A spyware company faces legal action after a US court ruled that its software was used unlawfully to intercept an unwitting man’s messages.
By Rhiannon Williams, Technology reporter
Javier Luis started an online friendship with Catherine Zang in 2009.
Her husband used WebWatcher spyware to track the pair’s private emails and online chats over several months, as evidence for divorce proceedings.
The US appeal court has now ruled 2-1 that Mr Luis can sue the software firm Awareness Technologies.
Mr Luis claims the software, which logged web history, searches, chat logs and email threads, illegally intercepted his communications with Ms Zang.
Legal action by Mr Luis against Mr Zang and other unnamed parties has been settled.
But Mr Luis pursued his case against Awareness after a district court initially dismissed his claims against the company.
A caring relationship
While the two never met in person, Mr Luis said he developed “a caring relationship” with Ms Zang.
Mr Zang grew suspicious that his wife was conversing with other men, and installed the WebWatcher software on a shared computer to intercept her messages in real time.
He read copies of the messages on the WebWatcher servers, and used the information to divorce Ms Zang on terms favourable to him in 2010.
WebWatcher is marketed as parental monitoring software for ensuring children are using technology appropriately.
Awareness Technologies denied Mr Luis’ assertions that it intercepted the communications – illegal under the US Wiretap Act – arguing it merely stored them as data.
It claimed that the term intercept applied only to situations in which a device captures a communication “either before [it] reaches the intended recipient or contemporaneous with the transmission not after it reaches the destination where it is placed in electronic storage.”
The court of appeals disagreed. It concluded that Mr Luis “has indeed alleged enough facts to reasonably infer that Awareness intercepted his communications”.
Awareness has been contacted for comment.
The case has now been sent back to the lower court for it to continue.