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"My wife and I are in the process of getting divorced. I think she may be talking to her friends about abusing drugs and alcohol online. Can I access her email or Facebook accounts without her consent to see if she is actually doing this?"
Most people are familiar with the concepts of “unlawful search and seizure” and “reasonable expectation of privacy” but likely haven't given either much thought since their high school civics class. The advent of the digital age required a broadening of these concepts, which is important to consider and respect if you are going through a divorce.
Illinois' recently enacted computer tampering statute makes it a Class B Misdemeanor for any person to knowingly access a computer, computer network, or computer program or data, without the permission of a computer's owner.*
The law makes it a Class 4 Felony for any person to knowingly access a computer, computer network, or computer program or data, and damages or destroys the computer or alters, deletes, or removes a computer program or data, without the permission of a computer's owner.**
So far, only one case in Illinois has applied this statute in the divorce context. In the case the former husband had remarried and his former wife was accused of accessing his email and MySpace accounts and making it appear as though he was engaging in an extramarital affair.***
A police investigation concluded that the former wife had been using her mother's computer in order to access her former husband's email account without his permission. The issue in the case was determining whether the former wife's accessing her former husband's email account without his permission was a violation of the computer tampering statute.
The former wife argued that she did not actually access her former husband's “computer” as defined by the statute because she used her mother's computer, and not her former husband's, in order to access his email account.
The Court responded that what was “accessed” by the former wife did not have to be the former husband's own computer, the statute made it a crime for any person to access and/or obtain data from a computer without the permission of the owner. The Court went on say that, for purposes of computer tampering, a computer's “owner” has a much broader definition than the traditional meaning of the word. A computer's “owner”, within the meaning of the statute, could be either the actual owner of the computer, or a person who has possession of or any interest in the computer involved. Because the former wife did not have the former husband's permission to access his email account, she was guilty of the crime of computer tampering.
Knowing this, any thoughts you may have about accessing your husband or wife's computer or email accounts without their permission should be put to rest. If they discover you have accessed their information without their permission can be held criminally liable.
Contact a Hinsdale, Illinois family law attorney if you find that your spouse has accessed your computer or files without asking. We can help you in your upcoming divorce case. Call 630-920-8855.
* 720 ILCS 5/17-51. ** 2720 ILCS 5/17-51(b)(3). *** People v. Janish, 359 Ill.Dec. 346 (5th Dist. 2012).
(1) - 720 ILCS 5/17-51. 720 ILCS 5/17-51(a) – Computer tampering – A person commits computer tampering when he or she knowingly and without the authorization of a computer's owner or in excess of the authority granted to him or her: (1) Accesses or causes to be accessed a computer or any part thereof, a computer network, or a program or data; (3) Accesses or causes to be accessed a computer or any part thereof, a computer network, or a program or data, and damages or destroys the computer or alters, deletes, or removes a computer program or data; (1) - 720 ILCS 5/17-51.
(b) Sentence. (1) A person who commits computer tampering as set forth in subdivision (a)(1) or (a)(5) or subsection (a-5) of this Section is guilty of a Class B misdemeanor. (3) A person who commits computer tampering as set forth in subdivision (a)(3) or (a)(4) of this Section is guilty of a Class 4 felony and a Class 3 felony for the second or subsequent offense. (6) The provisions of this Section shall not be construed to limit any person's right to pursue any additional civil remedy otherwise allowed by law.
(1) - 720 ILCS 5/17-51.720 ILCS 5/2-15 – Person – “Person” means an individual, natural person, public or private corporation, government, partnership, unincorporated association, or other entity.