Jan 022011
 January 2, 2011  Posted by  Court, Laws

Jonathan Oosting reports on the Michigan email snooping case that’s caught national attention because a man has been charged criminally for accessing his wife’s email account. Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper charged the man, Leon Walker, under a 1979 state law that says:

FRAUDULENT ACCESS TO COMPUTERS, COMPUTER SYSTEMS, AND COMPUTER NETWORKS Act 53 of 1979: A person shall not intentionally and without authorization or by exceeding valid authorization do any of the following:
(a) Access or cause access to be made to a computer program, computer, computer system, or computer network to acquire, alter, damage, delete, or destroy property or otherwise use the service of a computer program, computer, computer system, or computer network.
(b) Insert or attach or knowingly create the opportunity for an unknowing and unwanted insertion or attachment of a set of instructions or a computer program into a computer program, computer, computer system, or computer network, that is intended to acquire, alter, damage, delete, disrupt, or destroy property or otherwise use the services of a computer program, computer, computer system, or computer network. This subdivision does not prohibit conduct protected under section 5 of article I of the state constitution of 1963 or under the first amendment of the constitution of the United States.

So far, as Oosting notes, most legislators and lawyers interviewed have serious concerns about this type of prosecution opening up a whole Pandora’s box. You can read the quotes in his article on MLive.

  3 Responses to “Michigan legislators face the unintended application of a state hacking law”

  1. Interesting problem. I’m not so certain though that parents and spouses should be given a pass just because of their relationship. For instance, what happens when there is an acrimonious separation between the spouses and the whole purpose of accessing the email account (no matter how high a level of “hacking” is required) is to find information in order to harass the spouse or someone associated with the spouse? Maybe that issue is covered under other law, but should the party whose email was opened be allowed to pursue charges against the spouse that opened the email? When re-writing this law, I think the legislators need to be careful.

  2. You raise some excellent points. As a privacy advocate, I’m really conflicted about this case. Someone on Twitter pointed out to me that under federal wiretap law, spouses do not get a free pass or exemption. Perhaps the same does need to be true here, too.

  3. We agree, then. There definitely needs to be a balance. I tend to err on the side of privacy in most cases, but this one became a way to potentially protect a child from harm. Not that that argument should always trump privacy either, but it seems to me that this prosecution is unwarranted.

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