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11 August 2010 Computer security and confidentiality - precautions to take on separation or divorce

By Annette Wilson, Special Counsel


In brief

Anyone who is separating or has separated from their partner needs to take immediate steps to ensure the security of their computer and other digital devices.


Increasing use of computers

With the increasing use of computers in many areas of life such as financial management and social interaction, there has been an increase in the use of computer evidence in property settlement and children’s proceedings in the Family Court. It is important for anyone who is separating from their partner to be mindful of how information obtained from a computer, mobile phone or other digital device can be used by an aggrieved or angry spouse.

Sending or posting confidential information

The safest policy is not to use your computer to send confidential information. Even if you think you have deleted information from your computer, it is possible for a computer expert to retrieve that information. Similarly, do not post information which may be damaging or embarrassing if used in court.

If you share a computer with another person, do not expect that any information that is stored, sent or recorded is private. There are computer programs designed to access information that has been deleted from computers, as well as programs which record passwords. Keylogging software or hardware can be installed to record every key stroke, make a record of websites visited, take screen shots and record printing activity. Software and hardware of this nature can be hidden so that you may not know they have been installed.

A few precautions for safeguarding computer security
  • Be careful of what you write in chat rooms, internet forums and social networking sites. There have been family law cases in which the evidence used by an ex-spouse was freely available on the internet.
  • In particular, Facebook and other social networking sites should be used with great caution as these sites are often targeted by angry spouses in family law proceedings. For example, they may access the site to obtain damaging information about you in terms of your fitness as a parent or your spending habits.
  • Be aware that when you post messages online, your computer address is recorded and anything you write can be traced. It is safest to assume that there is no such thing as an anonymous post.
  • If you are involved in a parenting dispute, you should avoid potentially damaging websites (for example, ‘adults only’ websites).
  • Change your password regularly on your computer, as well as for email and social networking sites. Use a strong password containing a combination of numbers, upper and lower case letters and special characters (for example, # or $). Do not use elements which could be easy to guess, such as your name, initials or date of birth.
  • Be aware that if your spouse knows or can guess your passwords, they can log in to your account and post or send messages pretending to be you.
  • Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security because your spouse knows nothing about computers. He or she can employ the services of someone who does.
  • Back up any important information off site.
  • If you suspect that someone has tampered with your computer, consult a computer expert and/or speak to your lawyer.

For further information please contact:

Annette Wilson, Partner  |  Phone: +61 2 9233 5544  |  Email: amw@swaab.com.au

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This article is not legal advice and the views and comments are of a general nature only. This article is not to be relied upon in substitution for detailed legal advice.

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