It used to be that divorcing couples only had to worry about a private investigator following their activity. Now with modern technology, you don’t always need one.

GPS trackers on cars, hacking email and social media passwords, looking up shared data on the cloud, key stroke trackers, Find My iPhone, and nanny cameras are just a few of the options available to track a person’s every move.

Almost all these technologies were designed (and are advertised) for legitimate monitoring of children and employees. But the reality is, untrusting spouses are using them to monitor each other.

Red Flags that Indicate Your Spouse is Snooping

  • Your ex seems to know exactly where you are at any given time, and who you are with.
  • Your ex claims to know the content of your emails and text messages.
  • Your ex keeps “coincidentally” showing up where you are.
  • Your ex sends unsolicited emails, Facebook messages, social media comments.
  • You find unexplained software on your phone or computer.
  • You receive an uptick in “phishing” emails designed to get you to reveal passwords or other sensitive information. Everybody gets some of these, but they are also used by stalkers to harass and to try to compromise your information.
  • You – or your friends and family – begin receiving friend requests from people you don’t know. Sometimes stalkers will create fake social media accounts to try to trick their victims into talking with them and revealing information.

Is it Legal for Spouses to Spy on Each Other?  

In the traditional sense, it’s perfectly legal to hire a private investigator. It is also legal for people to look through any personal trash placed on public land (i.e. the street).

Putting spyware on a spouse’s phone or computer is generally illegal but very nuanced. If a piece of technology is jointly owned, it is difficult to take any legal action against tracking the activity on the device.

For example, if a car is owned in the name of both spouses, it is possible for one spouse to put a GPS tracker on the car – or abuse the tracking software in the car’s navigation device – and make the argument it is legal. Putting a tracker on someone else’s car, however, is illegal.

With phones, the rules vary by state. In the State of New Jersey, it is legal to record a telephone conversation if you are a participant on the call. If you are intercepting a call that does not involve you, eavesdropping and/or recording the conversation is always illegal.

According to federal law, intercepting communication can be considered eavesdropping, wiretapping, hacking, information theft, computer fraud, or even cyber-terrorism. These can all result in felony charges.

Even if the phone was paid for by the snooping spouse, it is still widely considered to be the personal property of the person using it.

What is Spyware?

Spyware is a type of software that can be installed on computers or phones, usually for a monthly fee. Users can deploy different types of spyware to monitor the content of incoming and outgoing emails, text messages, key strokes (aka. what you type into the keyboard), and web searches.

Monitoring key strokes can allow the snooper to obtain your private passwords to online banking, social media, email, and all other personal accounts.

Should I Delete the Spyware, or Use it as Evidence?

This is a tricky one. Most victims of online spying want to stop the invasion of privacy as soon as possible. This often requires replacing your electronic devices with brand new hardware.

To prove an ex-spouse is responsible for the spyware would require a private investigator that specializes in digital forensics. This could cost the victim thousands of dollars they don’t have.

Starting fresh may be a quicker – and more affordable – way to regain a sense of privacy, but it also destroys any proof the victim might have used in a criminal investigation or divorce proceeding.

When Does Digital Spying Become Stalking?

Approximately 3.3 percent of divorced or separated Americans are victims of stalking. This is more than double the national average.

Digital spying is often a person’s attempt to maintain control over the activity and emotions of their ex-spouse. Whether or not the activity is technically legal or not, it is abusive.

Why is Digital Spying So Hard to Prosecute?

Laws surrounding digital stalking are struggling to keep up with technology. Unfortunately, this means some local police departments are reluctant to investigate complaints, and some lawyers are wary to file a case in criminal or civil court.

Many victims can’t afford the costs associated with proving their case. Punishments also vary heavily from state-to-state.

Know the Basics on Protecting Your Online Privacy

  • Change your password for all un-shared financial and personal accounts. But if you suspect you’re being monitored, do this from a safe computer, like at a public library or internet café. Never log into any account on a computer you think might be compromised.
  • Secure personal electronic devices with a PIN or fingerprint and enable 2-factor authentication. That way, even if your password is compromised, your accounts can’t be accessed without your phone.
  • Check the permissions on your apps and programs.
  • Turn off all non-financial shared services registered with your email and name.
  • Restrict access to your iCloud account and disable information sharing across devices.
  • Always log off on shared devices and never select the “remember me” box.
  • Avoid posting at all on social media, if possible.
  • Skip the home WIFI and invest in a secure MiFi.

Where Can I Get Help?

The National Network to End Domestic Violence has compiled a tool on Technology Safety & Privacy, available here: https://www.techsafety.org/resources-survivors

VictimConnect is a national help line for victims of crime that has resources and information on stalking: https://victimconnect.org/crime-resources/stalking/

If you think you are being spied on, consider connecting with a victim advocate and filing a protective order. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

If you feel unsafe at home, contact the Jersey Battered Women’s Service 24-hour help line: 973-267-4763.