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The Legal Limits of Spying on Your Spouse

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on August 24, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Perhaps the only thing worse than thinking your spouse might be stepping out on you is knowing your spouse is stepping out on you. Still, some suspicious spouses have gone to extreme lengths to catch their significant others cheating, and we're not talking about just hiring a private detective to snoop around.

With advancements in camera technology and internet monitoring software, there are more ways than ever to spy on your spouse. But are they all legal?

Wife Watcher

Take WebWatcher for example. The computer and mobile device monitoring software allows you to intercept and download text messages, call logs, emails, browsing history, photos, and even GPS information. Joseph Zang installed WebWatcher when he got suspicious of his wife Catherine's online activity.

Turns out his suspicions were correct, somewhat. Catherine had started an online relationship with a man named Javier Luis, although both claim it was platonic. The two never met in person (Luis lived in Florida, Catherine in Ohio), but had "daily conversations" and developed a "caring relationship" over email and texts messages. Joseph used WebWatcher to intercept and gather these exchanges, and then used them to leverage a favorable divorce.

Wiretapping Wrong

Here's the thing, though: intercepting communications in real time is a violation of the Federal Communications Act of 1934, also known as the Wiretap Act. WebWatcher contends that it only allows clients to review communications and information after it has been stored, and tried to use that argument to get out of court when Luis sued them for illegally intercepting his communications. But a federal appeals court wasn't buying it and has allowed Luis's lawsuit to proceed.

WebWatcher's own marketing materials may have sabotaged its legal defense. As the court pointed out, WebWatcher tells users they can review a person's electronic communications "in near real-time, even while the person is still using the computer." Therefore, such software may be illegal, and both the user (Joseph Zang) and WebWatcher's maker (Awareness Technologies) can be sued for intercepting a person's electronic communications without their consent.

So be careful about snooping on your spouse. Knowing the truth (and getting sued for it) may be worse than your suspicions. And if you're unhappy or unsteady in your marriage, enough to install spy software on your spouse's phone, maybe call an experienced divorce attorney first. A good lawyer can at least tell you what kind of spouse surveillance is illegal.

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