How to Protect Your Privacy and Your Personal Information During a Divorce
A divorce is tough enough but learning that your spouse has hacked into your email account or has been monitoring your whereabouts adds a completely different level of stress and distress
Hacking and how to protect yourselfEvery week there are more reports about businesses being hacked and customers’ financial information being stolen or otherwise compromised. We hear about celebrities having their personal photos stolen from the “cloud” and disseminated around the web. There is much debate about the loss of privacy and the risks we take as we spend more and more of our lives online. If you are going through a divorce or even contemplating a separation, it is good practice to think about ways you can protect your financial information and secure your private communications from an estranged spouse.
1. Protecting Your Financial Information: When beginning the separation process, one of the first steps is reaching an understanding about how family finances will be paid during the period while the divorce is pending. You may decide to close all joint bank accounts, credit card accounts and lines of credit and open separate accounts for each party. This prevents any unauthorized access and can protect your credit from unauthorized use. However, separate accounts may not be possible in every situation, and it may be necessary to maintain joint accounts and lines of credit to ensure all family expenses are paid. If joint accounts remain open, it is wise to closely monitor the activity on the accounts to ensure that only authorized transactions are being made, money is not being secreted or transferred away and that all bills are being paid when due. You should also monitor your credit through all three major credit reporting agencies (Transunion, Experian and Equifax) to ensure that you have a complete understanding of all of your credit accounts and that no one, including your spouse, is accessing your credit without authorization.
If you use online banking or access your credit information online, change all passwords, pin numbers and security questions to your individual accounts. Remember to create passwords and security questions that your spouse would not be able to guess or know the answers to.
2. Be Careful What you Post on Social Media: Start with the assumption that anything you post online or any email, text or instant message you send can eventually be discovered in a divorce proceeding. Change all of your social media passwords and security questions to ensure only you have access to your sites. Due to the privacy risks involved, you may decide to limit your online exposure by suspending any social media accounts while you have a matrimonial matter pending. If you decide to continue to use social media networks, remove any previous posts that may be questionable or potentially damaging. Remove any friends who you do not fully trust to keep your information private. Remember, even if you use the highest privacy settings on your social media accounts any one of your “friends” could forward or repost something you shared putting the information out of your control.
3. Protection of Email, Computer Activity and Cell Phone Data: The first step to protect the privacy of your computer, email accounts and cell phone is to password protect each device and email account, as well as any cloud storage accounts associated with your phone or computer. To protect yourself from unauthorized access, place a strong firewall and antivirus software on all electronic devices including phones, computers and tablets. This will help prevent any type of spyware from being loaded surreptitiously onto your computer or device.
When a spouse attempts to obtain information from the other spouse’s email accounts, computer or cell phone accounts the spying spouse may have committed privacy violations against the other spouse. The spying spouse may be have committed an invasion of privacy tort or be exposed to criminal penalties under the NJ Wiretap and Electronic Surveillance Control Act, N.J.S.A 2A:156A or the Wrongful Access to a Computer, N.J.S.A. 2C:20-32, or under the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). The courts are continuing to deal with how to handle evidence surreptitiously obtained from another party’s email or computer and each case is very fact specific so it is difficult to predict how the courts will respond in future cases.
Monitoring your activities and locations4. GPS Trackers: A suspicious spouse may be tempted to try to track the movements of their spouse with a GPS tracker or other locating device. Parties should be aware of potential liabilities in using tracking devices. New Jersey courts do recognize the tort of invasion of privacy and caution that violations of privacy may occur depending on how the tracking is done, who does the tracking and what expectations of privacy exist. See Villanova v. Innovation Investigations, Inc. 420 N.J. Super. 353 (App. Div. 2011). In addition, spouses who are tracking the movements of the other spouse may run afoul of New Jersey’s stalking law. See N.J.S.A. 2C:12-10 and L.A.V.H. v. R.J.V.H., 2011 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2162. Also be aware that many cell phones such as the iPhone have locator services built into the phone which can be used to pinpoint the exact location of the phone using satellite maps. If you have this service activated on your phone your spouse may be able to track your movements using the phone locator services by remotely accessing your phone account.
5. Recording Conversations: Under federal wiretapping laws and the New Jersey Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act (N.J.S.A. 2A:156A) a phone conversation may be recorded as long as the person recording the conversation is a party to the conversation. This means that under current law your spouse is free to record any conversation between the two of you without your knowledge. However, the spouse cannot legally record or intercept communications between you and a third party without violating the statute. In January 2014, NJ Assembly Bill 1567 was introduced which would make it unlawful for a private party to record a communication unless all parties had consented to the recording. This bill is still pending.
The application of laws affecting privacy protections will continue to evolve as technology continues to evolve. In the meantime, clients need to be aware of all of the ways that their personal information may be vulnerable and take steps to protect themselves. If you feel that your personal information may be compromised or you have questions about how best to protect yourself, meet with an attorney specializing in these types of matrimonial issues. And, most importantly, change all of your passwords and your phone login code before moving forward with a divorce. You may be convinced that your spouse would never attempt to access your information or you may be convinced that he / she does not know your passwords - dont take the chance that he / she is smarter than you think and protect yourself, your conversations and your future.