This week, a judge ruled that Leon Walker will stand trial in one of the most unusual internet crime prosecutions in memory. The case will have profound implications for inter-spousal privacy and the application of anti-hacking statutes. On April 11, the 33-year-old man will stand trial and face charges that he illegally hacked into his then-wife’s e-mail account.
Leon Walker, his wife’s third husband, was worried that his wife, Clara, was carrying on an affair with her second husband. It is bad enough when a spouse is having an adulterous affair, but Walker was concerned that his wife was involving their daughter in the affair by taking the girl on trips to visit the man. Concerned for the safety of his daughter, Walker logged into Clara’s e-mail account and read e-mails that confirmed the affair.
Clara Walker learned her e-mails had been accessed when they appeared as evidence in their divorce case, which was finalized in December. After learning that Leon had accessed her e-mails, she reported the incident to prosecutors who have charged Leon with violating a Michigan anti-hacking statute that does not specifically include the word “e-mail.”
Prosecutors allege that Leon Walker, a computer technician, hacked his way into Clara’s e-mail account. Leon Walker has argued that he did not need to hack into the e-mail account because he had used the account with Clara’s permission before, and she kept her password next to the computer.
Leon Walker’s attorneys are characterizing the case as an overzealous application of a law meant to protect financial and business information. Prosecutors believe that the charges are justified because Leon used the e-mails to publicly embarrass Clara by exposing her adulterous affair. Interestingly, adultery is a felony that is still on the books in Michigan, but the prosecutors have pursued no charges against Clara.
It is quite unusual for someone to be prosecuted for reading e-mail belonging to a spouse or family member. The case against Leon Walker will likely depend upon whether or not his access was unauthorized or whether he had permission to access the e-mail.
ABC News, “Husband Will Go to Trial in E-Snooping Case,” Lauren Effron and Eric Johnson, 2/1/2011
CBS News, “Leon Walker, Mich. Dad, Faces Trial for Reading Estranged Wife’s E-mails,” Caroline Black, 2/2/2011