Caught in the middle of a privacy issue

Discussion in 'privacy problems' started by noone_particular, Nov 3, 2010.

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  1. noone_particular

    noone_particular Registered Member

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    I've been caught up in a very awkward and unexpected privacy issue with one of my clients. I've been servicing and maintaining a PC for a married couple. Each has their own passworded limited account but also knew what the others password was. The PC was bought while they were married but is owned by the wife. I have the only administrative account on the PC as neither of them have a clue about taking care of a PC and I got tired of repeatedly removing rogue AVs from it.

    Their marriage has fallen apart and they are in the process of an ugly divorce, but are still living in the same house for right now. The husband will be moving out in roughly a month. The situation has reached new lows in ugly and childish behavior. The wife got into his account and resorted to sending all kinds of accusations and slander about him to everyone in his address book and IM contact list. I changed his password to keep her out of it until he leaves, after which I plan to delete his account. She is insisting that I have to give her (and her new live in boyfriend) access to his account (and his new girlfriends e-mails, IM messages, phone number, etc) because the computer is hers. I had originally planned to continue to maintain the PC and keep each of them out of the others files until the divorce was final and they were not in the same house, at which time I would wipe his account, give her the administrative password, and get as far away from all of them as possible. So far, I've refused to give her or her new boyfriend access to his account, but I think I might be on shaky legal ground. Does ownership of the PC give that person legal access to the others files or does he have ownership of his own files?

    I realize that this isn't the best place for such a question, but the shift I work makes it almost impossible to call or see a lawyer without taking time off to do it, and I really don't want to look for and register to a legal forum just to ask this question. Anyone here unfortunate enough to have dealt with a situation like this?
     
  2. Cutting_Edgetech

    Cutting_Edgetech Registered Member

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    Do you think she would act childish if you informed her you are not able to do as she request due to ethical reasons? Also how can she prove the pc is only her's, and not property of both of theirs? Do you have a private business or do you work for someone else? If you work with a company, and have a supervisor of some sort I would let him or her make that call.
     
  3. pajenn

    pajenn Registered Member

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    just tell her no because, ownership aside, you wouldn't want an IT worker giving out your password or account info to an ex. the morality is straightforward and you've already decided to lose the account anyway, so there's no reason to comply with her request.
     
  4. HAN

    HAN Registered Member

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    Since they're married, it may make things grayer than normal. Normally, his privacy is his unless he has acknowledged that someone else has control of the equipment (as at a work place.)

    IMO, best thing to do is have the soon to be X stop using the PC, remove his account and wipe the free space left behind. Mr soon to be X can then borrow a friends computer or do without for a bit. Keeps you or anyone else (including his soon to be Mrs X) from compromising his identity or privacy.
     
  5. ABee

    ABee Registered Member

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    I'd get them both together, hand each of them the Admin. password, wish them the best of luck for the future, wave goodbye, walk out the door.
     
  6. Woody777

    Woody777 Registered Member

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    You are in the middle of an issue you want no part of. Get out now. Tell them you will no longer maintiain the account turn all the passwords over to both parties. You must make sure you are not named as a party in any legal proceeding that may occur. Tell them your done as of this instant.
     
  7. scott1256ca

    scott1256ca Registered Member

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    I don't know if giving one person the others password will "keep you out of legal trouble". I don't think you should give someone another persons password unless you know of some legal obligation to do so.

    I think you can justify giving either or both the admin password. Let them both know you are doing so, maybe tell them that the admin account would be able to look at everyones files, then they can fight it out access with their lawyers. But that is just me.
     
  8. BoerenkoolMetWorst

    BoerenkoolMetWorst Registered Member

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    If they are married it is possible they have shared ownership of goods or whatever it's called in English, meaning the computer will also be his. Anyway, I would give him a backup of his files/mails and wipe it ASAP and then give his PW to her and both the admin PW and get the hell out of there.
     
  9. Fiat_Lux

    Fiat_Lux Registered Member

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    Legislation on something like this may vary from country to country, perhaps even from state to state.
    You obviously already understood that you ought to get the h*** out of there rather than being caught in any crossfire , so no use commenting further on that...
    I am actually in middle of a battle with a very big (huge) software company plus I am extremly experienced in consumer cases also as I have run some of them too.. , but not sure that any experience I may have will really apply here .....
    I do however have some thoughts on the general logic of the situation....
    OK , so she "owns" the machine, so the machine may or may not be hers alone this pending on applicable legislation where they live with respect to what is considered joint ownership.
    However nomatter what and if she is actually the single owner of the machine I would not be able to say how the legislation would be on that, mind you : though she may claim ownership of the machine she has also at the same time at one point given her then husband a then probably unconditional right to the have a private account on her PC. Them getting a divorce might not necessarily mean that if she revokes his right to have an account on her machine she also has the right to go through his personal files.
    Where I live it is prohibited to open another persons mail without their consent, and I think that it is even prohibited to check their mobile-phone messages without consent.
    So perhaps we should view the situation a little differently (?). Say that you allow someonelse (gives them concent) to put up a private physical mailbox, to receive mail in, on your property. I would think that that would not give you the right neither to break in to their mailbox or open their mail , would it ?
    I think the situation calls for very careful consideration on your part, but the whole legal situation might actually be very blurry and difficult to handle nomatter what anyone tells you is right or wrong (that is why attorneys makes a living I guess...)
    "Just my two cents" -I guess....
     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2010
  10. safeguy

    safeguy Registered Member

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    I'm not the best man to give advice (seeing that I'm neither a lawyer nor judge) but I'll share my thoughts (and assumptions) over the matter based on a simple understanding of the scenario mentioned. Ultimately, it's up to you to decide what's best to be done:

    1. If the wife is indeed the rightful owner of the PC, then technically speaking, high chances the law will see it as such: she as the owner has the right to be given the administrative password for all accounts in that PC...including those that are not of hers (which in this case is the husband's account)

    2. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that she has the right over the personal files of the account owner (presumably the husband here if that's how it was decided during the time of the marriage and creation of the account)

    3. Assuming that even if she does, one can argue that she doesn't have the right to owe you liable to provide her all the details, especially more so seeing that you don't represent/work for either party alone. You, as a trusted 3rd-party have the moral liability to be fair to both sides and hence have the right to deny giving out the password to her without the consent of the husband. If she insist, then she ought to go after her husband and request for the password from the man himself.

    4. Considering those above-mentioned factors, one thing you can do (apart from 'running away') is to speak to the husband 1st beforehand, asking for his permission to give his password to the wife....but only on the condition that his personal files are removed. If he agrees, then speak to the wife and tell her that. If she agrees to it too, then good.

    As a precautionary measure, you can perhaps prepare some sort of 'black and white' that states that you are not to be held liable for whatever happens after that decision has been made.

    5. Otherwise, if both parties can't reach to an agreement with the suggestion, then as a trusted 3rd-party individual assigned by both the wife and the husband, like I've said earlier have a form of right (although I'm not so sure what it's called in legal terms) to deny making a move/decision that may be unfair to the either side. As such, you can refuse to hand the PC (and password) to either parties till their marital problems are settled legally by the authorities. Your strongest defense is that you are only 'hired' for servicing and maintaining a PC for a married couple...nothing else apart from that basic service.

    Once again, I'm just speaking my mind. You don't have to take my words for it.
     
  11. noone_particular

    noone_particular Registered Member

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    Thanks all for the feedback. So far, she has taken no for an answer without too much argument. Her comparative lack of arguing the point makes me think that she's already checked on what she can do, and didn't get the answer she wanted. Eraser was installed on this PC the last time I cleaned it. It's set up to clean out the junk on a regular schedule. With the tools already installed, wiping his account will be quick and easy.
     
  12. Escalader

    Escalader Registered Member

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    What a mess, you need out!

    What I would do is give them no information about each others passwords , files nothing.

    Lock the PC so neither can use it UNTIL they both get a written agreement drawn up with a lawyer that they BOTH sign and which details for you what is to be done in detail.

    Both have a legal right or at least a moral right to control over their own data, email etc.
     
  13. JConLine

    JConLine Registered Member

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    I don't believe the wife owns the husbands personal information, and without his written permission, I wouldn't show it to her.

    They occupied the same computer space but they had an agreement and now the agreement is over.

    I would back up the husbands data, give it to him, and then delete the account. If the wife wants to see the data then the husband can show it to her. It is inappropriate for the wife to ask you for her husbands private data.

    And you need to wash your hands of this whole thing!

    Jim
     
  14. Escalader

    Escalader Registered Member

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    No, if he backs up the husbands data the wife can accuse our member here that her data was included! Big error!

    give them nada, zero nothing, lock PC until a new legal instruction is agreed signed and delivered.

    Our member needs out.
     
  15. m00nbl00d

    m00nbl00d Registered Member

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    You seem to be running out a business there. This means one thing: You should understand and be aware of the legal terms of certain "issues", such as the one you mentioned.

    Better safe than sorry.

    You should contact with an attorney, and ask what are you legal obligations here. If you are told, you've got none, then leave it be. You're not their psychiatrist, doctor or attorney, and therefore you're bound to no legal obligations on this matter.

    I'm not saying you have the right to disclose one person's data to another person. But, you also do not have the right to lock any data, and simply because it's not your data to start with. This is why I'm saying you got no legal rights of doing any of those things.

    The system was bought when these two people were couple; they no longer are or won't be anymore. The system was owned by one person. Supposing this person can confirm the system is owner by her, the same won't be applied to the data. I don't know all the legal terms, but this is not an enterprise issue, where all computers and data are property of the enterprise in question.

    We're talking about an individual, and the obligations and rights differ, I'm afraid.

    Whether it is one system or two different systems, it is of no importance, because the other person has the right to confidentiality and privacy. It is up to a court-of-law to dictate the terms of when that confidentiality and privacy no longer applies.

    Right now, I'm using a borrowed laptop from a family member. I have my data on it. Suppose we got into a fight; would this family member have the right to take the laptop? Sure, it's his, not mine. Does he have the legal right of knowing what data I've got there? No.

    The woman has no legal rights. It doesn't matter if the she's the only owner of the system; that only entitles her of owning the system (hardware) and not the data that it contains, unless it's only hers of course.

    Just my two cents.

    -Edit-

    I'll go even further, by showing one more example of what legal rights one has or not.

    Let's suppose you are going to sell a computer you have to a friend or family member, and to your surprise, you forgot to completely erase the data in it.

    You sell the computer. It comes to your attention what happened - that you forgot to erase your data.

    Your friend or family member refuses to let you erase it; after all they already paid for the computer.
    Legally, they only paid for the computer (hardware) and not for any of the data (O.S, etc).
    This person may refuse, but in a court-of-law, and perhaps it will differ from country to country, of course, you would win. It's your confidentially and privacy at risk.
     
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2010
  16. chiraldude

    chiraldude Registered Member

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    You need to talk to a lawyer. I wouldn't bother with a legal forum, just call some attorneys and ask how much for one hour of consult.
    It may be more than you want to pay but getting real legal advice from a real lawyer is the only way you will have clear direction.
    If you still don't want to pay then try to find a radio legal show that takes questions on the air. Most metro areas have at least one local radio station with a lawyer that does a radio show on weekends.
     
  17. noone_particular

    noone_particular Registered Member

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    The divorce is final. He's moved out. His account is deleted and the free space wiped. I am finally done with this soap opera.
     
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