Snooping in divorce cases goes high-tech

Snooping in divorce cases goes high-tech

Couples involved in bitter break-ups are increasingly resorting to illegal snooping to obtain incriminating information against their spouses, lawyers say.

Already, most of the evidence used in divorce cases these days comes from high-tech devices like mobile phones and computers.

To get the upper hand, some spouses hire computer experts to hack into e-mail accounts or plant spyware in laptops and smartphones.

"In the past, it was the traditional documents and letters, but now, with technology and social media, as many as eight in 10 cases involve computer-generated evidence," said family lawyer Rajan Chettiar.

Earlier this month, High Court Judge Quentin Loh asked the Attorney-General's Chambers to investigate allegations that lawyers had advised a woman client to hire a hacker to get into her husband's laptop.

He said the court took "a very dim view of solicitors who sanction, let alone encourage, their clients' involvement in such illicit activities as hacking".

The number of non-Muslim divorces hit 7,525 last year, the second-highest annual figure on record.

Lawyer Gloria James-Civetta told The Sunday Times that she has handled about six cases so far this year in which her clients fell prey to hacking. She used to encounter only one or two such cases a year in the past.

This year, she also refused to represent five prospective clients who presented illegally obtained information about their spouses' affairs or assets.

Increasingly, clients are also asking lawyers how to hire hackers, or how to get their spouses to delete material obtained through underhanded means.

Family lawyer Abdul Rahman said he has fielded nearly a third more such inquiries this year.

Under the Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act, a person can be fined or jailed for accessing a computer to retrieve data or programs without permission.

It is a crime to hack into someone's computer regardless of whether the other party has suffered any harm.

However, there may be grey areas.

"If the wife has previously given her husband her password to her mobile phone or if he happens to see something by chance when she leaves it around, does it count as hacking?" asked lawyer Lee Terk Yang.

When a client presents evidence against her spouse, some lawyers accept it.

"I am satisfied with taking the information at face value instead of questioning the clients on whether they got it illegally," said Mr Lee.

Others feel they ought to probe deeper.

Mr Koh Tien Hua, who co-heads Harry Elias Partnership's family and matrimonial law practice, said he would ask his clients if the accessed smartphone, laptop or other devices belong to them.

"If they bought it and used it most of the time, or if it is a shared computer, it should not be considered as trespassing," he said.

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