In many family law cases suspicion and lack of trust permeates divorce proceedings. It has become routine to have new divorce clients ask about the legal rules regarding spyware, computer passwords, telephone taps, and other forms of clandestine information-gathering tools.
In the old days, divorcing parties hired private detectives to ferret out damaging information about their estranged spouses. When no-fault divorce was introduced in Canada, investigators found their work drying up as it didn’t matter whether a spouse had been unfaithful.
However, with advances in technology and the proliferation of “Spy” stores, anybody
can readily access hidden “nanny” cameras, telephone bugs and computer screeners, or privately install a GPS on an unwitting spouse’s vehicle.
Gone are the simpler days when a wife simply located her husband’s desk keys or office pass to make an after-hours entry in order to surreptitiously remove or photocopy important documents and generally snoop for information that might help her and hurt him.
Even without sophisticated spy tools it is not difficult to track a spouse’s activities by monitoring their emails, text messages, credit card purchases, bank transactions, Facebook page, etc. Most separated spouses do not immediately change their passwords and frequently spouses can access important information this way.
But is it legal? That’s where it gets dicey…If the family computer is shared by both husband and wife with a single password, it may be offensive to spy on one’s spouse, but probably not illegal.
But even without a computer password, illegal hacking is easier than you think with today’s sophisticated devices. You may recall that journalists for one of Britain’s leading newspapers were hacking phones and computers of celebrities, crime victims, and the royal family, a situation that resulted in the newspaper eventually folding amid embarrassment and scandal.
What about putting a tap on a spouse’s car phone? That’s a no-no. Canada’s privacy law provides that so long as one of the two parties being recorded consents there is no problem and of course, if you record your conversations with your spouse you have obviously consented. However, if you place a bug on your wife’s car telephone, you are recording her conversations with others, yes, maybe even her boyfriend, but those parties have not consented.
What about installing a hidden tracker on your spouse’s car? Again, if the car is in joint names, you can do as you like, but I would be cautious with a GPS on a vehicle that does not belong to you. Besides potential privacy violations, you may be faced with criminal charges such as stalking or harassment.
The question you must ask is whether the evidence you need to get is worth the risk of a privacy violation or worse? That’s a decision for you and your family lawyer to make.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang