By Gerri Elder
Many people have a quite complex relationship with their personal computers. Whether it is a love-hate relationship, a working relationship or a window to other worlds, people tend to rely more and more on digital communication and paperless transmissions. That makes the computer an even more integral part of daily life.
A hard drive can contain plenty of information and sensitive data. The loss of laptop computers causes thousands of people to become at risk for identity theft each week. The contents of a hard drive can also cause marital problems and even divorce.
Divorce lawyers are increasingly seeing clients who have come across the unsavory evidence that their spouse has been unfaithful. Much information can be gleaned from reviewing the browser history and e-mail account of a computer user and spouses who have been scorned often want to bring this information to divorce court with them.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that one divorce lawyer that they have interviewed had concerns over exactly how the juicy and often damning evidence was obtained. Divorce lawyer Stephan Worral of Marietta, Georgia tells AJC that he stops his clients from telling him anything about the evidence until he is certain that no laws were broken in obtaining the explosive computer evidence. He does not wish to be party to any crimes, and indeed the laws about computer privacy are not entirely clear which makes it tricky.
The divorce laws in many states are evolving to accommodate the increasing incidence of evidence extracted from computer hard drives. Divorce private investigators have gone high-tech out of necessity. Staking out hotel rooms and snapping photos have fallen to the wayside as forensic hard drive examinations and keystroke recording software often prove to provide more concrete and excuse-proof evidence.
Other relatively new technologies are also being used to collect evidence against shady spouses. Cell phone records are almost always admissible in divorce court, E-Z pass toll records have been subpoenaed to catch cheaters in lies and GPS devices have been sneakily applied to vehicles by suspicious husband and wives to track them at all times.
Certainly the digital footprints left by cheating spouses during an affair provide evidence that can't be denied. Such powerful evidence is increasingly being admitted into evidence during divorce cases. Family court judges are faced with tough decisions about the legality of such evidence and in the absence of established laws addressing digital footprints; they are forced to make difficult judgment calls about what constitutes a violation of privacy.
The law is struggling to keep up with new technology. Many divorce cases settle before making it to the appeals process, and therefore the courts have been slow to actually make rulings regarding digital evidence and privacy issues. Until there are decisions and precedents to reference, family court judges simply have to wade through the murky areas and make decisions about the admissibility of evidence on a case-by-case basis.