Snooping Into Someone Else’s Computer Can Have Serious Consequences
When there is a business dispute, especially a dispute among former partners, shareholders or people who worked together, the incentive to snoop into, or even hack into, the other party’s emails or other online data, can be pretty enticing. But there are laws against this kind of activity, and the penalties can be severe.
Someone who hacks into another person’s accounts without consent, risks liability under the Federal Stored Communications Act. There is also the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act that can impose liability on someone who snoops or hacks.
Law Makes Snooping Illegal
The law makes it illegal to access a computer or computer information (which nowadays would also include devices like phones or tablets) without authorization. It also makes it illegal to access data beyond the scope of authorization.
The law also prohibits things that you probably already know are illegal, such as transmitting viruses, or causing damage to another computer by accessing it remotely.
Most people aren’t malicious hackers trying to infect someone else’s computer. Rather, they may be jilted business partners (or in family law, upset spouses), who sincerely are trying to get a leg up on their argument or their case, by getting into someone else’s computer.
Accessing data that is unauthorized can get you in trouble, even if you cause no actual damage to the computer or device that you are accessing.
There are severe criminal penalties for accessing someone else’s data without permission, but there is also civil liability.
What’s Authorized Access?
The law recently came to light last year, when the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear a case involving a law enforcement officer who illegally hacked government computers, to search for people’s information in return for payments from people who wanted the information. The officer of course had access to the database, but by obtaining information and giving it to others for payment, the state alleged he was exceeding his authority.
The man is disputing what the words “unauthorized access” actually mean in the law, a term that the law does not define.
Open Questions in the Law
There are a lot of grey areas when it comes to having authorization or not having authorization. For example, an employer might have access to anything in an employee’s work computer. However, whether that would give the employer the authority to hack into the employee’s personal social media accounts, is an open question.
It is also unclear whether a blanket agreement providing an employer access to everything and everything, would be legal or binding.
Until these questions are answered, it’s best to avoid hacking, snooping or prying. And if you do think you have the authority to do such things, it’s always best to get legal advice first, before you start hacking or snooping.
If you have business law problems, we can help. Call the West Palm Beach commercial litigation lawyers at Pike & Lustig for help today.