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Gathering Evidence: To Snoop Or Not To Snoop

Tonight's post pondering the legality of snooping for evidence was written by our Marietta and Atlanta Family Law Attorney, Jeannine Lowery.

To snoop or not to snoop?  That might not be exactly the question Shakespeare posed, but if you're in a relationship where trust is an issue, it might be a good question to ask.

If you've ever had doubts about just what your spouse is doing on their phone or computer late at night, you might have been tempted to snoop into their email accounts, social media pages or text message chains. While you may be seeking only answers or reassurance, what you might get in Georgia is criminal and civil punishment. And even if you do find something incriminating about your spouse by snooping, your lawyer might not be able to use it in court.

In 2009, the Georgia legislature passed the Georgia Computer Systems Protection Act, protecting the privacy of data stored on computers and computers networks. This law  carries civil remedies, fines, imprisonment, and possibly big implications for your divorce.

"Computer Trespass," is a crime involving the use of a computer without authority and either temporarily or permanently deleting or removing data. O.C.G.A. § 16-9-93(b). The term "without authority" basically means without permission, or exceeding the permission granted by the owner of the computer network or computer. This means snooping into your spouse's computer to delete or copy their emails without permission might be a crime.

"Computer Invasion of Privacy," involves using a computer with the intent to "examine" another person's personal data without authority to do so. O.C.G.A. § 16-9-93(c). That means that just reading an email without permission on your spouse's computer could violate the law. Similarly, logging into your spouse's social media page, on their computer, and snooping around without permission, is a bad idea.

If you're convicted of the crimes of computer trespass or computer invasion of privacy you can face fines of up to $50,000 and imprisonment of up to 15 years. Also, this law allows your spouse to bring a civil suit for damages and even recover the cost of bringing the suit.

Even if criminal charges or civil law suits are never brought, if you obtain evidence of your spouse's infidelity illegally, your lawyer might not be able to use it in your divorce.

So bottom line: snooping is not worth the risk. If you can't trust your spouse, it is probably time to call a lawyer to consider your options.

Like Shakespeare said, "Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none." And among the few you can trust, you ought to count your lawyer.

Jeannine Lowery

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