife was precluded from using the information as evidence.

Identifying prohibited conduct under these state and federal statutes is not intuitively obvious. It requires careful analysis by legal counsel of both the law and the technology employed. Alas, it was a lot easier in Shakespeare’s day when one could simply hide behind the curtain.