Should it be illegal to read another person's open email account?
According to Ars Technica, Wayne Rogers sat down at a computer terminal to check his own email when his arm knocked the mouse of the adjacent terminal, waking the computer's monitor and revealing the inbox of his colleague, Linda Marcus. One of the email's subject lines read "Wayne Update."
Rogers printed the email, along with another one with the title "We Did it." Part of the Wayne Update string of messages included Marcus' reply to another co-worker:
"I guess he chooses not to listen. I will not respond to him. He is sooooo fake. And sooooo with the Dark Side. I will never tell him "The Truth", not because he can't handle it but because he's too dumb to understand it. See you later."
Rogers confronted Marcus with the emails. Marcus, along with the other correspondents in the email thread, sued Rogers for hacking.
But did he breach her privacy by reading her emails, even though Marcus left her inbox open after signing in with her password?
"Because the index to the inbox of Marcus's Yahoo e-mail was displayed on the screen when the last user left the computer, Wayne did not access the facility without authorization," the Superior Court of New Jersey explained in its decision.
Despite choosing to click on the particular email messages, the fact that the inbox was already made available to him meant that he "did not know he was exceeding the authorization that was implied by the fact that the index was displayed and the contents of the various e-mails accessible without use of a password or code."
The jury determined that while Rogers "knowingly accessed" email conversations not meant for him, "six of the seven found that he had not 'exceeded an authorization to access that facility,' and seven found that Wayne had "tacit authorization" to do so."
Rogers was cleared of the charges. Marcus appealed the decision, but the court upheld it.
Attorney Evan Brown wrote on Internet Cases that the story could have implications for situations other than the unlocked email inbox. "Does a person who finds another's mobile device have the right to rummage through all the accounts (e.g., social media, email, dating sites) that the phone's owner is logged into? This case underscores that the answer will be, frustratingly, "it depends."
Do you agree with the jury's decision? Should going through someone else's email account, if the inbox is left opened, be considered illegal? How careful are you about your email or other personal accounts at work or public workstations? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
(This survey is not scientific. Results are based on readers' replies.)
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