As technology continues to change our lives at a rapid pace, it’s easy to forget that so much of our most valuable and private information now hides in our computers, in our email accounts, phones, text messages iPads, and other devices. When you love someone, it may seem only natural and convenient to share your various passwords and account information or to leave your devices unprotected. However, when relationships become conflicted breakups, these security lapses can result in humiliating disasters with far-reaching consequences. As lawmakers try to keep up to help protect our information, it is more important than ever before to be aware of what is legal, what isn’t legal, and what steps you need to take in order to protect yourself from someone accessing your information for malicious purposes.
What are my online privacy rights?
Putting it bluntly, when you’re in a marriage or live-in relationship, you don’t have many. Texas did recently pass a bill (CSHB 896) to help define what a cyber-crime actually is, but it mostly doesn’t apply in this arena. Specifically, the law says a person commits an offense if they knowingly access a computer, network or system “with the intent to defraud or harm another or alter, damage, or delete property.” Although this language sounds reassuring, it is important to note that spouses are often given extraordinary leeway by courts with regards to what many would consider a reasonable invasion of privacy. In many instance, your spouse may still access anything in your computer, emails, or phone, and potentially even use that as evidence in any court proceedings. There are many examples of spouses aggressively attempting to do exactly that and successfully leveraging whatever they find to obtain custody, favorable settlements, or other advantages.
So what can I do?
If you are going through a divorce or break up,
- Immediately tell your spouse/ex that they DO NOT have permission to access any of your accounts, and document the message. You do have a right to privacy. If your spouse (Ex) continues to try to access your information, then they are potentially committing a criminal offense, and at the very least, any information they discover after written notice may not be admissible in court.
- CHANGE ALL OF YOUR PASSWORDS, and do it right away. Most of the popular online email services (Yahoo, Gmail, etc.) actually track your internet usage and display that information to anyone with your password who knows where to look. What about iCloud / Apple? If your spouse has your password, they can actually log in to iMessage from anywhere, see all of your past texts and read any texts that you receive in real time. Depending on your device settings, they may even be able to track your actual location. Change your passwords, and…
- If you can, enable two-step verification on all accounts which offer it. This extra step will guarantee that nobody can access your account without your knowledge and permission.
In short, there is still a lot of gray area as our legal system struggles to keep up with technology. The smartest thing you can do is make sure you protect your accounts, stay away from your spouse’s, and exercise caution in anything you do online or on your phone.