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Kramer vs. Kramer or Spy vs. Spy?

The process of catching a cheating spouse isn't what it used to be. The era of the private detective with a camera staking out a cheating partner has given way to an arsenal of electronic spy gear that consumers can purchase and use to snoop on their spouse. High technology is being used to detect infidelity, monitor child visitation, and generally get the goods on the other partner for later use in court. When lots of money is at stake in settlement negotiations, investing a few thousand dollars in gadgets can be money well spent.

Slapping a GPS tracker on a vehicle is just one of many tools that battling spouses are employing. Tiny cameras can be implanted in ordinary objects or placed inconspicuously around the house. Recording devices with highly sensitive microphones can capture conversations and phone calls. Old-fashioned rummaging through a partner's possessions is still in style, and the proliferation of computers, cell phones and PDA's often yield more information than scraps of paper in pants pockets and purses.

It all sounds so easy, and that is what makes these new tools so legally dangerous. Depending on where a person lives, wiretapping or spying may be a crime, and the laws are complicated and often contradictory. For example, five of 13 federal circuit courts have ruled that marital wiretapping violates the Federal Wiretap Act. Two other circuit courts say there is nothing illegal about recording a spouse. Some states view this kind of surveillance as stalking. Finally, there is the question of whether evidence gathered this way would be admissible in a divorce case. The issue has not been adequately tested yet.

Not surprisingly, a raft of anti-snooping devices have popped up on the market along with companies that offer to de-bug vehicles, homes and other potentially compromised sites. One firm in Atlanta will sweep a house for about $5,000 and a cell phone for $500. Some divorce lawyers advise their clients to dump their cell phones and computers and get new ones in case the old devices have spyware installed. One marriage counselor ruefully remarked, "Privacy does not exist in 2012."

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "A spy-gear arms race transforms modern divorce," Steve Eder, Oct. 5, 2012

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