Such was the shock of Leon Walker’s life when he suddenly discovered he could go to jail for up to 5 years after using knowledge of his wife’s password to her G-mail account in order to find out if she was having an affair. Prosecutors are calling this hacking; Mr. Walker’s attorneys have called it ridiculous saying he is being charged under laws meant to prevent stalking and protect credit card data. Legal expert opinions seem to be in favor of the wife claiming since it was protected, what he did was illegal. Other claims seem to rest on a technicality surrounding whether or not there was a petition for divorce already filed or a filing for legal separation, disputing his statements that they were married, shared a home implying the computer was either joint or community property under marriage law. The topic has lit up morning show message boards, news blog comment sections going absolutely viral as America and those throughout western civilization weigh in; public opinion being split some arguing privacy, some arguing the joint sharing that comes with marriage, still others pointing out the waste of tax payer money on what amounts to a nasty divorce.
Regardless of where you stand, regardless of how interesting legal analysts say it is, being the first time laws meant to protect trade secrets, bank records and credit card data have been applied to a domestic case, it raises serious questions about not only freedom but priorities in America. That becomes especially true when you listen to Walker’s story about why he did what he did and how he chose to use the information he obtained. According to him he not only suspected his wife of having an affair but he also suspected her of taking their 1 year old daughter to the home of her abusive ex-husband, whom the affair was with, and who had subsequently been charged with beating her in front of her son. Further when he found e-mails confirming his suspicions, the first thing he did was inform the boy’s father, her first husband, in the interest of protecting a minor child, not run off to a divorce lawyer, or run to existing divorce proceedings waving procured evidence around as if to say look what I found. Same goes for the allegations of hacking; not only does Walker claim it was a shared, family computer bought during the marriage and that the password was left out in plain sight near said computer, apparently it was common for his wife to leave them laying around. And he was right; she was having an affair. Did he stalk her, did he show up at her place of work, harass her, no; did he beat her, set her on fire, throw acid in her face, make her fear for her life, no. It hasn’t even been publicly made clear which party filed for the divorce or the reason cited for doing so.
Contrasting what legitimately appears to be a concerned father, decent human being trying to do the right thing, is a mother making obviously poor choices; here she is having been married 3 times, a child with her first husband, her second a domestic violence situation and her last she can’t remain faithful to. While no reports of previous marriages or children from prior relationships have surfaced involving Mr. Walker. Adding to that, she goes back to a proven abusive person, after both getting out of the relationship and starting a new one, latter said relationship progressing to the point of marriage. Next, not only choosing to subject herself to that but her infant daughter, possibly inflicting more harm on her son. Compounding her clearly emerging credibility problem, she only brought charges against her then current husband (her and Walker’s divorce was finalized last month according to reports) after the details surrounding how the e-mails were found came out in a custody hearing over the son, brought on exclusively by knowledge she was again in contact with her abusive ex. Making it seem all the more about revenge, all the more about I could press charges and so I did.
The then Mrs. Walker made some classic practical unwise choices as well; computer specialists are always warning the public not to create passwords that are too simplistic, contain items like address or birth date, not to give passwords to people and not to leave them in vulnerable areas. Yet Walker claims the passwords were simple and left in known places around the house, that despite confusion about divorce and/or separation filings, both were living in at the time. Such advice going double or triple, as they say, if you are doing things you don’t want others to know about, if your having an affair you want kept secret. Something else belying alleged hacking, Walker admitted his actions; if he was guilty of truly using his IT knowledge to gain access to the computer, why not say he did so in the interest of protecting his biological and stepchild from potential harm? Instead, it seems his IT skills are a convenient scapegoat to call him a hacker and throw the book at him.
There are strong indications pointing to a sexual double standard, members of the public citing that women are more often the ones to snoop into everything from pockets to e-mails, phone messages, conventional letters with no consequences, certainly not ones as severe as this man is facing. In fact it seems even more socially acceptable, when women find evidence of affairs, lying about where he’s been, they are viewed as victims of typical male bad behavior; when they bring it to court it impacts issues from custody and child support to alimony. But when a man does it, independent of the reason, no matter if it was to ensure not only the safety of his child but his minor step son, he is automatically labeled a common hacker, further accused of using the material gained in a contentious way. However there is no clear documentation or perception Mr. Walker benefited in any way from information he gathered, that he got any more or less from finalized divorce proceedings than he would have otherwise. We beg fathers to step up, stand up, be in their children’s lives, even if they are no longer involved with the other parent, and this is what we do to them. We wistfully bemoan, try to bring back the idea it takes a village to raise a child, wanting return to the days when there was a village to do so, and when a step father not only tries to make a blended family work, but steps in to ensure the welfare of that child, this is what we do to him.
