Money Damages for Email Eavesdropping

Venkat Balasubramani reports on Klumb v. Goan in Eric Goldman's Technology & Marketing Law Blog.

This opinion reads like a cross between a soap opera and a romance novel. It includes lying, cheating, drinking, trickery, forgery, fraud and more in connection with a divorce. According to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, "the elaborate nature of the allegations" required "the regrettable and unavoidable airing of dirty laundry."

So what was this case doing in federal court? The attorney wife installed a program called eBlaster on her husband's computer, then intercepted his email and doctored it so that the husband appeared to be having an affair, all so that the wife could gain an advantage in the parties'  divorce. The by-then ex-husband sued his ex-wife under the federal Wiretap Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2510 et seq. and its Tennessee state counterpart.

The court awarded the ex-husband $10,000 in statutory damages plus $10,000 in punitive damages. The court also awarded the ex-husband his attorney's fees and costs.

The lesson? Venkat's blog post concludes: "There’s not a whole lot to say about this dispute. Spouses (and girlfriends/boyfriends) resist the temptation to eavesdrop on email. Just don’t do it!"