Man Charged With Hacking For Reading Wife's Email

Dennis Faas's picture

A Michigan man could be jailed for up to five years after being charged with illegally accessing his wife's email account. But there are legal questions over the extent of privacy between married couples.

The case involves Leon Walker, who shared a laptop in his home with his wife Clara, who has been married three times. Walker suspected she was having an affair with her second husband, which he was able to confirm after accessing her Gmail account. He then passed the relevant emails on to her first husband, who is the father of a child living at the couple's home.

When the first husband went to court to demand custody, Clara Walker became aware that her email had been accessed and took the matter to law officials. Prosecutors then brought charges more commonly associated with corporate espionage.

"Hacking Skills" Disputed

The crux of the case may be exactly how Leon was able to access the account. A county prosecutor told the Detroit Free Press that "The guy is a hacker. [The account] was password protected, he had wonderful skills, and was highly trained. Then he downloaded [the emails] and used them in a very contentious way." (Source:

However, Leon claims the "hacking" was nowhere near as sophisticated as suggested: he says he found the password in a list written in a book kept beside the computer. He also maintains he was justified in accessing the account as there were questions about the child's safety.

Questions Surround Privacy Expectations

There are several questions to be addressed by the trial. One is whether, if Leon Walker's version of the story is correct, his actions can be classed as hacking. While it seems clear he was not authorized to access the accounts, it's a gray area as to exactly what offence he committed in doing so.

Another point of contention is whether Clara Walker had a reasonable expectation of privacy in her emails. That may depend on whether the court believes Leon Walker's claim that the couple shared a laptop (and that the password was left clearly accessible), or Clara's claim that by the time in question relations had deteriorated and the couple were using separate computers with no mutual access whatsoever. (Source:

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