Perhaps the scariest things are impending possibilities for the rest of us should this man actually go to jail, should a judge continue to allow the trying of this case coupled with the legal actualities being revealed. Example, morning shows tackled common viewer statements about information shared between marriage partners; one involving letters her routinely opening his mail and vise versa, experts saying it’s perfectly ok if parties gave their permission, if not the opener could face legal action. The caveat, if such permission is verbal it dissolves into a classic case of he said she said if the matter lands in court. Even if married couples draw up legal contracts in anticipation of a future dispute, inevitably the accused individual will claim such a contract did not apply to papers in question; lawyers for a defendant may point to language in this type of contact and say it was inclusive using word like all mail, it was explicit permission for specified correspondence or exclusion only applied to certain physical documents or types of same. In short creating no less of a legal headache than the current case set to go before a judge in February.
No less under fire are the foundations of relationships and all the other ways this husband, and others like him, could come into possession of a password, then upon a messy, antagonistic divorce, termination of a relationship, find themselves in a similar predicament; wives sharing passwords with the husband in the interest of openness, something relationship experts say should be common practice with all e-mail accounts, social networking pages, for the health of the relationship. Simply knowing your wife or domestic partner may mean he learned her password, knows what she likes to use for passwords and discovers it on a first, lucky guess. Incidentally, in the days of on-line bill pay, online shopping, online investment, online monitoring of your kid’s driving, where they are, what they’re doing, online monitoring of the maintenance, condition of his car, the family car a husband may log in to her computer, their computer to find out if utilities were paid, put money into a joint bank or savings account and get more than he bargained for simply by noticing the subject line of an e-mail. Women confess to being more busy, distracted, than ever before, running in all directions; a wife, girlfriend may very well leave the computer on with her password visible. So why is it unbelievable, implausible Mr. Walker’s wife let a password where it could be found; why is he immediately assumed the villain?
Frankly in terms of a common sense application of the law, looking at this case, the woman’s claim, the criminal charges should have been dismissed before it even started, if not on the grounds of her own questionable behavior, on consideration of known facts that nearly half of all divorce cases involve snooping, e-mail, Facebook postings, cellphone contents. Especially taking into account the potential for revenge, her no doubt being angry over losing sole custody of her son, because by the time said judge made their decision, knowledge of how the e-mails where gathered had been revealed; if Mrs. Walker was a victim of her current husband’s illegal activity, why was custody given to the father? Someone should have reminded her there was a reason a family court judge sided with the son’s father; and it doesn’t make her husband a criminal. Along side that, it begs the question where was the 1 year old daughter; there had to be a reason Walker thought she was being taken with his wife on these rendezvous, whether it was because she was meeting her ex while he worked, sneaking out late at night, whatever the case might have been. Assuming that wasn’t enough, then dismissal on the grounds that there is no legal statute allowing the application of hacking law to a domestic case, particularly a divorce case, said case being too much of a stretch, without the remotest shred of evidence he stalked, intimidated or caused her any harm whatsoever, cleaned out her bank account, stole from her monetarily or in terms of property not purchased during the marriage. Mr. Walker should have been awarded sole custody of their child, if asked and it never should have made headlines.
It is indeed another instance of manufacturing criminals, creating greater problems by misapplying laws to suit pushy and demanding people. It is absolutely a waste of taxpayer money in a time when the federal government says everything is on the table as it pertains to cutting spending, to balance the budget, reduce the national deficit. It is a drastically low priority as states try to figure out how to make payroll, cut programs to its most vulnerable; Michigan houses cities like Detroit, dilapidated, drug infested and struggling. Yet prosecutors think hauling a man off to jail, costing him his job, ruining his life for confirming his suspicions not just shouting them, putting children’s needs before his own, is an acceptable use of time and money, how appalling. No, justice doesn’t stop, laws do not cease to be enforced because we’re in a debt crisis, a budget crisis, but this isn’t justice,this isn’t upholding law and order it’s legal nit picking, legal cattiness, the kind of legal maneuvering that gives lawyers a bad name, legality at its worst, at the expense of both freedom and justice.