Suspect cheating? Here’s the ‘dark territory’ of spying on a loved one

Something doesn’t feel right.

Your honey is coming home late. Not spending as much time with you. Seems distracted. Acts secretive.

Twenty or more years ago, you might have looked for telltale signs of an affair: lipstick on a collar, unexplained credit-card receipts, love notes. You might have picked up the telephone extension and secretly listened in on a private conversation.

Today, high-tech gadgets can do the legwork for you. The question is, what’s legal? That depends, experts say. A variety of federal and state laws govern snooping, electronic and otherwise.

A Michigan man is finding out the hard way that while you can monitor your spouse’s actions, it’s not always advisable to do so. Leon Walker, 33, a computer technician, suspected his wife was having an affair, so he used her password to access her e-mail. He could receive five years in prison if he’s convicted at his felony trial next month.

“If you don’t have the authority or consent, it’s a crime to access someone else’s communications via wire or computer,” said Susan Bunch, a Tampa lawyer whose specialties include technology.

Spouses trying to catch a suspected cheater have their pick of several methods, said Jonathan Gulsby, manager of U-Spy Store on Colonial Drive in Orlando. Like similar shops, U-Spy Store makes customers sign paperwork saying they won’t use the gizmos they buy for illegal purposes.

The most common spying gadgets are:

Video and audio recorders

Tracking devices

Computer keystroke loggers and Internet monitors

Cell-phone call logs

You can videotape or photograph most anyone in a public place, no permission needed, lawyers say. You also can place a camera in your home, including your bedroom, as long as you’re ready to stomach whatever you see.

“Anything visible to the naked eye is fair game,” Bunch said.”The more technology that you have to use and the less widely available the technology you have to use, the more someone will claim it’s illegal.”

But you can’t hide a camera in your lover’s house, or in someone else’s hotel room. Remember the scandal in 2009 involving ESPN reporter Erin Andrews, who secretly was videotaped in the nude?

“You don’t have rights to surveil what’s going on in a place that doesn’t belong to you,” said David Snyder, a Tampa media lawyer and business litigator.

In Florida and some other states, people can get into trouble if they record a conversation without the consent of everyone involved. Christopher Slobogin, a professor at Vanderbilt University Law School who has written on privacy issues, said he had to get permission from every student in the room before recording a lecture.

Nevertheless, you can still buy tiny audio and video recorders that are virtually undetectable. Cameras can be disguised as a shirt button, an ID tag, a pen, a toy car, a calculator, a clock, a smoke detector, a sprinkler head, a keychain and more. “It’s all dark territory,” Gulsby said.

A private investigator is your best bet.

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