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Spying on an ex through electronic devices can be illegal

Spouses who spy may be surprised to discover emails of infidelity, hidden asset transactions or online photos of bad behavior. What spousal spies may not know is that the invasion of an ex-partner's email account, smartphone, GPS or Facebook page may carry legal consequences for the person engaged in marital espionage.

As this blog reported on just last week, divorce courts have seen an upswing of evidence from electronic devices. Laws governing the use of digital records in divorce litigation are tentative. Judges struggle with the application of laws that have a difficult time keeping pace with fast-changing technology.

Legal questions swirl around rights of individual privacy, authorized account access and the use of tech-based evidence. The answers are not always easy. Can an ex who knows a former spouse's passwords use them? What if the password remains unchanged after separation or divorce? How far can a spouse go before breaking the law?

Wiretaps of smartphone conversations or secretly-installed tracking software are more obvious law violations than poking around in an ex's publically available Facebook page or email account. Many divorce attorneys warn clients to change Internet account passwords much the same way spouses change door locks after a break up.

Evidence laws are not clear-cut with social media sites, where the openness of postings depend upon site owner and user-directed privacy controls. Many courts feel if the public can access a user's online comments the content is evidential open game.

If evidence from a computer, phone or other digital device becomes crucial in a divorce proceeding, lawyers frequently recommend getting the court's permission to obtain it. Advisers say it is better to have the court's blessing to use digital evidence before lifting the information through spy tactics.

Source: usatoday.com, "Cyber-snoops often cross legal line in divorce wars," Brian Haas, Feb. 23, 2012

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