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Rhode Island Divorce: Should You Read Your Spouse's Emails?

Spouses feeling insecure or jealous about their spouse, or those trying to gain advantage in their divorce proceedings may want to delve into their spouse's emails, hoping to find evidence of misconduct and other secrets.

Federal law, the Stored Communications Act of 1986 (the SCA), was enacted when the Internet was in its infancy. The SCA allowed someone to bring a civil suit when emails in "electronic storage" are accessed without authority. Since the SCA was enacted, technologies that were never even imagined have developed. These technologies include emails, tweets and social media. The privacy argument was weakened again when the South Carolina Supreme Court declared that reading someone else's Yahoo emails does not violate federal law.

The South Carolina Court reviewed a divorce case involving a cheating husband and a daughter-in-law who hacked into his email account and shared incriminating emails with the wife and her lawyer and investigator. These were emails that he had previously opened and left on his computer. The Court held that daughter-in-law's snooping was not a violation of federal law.

The Court said that the SCA gave higher protection to emails in transmission and a lower privacy to remotely stored files in the cloud. However, this case dealt with opened emails held by an ISP. The Court agreed that emails on a computer that were not opened yet were entitled to protection. And there was confusing language about "backup" files, which may be entitled to a higher degree of protection. The Court agreed that the files in the husband's Yahoo account were not backups, but they could not agree on why.

Someone contemplating a Rhode Island divorce should know that Rhode Island has its own state statute that may prohibit and penalize a person who intentionally and without authorization and for fraudulent or other illegal purposes, access a computer, software, a program, or data contained in a computer system or program or network. If you are planning for divorce, or believe that your spouse or someone on his/her behalf has gone into your emails, contact us.

The wise person thinking a divorce may be imminent should create a new email account with a new and unusual user name and a new and strong password.

Source: "Court Says No Privacy in Yahoo! Emails",, by Michelle E. Bowman, Posted October 19, 2012

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