With the advent of Alexa and algorithms feeding us information tailored to our interests on social media, it is not uncommon to feel that you are being watched. Even more so for a spouse involved in a contentious separation or divorce, where the temptation to snoop and gather information on one’s spouse is magnified. In such situations, one spouse often becomes the target of illicit surveillance by the other.
The reasons for surveilling a spouse are varied. A spouse may be concerned about what may be going on behind his or her back. Or one spouse is controlling and not sharing the parties’ financial information. Or a spouse might want to collect “evidence” to support a claim that the other spouse was unfaithful or that he or she should get more of the marital property or have greater custody of the children.
And snooping is potentially easier than ever these days. Spouses no longer need to wait until the other spouse is not around to sneak into a home office and copy papers left in plain sight on their desk (although this method is still potentially very helpful and often legal as opposed to other methods). With the latest technological advances, it is now possible to conduct electronic surveillance remotely and around-the-clock. GPS tracking devices, doorbell/security cameras, tiny “nanny cams,” and audio recorders can all be used to spy on current and former spouses. And where the spouse’s password is known or saved on a family device, it can be used to access his or her email, Facebook, Instagram, and/or Twitter account without authorization.
What’s generally known as “spyware” is perhaps the most advanced—and the most concerning—form of electronic spying that spouse’s sometimes use. Once the spyware is installed on a laptop, iPad, or mobile device, it can report back with all of the emails you read and write (including to your attorney, family and friends), all of the websites you visit, all of the photographs you take, your keystrokes, etc. Some spyware can also remotely activate your device’s microphone and webcam to listen to and look at what is going on around you via your device.
While electronic spying may be easier than ever and therefore tempting to engage in, in many instances, such surveillance is illegal and may prove to be tremendously problematic for the spouse engaging in the conduct. Federal and state laws relating to wiretapping, computer crimes, and stalking are numerous and varied. They often have criminal as well as civil consequences. In addition, evidence acquired illegally by electronic spying is generally inadmissible in court—so snooping on one’s spouse may be futile in any event. And even if the evidence was acquired legally, depending on the Judge, he/she may not look favorably on the fact that one spouse surreptitiously acquired evidence against the other spouse.
To avoid landing in jail, being subject to civil fines, or jeopardizing your domestic relations case (even if the conduct is legal), it is essential to consult with a competent divorce attorney before conducting any sort of surveillance or snooping (electronic or otherwise) on your spouse or ex-spouse. Likewise, if you feel you are being watched by your spouse, consult with an attorney to get educated and determine your options.