Snooping Through a Spouse’s Email May Cost You More Than You Think

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Worried that a spouse may be cheating or trying to gain an edge in divorce proceedings may tempt a person to gain access to his or her spouse’s email. Doing so could be a crime or subject the snooper to monetary penalties.

"The Stored Communications Act (SCA) provides that whoever intentionally accesses without authorization a facility through which an electronic communication service is provided, or intentionally exceeds an authorization to access that facility, and thereby obtains access to a wire or electronic communication while it is in electronic storage in such system shall be punished. The statue allows for private causes of action where any person injured by a violation of the SCA can show that the person violating the Act acted with a knowing or intentional state of mind." Miller v. Meyers, 766 F.Supp.2d 919, 923 (U.S. Dist. W. AR 2011) A person violating the Act may have to pay damages and attorney’s fees. There are also criminal penalties for violation of the Act. Violations are punishable by a maximum of 5 years in prison plus a fine.

In layman’s terms, if an individual logs onto his/her spouse’s email account without permission and reviews the material contained in the email account, a finding of a Stored Communications Act violation is appropriate.

"To state a claim under the Stored Communications Act, a person must allege that his or her spouse accessed without authorization a facility through which an electronic communication service is provided. An electronic communication service is any service which provides to users thereof the ability to send and receive wire or electronic communications." However, "E-mail messages stored on the hard drive do not constitute "electronic storage" within the meaning of the Stored Communications Act." Hilderman v. Enea TekSci, Inc., 551 F. Supp. 2d 1183, 1204 (Dist. Ct. So. Cal. 2008). In other words, accessing your spouse’s Gmail account without permission means you can be sued for violating the Act.

The judge in Miller v. Meyers found that the husband had without a doubt violated the Act when he used a key-logger program to obtain his wife’s passwords and then access her email account.

There are other similar laws that may be implicated by a spouse’s snooping. It is best to contact your attorney so a proper assessment can be made about whether your snooping is against the law.