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Legally, it depends on how it’s done. Ethically, it’s highly questionable, unless you have her permission.
The first thing to know is that most forms of digital data enjoy little or no protection under the law. Phone calls are an exception because they are protected by anti-wiretapping laws. However, text messages, email, GPS locations and a vast array of data collected by mobile devices are all legally totally unprotected; anyone can intercept and read any of it.
If you’re standing close enough to her to overhear her phone conversations, that’s completely legal. But you cannot use any sort of technical means to tap into the conversation. However, you can use any method you like — including breaking into her phone — to read text (SMS) messages, emails, website posts and virtually any other data. It has virtually no legal protection. (This is what makes email communication so vulnerable, for example).
How did it get this way?
You may be surprised to learn that there’s no explicit right to privacy in the constitution. In fact, the word privacy appears nowhere in the document or any of its amendments.
That’s not because the founding fathers forgot it, or didn’t think it important enough to mention, but rather because privacy was inherent in daily life, and with just a few exceptions, very easy to achieve. It didn’t need to be mentioned.
The best way to understand this is to take a short step back in time, to the days before smart phones and the internet: once you locked your door and sealed your envelopes, there was no other way for the government, corporations or other citizens to penetrate your life.
The Constitution protected your door, and your personal communications were protected by the Postal Service Act of 1792, which enshrined communication privacy into law because it allowed letters to be sealed in opaque envelopes that could not legally be opened without a court order.
Likewise a hundred years later with the advent of the telegraph and telephone, the privacy of which was protected by prohibitions on wiretapping without a court order issued on probable cause.
In fact, all the way up to the 1990’s, ALL forms of personal communications (telephone, telegraph and postal mail) were protected by strong laws.
The game has changed
All of that is now history. The entire game has changed with the advent of the internet, and lawmakers have been virtually silent on the topic of protecting people’s digital privacy.
Ask yourself these simple questions…
We have strong laws to protect the physical implementation of these things, but virtually no protection now that it can all be done digitally. That’s wrong…
The digital world deserves exactly the same legal protections!
Please Note: This is NOT legal advice, which can only come from an attorney licensed to practice law in the relevant jurisdiction.
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