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Police blotter: Husband spies on wife's computer

Legal documents filed in New Jersey divorce case say husband "wiretapped" his wife's computer. He's not the first.

"Police blotter" is a weekly CNET News.com report on the intersection of technology and the law.

What: Reports of home computer wiretapping surface in tempestuous New Jersey divorce case.

When: Superior Court of New Jersey ruled June 8.

Outcome: Wife succeeds in raising her share of the settlement in a divorce case.

What happened, according to court documents:

Peter Garfinkel, 41, asked for a divorce from his wife of six years, Lori Garfinkel, 38, in March 2001. They had separated earlier that month, and Lori remained in the marital home with three children under 3 years old.

After her husband started court proceedings for a divorce, Lori Garfinkel filed a counterclaim alleging the following: transmission of sexual disease, negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotional distress and wiretapping.

The wiretapping charges are what make this unfortunate case relevant to Police Blotter. During the trial in state court, the judge dismissed Lori's claims related to sexual disease and emotional distress. But Peter admitted to "wiretapping" Lori's computer.

The description is general: Peter used an unspecified monitoring device to track his wife's computer transactions and record her e-mails. Lori was granted $7,500 on the wiretapping claim.

Overall, though, the trial judge did not find her credible and ruled that she misrepresented her income, assets and expenses. Lori appealed.

A three-judge panel of the Superior Court of New Jersey appeared to side with her. The judges reduced the amount granted to Peter and handed the case back to the trial court for additional proceedings.

This is hardly the first time computer monitoring claims have surfaced in marital spats. As previously reported by CNET News.com, a Florida court ruled last year that a wife who installed spyware on her husband's computer to secretly record evidence of an extramarital affair violated state law.

In addition, makers of key loggers (hardware or software methods of recording keystrokes) are actively marketing their products as ways to expose spousal wrongdoing. KeyGhost's Web site mentions "multimillion-dollar divorce settlements," and the description of BlazingTools Sofware's Perfect Keylogger includes this line: "Are you wondering if your mate is planning a divorce?"