You may be sleeping with a hacker.
For all the furor over unscrupulous British reporters obtaining unauthorized access to voice mails, most people are oblivious to the prying by the spy who loves them.
The average person is far more likely to be hacked by a lover (or, if you’re a teenager, by your parents) than by any member of the media, or even, probably, a scam artist. And in the age of the iPhone and Droid, sexts, texts and IMs are often far more damning – and common - tryst evidence than lipstick-stained collars, hotel room receipts and mysterious credit card charges.
Forty-one percent of women and 32% of men admit to having checked a spouse or partner’s email or call history without them knowing, according to a survey conducted by the consumer electronics shopping site, Retrevo.com. Thirty-five percent of women and 30% of men admit to surreptitiously checking the email or call history of someone they’ve merely dated.
Why would anyone betray their partner’s trust?
Usually because they’re desperate to figure out why what they sense and observe does not comport with what their partner is telling them.
Often, they suspect – quite correctly – that the answer to their questions lies within their partner’s cell phone, the device that Steven Santarpia, president of ICORP Investigations in Manhattan, calls “the key to somebody’s soul.” People (the majority of them women) call ICORP constantly “to see if there’s a way for them to bypass the codes needed to enter their partners’ phones,” Santarpia said.
There is, he noted – “Flexispy” is one of many products that can grant access to numbers other than one’s own – but using it for hacking “is illegal,” Santarpia tsk-tsked.
“When you seek, you find,” said Kaishalon Upshaw, 25 with a fatalistic shrug. After a boyfriend denied rumors he had been unfaithful, Upshaw said she felt driven by “women’s intuition” to find out the truth, so she finagled a way into his cell phone where she discovered sexts of another woman’s breasts, plans to meet up, and declarations of attraction. “I seeked, I found, it was over,” recounted the Brownsville resident. “Snooping keeps you from heartache and diseases,” said the counselor. In the age of AIDS, an unfaithful partner’s little white lies can have dire, life-destroying consequences for the overly credulous, Upshaw noted.
Technology, far from heightening security makes it “easier and easier to catch,” cheating partners, added Upshaw’s friend, Monique Mark, 29, of East New York. When it comes to hacking a cellphone, “I’m an expert,” bragged Mark, who said she has discovered everything from discussion about abortions and other relationships to “second lives.” Her last inamorato turned out “to have a woman he’d been living with for five years in Virginia!”
“If you cheat, delete,” is the lesson Angel, 26, learned about arranging extra-relationship liaisons on his cellphone.
A Washington Heights construction worker, Angel found all his contacts deleted from his Blackberry because he didn’t.
His suspicious girl friend, with whom he has a son, tried hacking into his phone by punching in passwords she thought he was likely to use. She punched in so many, the device sensed it was being hacked and in a protective response “erased all my data,” Angel recalled.
Mobile phones themselves – which allow a level of discretion unheard of in the days of communal land lines – make it especially easy for the tempted to slip into affairs, said Angel, who offers various reasons for his infidelity – “it’s genetic!” “I wasn’t ready to let go of old behaviors.” “It’s like being addicted to a drug.” He lied to his girlfriend, he explained, “because the truth hurts and you don’t want to hurt the one you love.”
Lying, cover stories, and causing fights became such a non-stop stream of headaches, he resolved to be faithful. But to repair the trust he had vandalized, he had to surrender all his email, voicemail and social networking account log ons and passwords to his girlfriend. She now has unfettered access to all his accounts. “All my cards are face up now. I have nothing to hide. It was just too much of a hassle,” to deceive the woman he loved, Angel explained.
While there are expectations of privacy at the outset of a relationship, in healthy, committed couples, no one is motivated to snoop. Passwords may even be shared because no one has anything to hide, said Carol Landau, clinical professor of psychology at Brown University. If a person is not pathologically jealous, his or her intuition about facts not adding up and a feeling that their partner is concealing a secret is usually correct, said Landau. But if you go so far as to hack into your partner’s voice mail or email, you, too, have debased yourself by doing something sneaky and wrong. If you’re obsessed with looking into a partner’s locked email or voice mail, “you may as well call it quits,” Landau observed, because a relationship without mutual trust is doomed.
Legally, people have an expectation of privacy in their personal communications that you have no right to violate, regardless of your motivation or your relationship to the hackee, noted Sandra S. Baron, a lawyer and executive director of the Media Law Resource Center.
Privacy violators, she noted, risk being sued for invasion of privacy and “and conceivably worse,” in the form of criminal prosecutions for accessing anyone’s email or voice mail without authorization. Even if you’re married, you can’t snoop in your husband or wife’s account “without permission,” said Baron.
Of course, she noted, should your spouse ever surrender his password and you happen to memorize it, you may have a defense in that access to his account was “a matter of practice.”
You’re probably on safe ground if you peek at an account “left open and visible,” but scrolling down to read things not in immediate view “is an interesting grey area,” said Baron.
Even those driven half mad with jealousy or suspicion should remember that “the laws of libel and invasion of privacy apply to individuals as well as news personnel,” said Baron. “It’s not a rule free environment, just because it’s a digital space.”