The first reported case on spying on one’s spouse can be found in the court of Chancery of New Jersey in 1884 in the case entitled Cane vs. Cane. Mr. Cane hired nine different spies or detectives to watch his wife, who had been frequenting houses of prostitution. While direct surveillance by detectives is considered spying today, modern technology has advanced the art of spying to levels worthy of the sequels to the James Bond series. Today, modern day spying on one’s spouse includes tapping telephones, intercepting emails, accessing stored computer files, recording visual and audio images, and stealing passwords to access personal information. Spying is not, per se, illegal. The degree of spying, however, may cross the line and violate criminal statutes, civil codes, or common law.
The law surrounding spying on one’s spouse by intercepting phones, pagers, and the unauthorized access of computer and Internet information is evolving. If the unauthorized access of information is obtained from an individual’s computer, however, the common-law tort of invasion of privacy provides a civil remedy. N.J.S.A. 2C: 20-32 Wrongful Access to Computer provides a disorderly person’s offense when the unauthorized access does not result in the altering, damaging or destruction of any property or services. It remains unclear whether the retrieval of electronically stored materials in the post-transmission storage is a violation under N.J.S.A. 2A:156A-27b.
If the unauthorized access is from a computer system, such as a corporation or financial institution, there exists the common-law tort of invasion of privacy, as well as the civil remedies under the New Jersey Wiretap Statute. Additionally, accessing a computer system will violate the criminal statutes of N.J.S.A. 2C: 20-25 (Computer-Related Theft), N.J.S.A. 2C:20-30 (Damage or Wrongful Access to Computer System), N.J.S.A. 2C:20-31 (Disclosure of Data for Wrongful Access), and/or N.J.S.A. 2C:20-32 (Wrongful Access to Computer).
Thus, if a spouse, significant other, or domestic partner intercepts communications, uses, without authorization or consent, a private Password or PIN or otherwise obtains personal information of the other, which intentionally intrudes upon their privacy, there is redress.
Mark Gruber, Esq. is a name partner in the law firm of Gruber, Colabella & Liuzza, with offices in Hopatcong, Hamburg and Newton, NJ. Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a family law attorney and the AAML as a divorce mediator and arbitrator, he has practiced family law for over 28 years in New Jersey.
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