Clara Walker has been married three times. She has a young son by Husband #1, and a baby daughter by Husband #3. While married to Husband #3, she began an affair with Husband #2, arranging her trysts with him via email. Husband #3 is a computer technician, and was able to access her Google Mail account to discover evidence of the affair.
Husband #3 proceeded to share this information with Husband #1, who became concerned for the safety of his son, as Husband #2 had previously been arrested for beating Clara in front of the boy. Husband #3 was equally concerned about his daughter, as he suspected Clara was actually taking her along when she consummated her affair. Husband #1 proceeded to gain custody of his son using the emails.
Husband #3, Leon Walker, is now facing felony charges for violating a Michigan law against computer hacking. InfoSecurity.com says the law reads as follows: “A person shall not intentionally and without authorization or by exceeding valid authorization do any of the following: Access or cause access to be made to a computer program, computer, computer system or computer network to acquire, alter, damage delete or destroy property or otherwise use the service of a computer program, computer, computer system or computer network.” It was meant to deter violations of corporate security or identity theft, and has never before applied in a domestic case.
To complicate matters further, Leon Walker claims the laptop his wife used to send the emails was their shared property, and while the prosecutor describes him as a “hacker,” he apparently didn’t actually hack into Google Mail – he says he already knew her password, because she’s asked him to check her mail in the past. In fact, he said in an interview on NBC’s Today show that she kept her passwords written on a piece of paper next to the computer. If this turns out to be true, it tints an already unflattering portrait of Clara with several shades of stupid.
Just to make the case even more convoluted, there’s a political dimension. Writing in America Online’s Politics Daily, executive editor Carl M. Cannon – who does not think much of this hacking prosecution – points out that the prosecutor, Jessica Cooper, is a self-described “pioneer in the world of women in the law” who is trying to establish some kind of legal principle about spouses reading each others’ email, which has nothing to do with the hacking law she has chosen as a blunt instrument. Like other prosecutors looking to make names for themselves, she discusses the case in highly-charged terms that appear to have little basis in reality, such as her description of Leon Walker as a “hacker” who had “wonderful skills, and was highly trained.” Walker works as a computer technician for the county government, a background that doesn’t exactly make him sound like he hangs out with Neo and Morpheus aboard the Nebuchadnezzar. In fact, he probably spends much of his day telling county employees not to keep their passwords written on pieces of paper next to their computers.
It should be noted that Clara Walker hasn’t been charged with anything yet, and adultery is, as Laura Berman of the Detroit News pointed out in her summary of the case, a felony offense in Michigan. Unfortunately for Leon Walker, there are no exciting new realms of electronic criminal law to be explored by prosecuting her. Because his wife managed her affair with email, there’s a good chance he’ll be doing time in jail for discovering it.