While the following article deals with divorce, our readers may consider it terms of accessing emails or online information of a deceased spouse or family member and the potential criminal liability that may be associated with accessing digital assets.
Federal wiretapping laws usually do not mix with state divorce proceedings. However, these laws became a central issue during the divorce of Paula Epstein from her husband Barry Epstein in Illinois. The issue is, did Ms. Epstein violate federal wiretapping laws when she put an auto-forward on her husband’s email account so she could read his emails.
Barry Epstein sued his wife under federal law while the couple was in the process of divorcing. Paula accused her husband of serial infidelity. In response, Barry’s attorney asked Paula for any documents and evidence she had that was related to the accusation. Paula complied and produced copies of the incriminating emails between Barry and several other women. This discovery response caused Barry to sue her under federal law.
Barry argued that Paula violated the Wiretap Act by secretly placing an auto-forwarding “rule” on his email accounts that automatically forwarded the messages on his email client to Paula. Barry also claimed Paula’s lawyer violated the Act by disclosing the intercepted emails. The courts dismissed this claim because the attorney could not be liable for disclosing Barry’s emails in response to his discovery request.