Sometimes people worry that their partner might be cheating on them and they decide to spy on their wife or lover to find out the truth. In the past, this often meant checking their messages, listening to phone conversations on another phone connected to the home landline, or hiring a private investigator to monitor a potential cheater, but nowadays, monitoring your partner can be as simple as just choosing Picking up their cell phones and looking at their messages and apps. Unfortunately for those hoping to find evidence of their partner’s infidelity, looking into someone’s phone without their consent in California is an illegal invasion of privacy.
Access your phone without permission
Under California law, snooping on someone’s cell phone violates laws that prohibit accessing a computer without permission. While the law’s title defines computers, even hacking a server, such as someone’s email or social media account, qualifies, as does cell phones. The law does not provide an exception for cases where one partner pays for the telephone and telephone service as long as the telephone is considered the personal property of the other. Likewise, just because your husband has allowed you to use his phone in the past does not mean you can access it to spy on him without his consent.
Is it a crime to go through someone’s phone?
This crime is volatile, meaning it can be charged as a felony, misdemeanor, or even an infraction. In most cases where a husband uses a phone to monitor his partner, it is accused of being an offender. When charged with the violation, accessing your partner’s phone without permission can result in a fine of up to $1,000. As a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine.
More serious charges for accessing a computer or server without permission are usually reserved for those who commit the crime for something more heinous, such as stealing financial information. As a result, romantic intrusion is less likely to lead to criminal charges.
However, when the jilted girlfriend does something to destroy or change the data on her partner’s phone, it is considered harm to the other party, so these situations can lead to criminal charges. When charged with a crime, the crime is punishable by up to 3 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Is it illegal to hack your wife’s phone?
Yes. It is a crime to access their phone, social media or email accounts without consent. However, if you go beyond that and install a malicious app or software designed to forward texts, emails, social media messages, or phone recordings to their cell phone, you could face additional charges under state wiretapping laws.
Note that simply listening to one side of your partner’s phone call is not illegal unless the call is made in a place where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. So, for example, if they were sitting in the living room talking to their lover, you wouldn’t be breaking the law if you stood in the hallway and listened.
Wiretapping can be a felony or a misdemeanor, resulting in up to 3 years in prison when charged as a felony or a maximum of 1 year in prison when charged as a misdemeanor. Most first offense offenses involving jilted lovers are filed as misdemeanors.
Installing a GPS tracking app on someone’s phone without their permission could also result in them facing criminal charges for cyberstalking.
Defenses to espionage crimes
The two strongest defenses to these crimes are to claim that you actually had permission to use and look at your partner’s phone or to deny that you used the phone at all. Obviously, you cannot use both defenses at once. Because proving a lie can hurt your case, anyone accused of hacking into someone’s cell phone should contact an attorney as soon as possible.
Remember, what you say could hurt your case, especially if you don’t know the full extent of the evidence against you. However, in many cases, if your partner gave you their password or did not have a lock screen on their phone, you may be able to argue that you had their continued permission or that they did not expect to maintain privacy on their device. Just because someone gives you their one-time passcode doesn’t mean they’ve agreed to let you access the phone whenever you want.
Is it illegal to go through your child’s phone?
While it is typically illegal to browse someone’s phone or text without their consent or track someone using the GPS on their phone, California laws allow for an exception for parents of minors under the age of 18. However, this exception ends when they become legal adults.
Can an employer snoop on their employees’ phones?
Another exception to state laws prohibiting spying on others’ devices is employers who want to monitor their workers. However, this is only legal if the employer owns the cell phone and informs his employee that his or her text messages, emails, calls, or other information sent via the phone will be monitored.
If you have been accused of violating the law by hacking into someone else’s cell phone, please contact defense attorney Peter M. Liss at (760) 643-4050.