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Electronic Spying & Divorce

Electronic Spying & Divorce In Tennessee

Wiretapping and Recording Telephone Calls

If you are currently in the process of divorce or are considering one, it is our very nature that can push you to collect as much information as you can about your divorce case. However, if you are considering electronic eavesdropping such as recording phone messages or hacking into your spouse’s e-mail account or computer or other such activity – do not do it! You could break the law by doing so, you might destroy the admissibility of such evidence that you have collected in that way, and you might prejudice the court against you.

Tennessee’s Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Act, as well as the Electronic Communications and Privacy Act of 1986, considers such behavior a felony. It is all an issue of the right to privacy, which is a valuable right that goes back decades.

Breaking such laws for “personal” gain like receiving a greater divorce settlement may aggravate your situation.

Electronic Eavesdropping – Secretive Video and Digital Audio Recording

Spyware today is big business.  Simply Googling it will provide you with an idea of the many resources that are available to individuals who want to snoop. However, you will likely not hear about any of the legal ramifications of utilizing them.

In short, it is legal to create a digital video of most individuals in most situations providing that there is not an invasion of expected privacy. For example, in a locker room or bathroom. One the other hand, audiotaping an individual without their consent can easily cross over the legal line. In the state of Tennessee at least one individual in the conversation must know that they are being recorded. This makes Tennessee a “one-party” state. However, other states in the country are “two” or “all-party” states. What this means is all parties in a conversation must know they are being recorded. In fact, in Robinson v. Fulliton (a Tennessee case), a wife’s conversations with her brother were recorded by her husband. The husband was fined $10,000. According to the appeals court, the husband should have also been charged with punitive damages.

“Spyware” for Divorce

Computer “spyware” is available in two different varieties: software and hardware. Hardware spyware is usually a little canister that hooks up between the computer and the keyboard and records everything that goes through it. Hardware spyware is frequently referred to as “keyloggers” or “keystroke loggers.” This type of spyware lets an individual reconstruct e-mails, documents, websites visited, etc., once the canister is recovered.

Software spyware typically consists of programs installed on a computer that can e-mail the victim’s e-mails, websites, documents, etc., to another individual. Software spyware works in real-time and is generally a kind of keystroke logger.

Context and intent matter in this area of the law. The courts would likely consider it legal for an individual to install spyware to monitor a child’s activities. However, they would likely consider it illegal to capture an individual’s e-mail password; they would consider it an invasion of privacy. As shown, “intent” can figure in an individual’s usage of spyware. So, it is important to always obtain good legal advice before you attempt anything like this.

A Tennessee Don’t – Hacking E-mail Accounts, Computers, and Phones

Discovering an individual’s computer or e-mail password in a Rolodex or playing around with numbers and letters to figure it out or guessing it can be thought of as “hacking.” Courts typically rule that behavior such as this violates the rights to privacy and tends to come down hard on those who violate.

It is the same for telephone, bank account, or PINs and PDA passwords. In fact, if a device or account was protected with a PIN or password, the user expected privacy.

If you strongly believe that a PDA, computer, cell phone, etc., contain important evidence, speak with a Tennessee divorce lawyer and gain reliable advice on how to legally preserve that evidence. If you decide to go after the evidence on your own, it can be ruled inadmissible. Never participate in “self-help discovery.”


Think of the GPS abilities of devices on a phone or on a car as potential “spyware.” If it is your car or phone, you likely have nothing to worry about; however, in the state of Tennessee as well as other states, if you place a GPS device on another individual’s vehicle or activate it on another individual’s phone, you might find yourself violating the law.

Jail Time and Heavy Fines – Tennessee’s Federal Divorce Spyware Case

The Tennessee divorce case of Klumb v. Goan concentrated on “spying” issues. The wife in the case, Goan, installed spyware on Klumb’s, the husband, computer. This spyware allowed her to alter some significant sentences in their prenuptial agreement, tilting it in the wife’s favor should he commit adultery. The wife also edited some of her husband’s e-mails to make it appear as though he was having an affair.

The Tennessee court had ruled that the wife broke the law for gain. This factor had brought punitive and stationary penalties on her of more than $20,000. She also had to pay for her husband’s court costs and legal fees.

The Takeaway

Among the reasons not to participate in electronic snooping are:

  • You could totally alienate a judge, who could consider the snooping you participated in worse than the behavior you were trying to display.
  • The courts can throw out any evidence you uncover this way
  • You may find yourself charged with a felony.

Before considering electronic snooping, talk to a reputable Tennessee attorney. Talking with a lawyer could save you much trouble and grief. An experienced divorce attorney can advise you on the legal ways of maintaining electronic information for your case.

Your lawyer understands how and when to utilize the services of a “forensic” computer expert or private investigator who will ensure that you will stay out of trouble and protects your rights.

There is a lot at stake with a divorce, don’t make the mistake of trying to handle it on your own. Schedule a free initial telephone consultation with a skilled lawyer for divorce in Knoxville, TN at Easter & DeVore, Attorneys at Law, to discuss your situation and your options.

Knoxville Family Law Attorney