As long as there have been digital devices there have been people that are deeply curious about their contents. It’s an interesting phenomenon because it reveals just how many of us have a mistrust or suspicion of other people in our immediate circles. The temptation to breach privacy has become such a large problem that many of the new Android-based phones now come with a free user option to initiate a “Secure Folder”, which allows the user to set a password, fingerprint, or pattern separate of their main phone password to access the internet, messaging, and other apps privately.
The most common offenders are those in domestic relationships. Parents with growing concerns about children that are more distant than ever, young love searching for evidence to prove or disprove their insecurities about their friends or partner(s), and spouses or ex-spouses looking for answers to questions that they don’t want to ask. In the present day, the temptation to snoop can be overwhelming. But is it ever acceptable?
The answer, it seems, is a little more complicated than yes or no. While, of course, on the surface a straight “No. Never ever. Get away from my phone!” seems logical, the truth is that there are a lot of variables at play and more often than not, the answer depends on a case by case review of circumstances, the reason for the search, and the scope of the search you conduct.
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From a legal point of view, a few key questions include:
- Who actually owns the phone? and who pays the monthly bill?
- Do you have access to the password(s) necessary? Why?
- Is there an immediate threat or risk that necessitates you to access the device?
- How deep are you digging? Are you looking for an answer like “What’s Bill’s phone number?” or are you fishing out of curiosity on what you might find?
- What are the laws in your jurisdiction and are you willing to face the penalties if it comes down to it?
Depending on your answers above, it should be fairly clear whether you’re satisfying a wreckless curiosity or trying to solve a specific problem. In the end, it is your decision to make but just remember that “ignorance of the law is not a defence to the law”, and you could be held accountable for your actions as well as held liable for any damages arising from your use of the information you learn. Even if your intentions are noble.
On a more personal level, it should be understood that something is clearly wrong with your situation, to begin with. Unless you have a long-term underlying issue in your past, something has “tipped” you off or caught your attention. Perhaps, there has been a change in behaviour or a series of questionable activities that led you to the point of “having to know the answer”.
Spoiler alert: it is exceptionally rare for anyone to resolve issues like those mentioned above by searching through someone else’s phone. You are much better served to consult a lawyer, an investigator, a counsellor, have a candid and honest conversation with the party you’re concerned about, or all of the above.