Defendant faces computer-snooping charges

Leon Walker, who accessed his estranged wife’s email account without permission and later gained unauthorized access to computerized police records, see People v. Walker,  can be tried on charges arising from those incidents, the Michigan Supreme Court has ruled in a 6-1 decision.

The Court of Appeals, in the email incident, held that defendant was properly bound over for trial under MCL 752.795:

A person shall not intentionally and without authorization or by exceeding valid authorization … [a]ccess 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.

Walker worked for Oakland County’s information technology department. After he was charged, his superiors told him he could no longer access police and court databases. Despite the directive, Walker, with the unwitting help of two other Oakland County employees, gained access to a police records database, resulting in a second charge under MCL 752.795.

The COA ruled that Walker was properly bound over on that charge as well.

The MSC agreed in both instances but three justices expressed concern that the statute paints with a very broad brush.

In her dissent, Justice Marilyn Kelly said that Walker raised some arguments that are “worthy” of review:

Defendant argues that the language of MCL 752.795 is ambiguous. Also, he insists that the statute was not intended to criminalize a person’s reading of his or her spouse’s e-mails. He provides examples of innocuous conduct for which a person could be criminally prosecuted under the prosecution’s reading of the statute.

[Footnote 4] For example, defendant argues that a parent could be convicted for monitoring his or her child’s Internet and e-mail usage. He argues that a person could be convicted for using the calculator or word-processing programs on his or her spouse’s computer without permission. [end footnote]

Defendant also raises a significant question about whether Internet-based e-mail accounts fit within the statute’s reference to “a computer program, computer, computer system, or computer network.” …

I note that the Legislature is considering a bill [HB 4532] introduced specifically because of this prosecution that would exempt defendant’s conduct from the scope of MCL 752.795.

Given that this Court has declined to consider the issues involved here, the Legislature would do well to consider whether it intends that MCL 752.795 subject the behavior involved here to criminal penalties.

Justice Stephen Markman, in a concurrence joined by Chief Justice Robert Young Jr., said that Walker’s conduct “unquestionably” fell within MCL 752.795 but wrote “separately to urge the Legislature to consider whether it intends to criminalize the full range of conduct to which the statute potentially extends.”

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Bill could help accused email snoop

Does everyone remember the story of Oakland County resident Leon Walker, who found himself in a legal pickle after being arrested and charged for reading his wife’s email? Well, he could be off the hook thanks to a proposed amendment to the law he’s accused of breaking.

He was charged with two counts of violation MCL 752.795, which prohibits fraudulent access to computers. On Dec. 27, 2011, the Michigan Court of Appeals in an unpublished opinion in People v. Walker said that there is no spousal immunity.

Tomorrow, the House Judiciary Committee will kick off 2012 with an agenda that includes amendments to MCL 752.795, which would create an exemption for spouses, provided that the spouse’s computer doesn’t belong to a school or business, the couple lives together, the computer and messages weren’t damaged or deleted, and the computer wasn’t accessed by use of force or coercion.

If it passes, the law would be remedial, and applied retroactively.

The committee will take up the bill Jan. 19 at 10:30 a.m.