This is absolutely a true story that has an admittedly weak connection with the question of this section. Still, I like to tell it, so please indulge me as I again explain complex legal issues using my own personal life.
In 2007, I first met the beautiful woman who, four years later, became my wife. We worked for the same law firm, on the same floor, in offices that were almost next to each other. Despite what she will tell you, I was the one to notice her first, when we were in a group training session. I thought to myself ‘wow, that woman is smart, funny, beautiful, and would probably be very understanding when it comes to her husband sharing personal stories about her in a book he wrote, without asking her permission first.’
I was quickly smitten, and so had to know whether she was single or not. At the time, social media was still very much in its early days. I did not have a Facebook account, and a quick Altavista (yes, it was that long ago) search on her name did not come up with anything helpful.
I am not proud of what I did next. I resorted to sneaking into her office at work one evening, a very ungentlemanly act indeed. I had to see if there were any personal items that might tell me if she had a boyfriend, or a girlfriend for that matter.
I saw some photographs stuck to her office wall, which included her standing next to a handsome young man, both of them smiling and looking happy. Deciding that it had to be her boyfriend I sadly accepted that not for the first time (and certainly not the last) I had been bested by another man. I hung my head in shame and slunk out of her office.
The end to this romantic tale was that my wife was not seeing the gentleman in the photograph after all; she was single, and ultimately prepared to put up with me for the rest of her life (or until she reads this). But if things had gone differently between us, and she had rejected my advances, she could have considered my sneaking into her office as stalking, or at least an invasion of her privacy.
Now that we have that little personal anecdote out of the way, we can get to the real question at hand: is it illegal to log onto someone’s Facebook (or other social media) page, or to log into their email account, and read their Facebook page or emails?
Disturbing as it is, we as individuals do not have a legal right to privacy in Australia. ‘Stop lying’ I hear you say, ‘of course we have a right to privacy. That is what all those privacy policies on the websites I visit are about.’
Well, yes, there are privacy laws in Australia, but these do not really give us an individual legal right to privacy. What these laws mainly do is tell companies that collect our personal information how they must store that information, and when they can use it. Since February 2018 those laws also say what certain companies must do if they discover that the personal information they store on their customers or clients has been hacked or stolen.
That means that if I did log onto my wife’s Facebook page, or went through her emails, when we first met, and snooped around for a while trying to find out if she was single or not, she could not try to charge me with a crime of breach of her privacy. She probably would have punched me in the face, though, and I would have deserved it.
If I had, however, logged onto my wife’s computer and used her Facebook page, or email, or internet browser, to steal her identity or to pretend to be her for the purpose of committing a crime, then I would be in deep legal trouble. Laws in every state and territory make identity theft a serious criminal act, with long stretches of jail time for those found guilty of it.
Also, just to put your mind a bit more at ease, stalking is most definitely a criminal offence. If I had decided to find out more about my (now) wife back when I first met her by, say, following her everywhere she went, rummaging through her garbage, setting up hidden cameras in her home, and other romantic gestures, and she caught me doing this, she could have, and most definitely would have, called the police and had me arrested for stalking her. And ‘my heart told me to’ is not a valid defence to a charge of stalking.