Man Hacks Wife’s Computer and Faces Prison

The Michigan law about computer misuse is suppose to protect your online and computer privacy, but has anyone even thought how cookies invade your privacy?

Michigan has a law that precludes anyone from “misusing” a computer. The law is now being applied to a 33-year-old husband who logged onto his wife’s email account to find out what she was up to. After the wife complained that he violated her right to privacy, he’s was charged by the police.

This case, which is underway, isn’t getting the amount of attention it should, and it will probably hinge around the fact that the computer in question was used jointly by both parties. How much privacy did she expect? Then again, he had to figure out her password, and, well, you can see how this debate could get interesting.

To me, it’s somewhat ironic that a husband and wife can end up in court over privacy violations when the government is riddled with privacy issues. It seems to me that protecting the citizenry from government snooping and groping would be more important than a husband and wife poking into each other’s affairs, but this isn’t a political column.

This case could be precedent setting and might introduce some interesting twists at the end of the day. These twists will not be about husbands and wives, but about computer misuse. In this case, it would be about someone else using your computer in any way whatsoever.

Can you spell “cookies.”

There are a number of computer laws on the books that don’t allow people to hack onto your computer and use it for anything whatsoever without your permission. So exactly how did the establishment of cookies—those pesky little files that track you like a dog—find a safe haven with laws like this all over the place?

I have always been baffled by the fact that reading and writing cookies on my machine is legal. People get upset by deep-linking and make a fuss about bandwidth stealing when a blogger links to a photo on some other blog. But nobody ever discusses cookies in this same way. Cookies are bandwidth thieves just like deep links and driving in front of someone’s house and attaching yourself to his Wi-Fi connection.

A cookie is essentially data being stored on your machine that should be stored on some cloud service or at a centralized location. You go to a website, log in, the website identifies you, and then instead of storing pertinent or desired information on its home-base server, it opens a file on YOUR machine, without you knowing it, and plants its data there. This is legal?

I recall when this idea first appeared. I was told by one of the engineers who worked for Netscape that they introduced the mechanism in an early version of the Netscape browser, and it was then adopted by everyone. He apologized.

At first, the initial implementers of stored cookies were merely experimenting with their uses. They stored passwords or visit times or your name. They wondered what the public reaction would be. Would they be outrage? Would everyone get up in arms? Would boycotts ensue? It must have stunned these people that the push-back was nil, since everyone gets so worked up about everything on the Internet. In fact, the computer using public shrugged it off. I was as stunned as anyone by the overall ho-hum reaction.

Now the cookies are large and complex and some can’t even be removed from the machine—your machine.

While I question the way the Michigan computer misuse law is being applied, it may turn out to be a good thing if people take a closer look at these laws and finally realize that their computers are being used by other people without the owners (that means you) consent. It’s time that ended.

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