A man in the US faces up to five years in prison for reading his wife’s emails without her permission.

33-year-old Leon Walker says he read his wife Clara's emails because he suspected her of having an affair with her former husband.

He has been charged under anti-hacking laws aimed at preventing identity theft and the stealing of trade secrets.

Using his wife's password on a shared laptop, Mr Walker uncovered her alleged affair with her second husband.

The unnamed ex-husband had previously been arrested for beating his then wife in front of their young son, the Detroit Free Press reports.

In an interview with the Free Press, Mr Walker used this fact to justify his snooping.

"I was doing what I had to do…We're talking about putting a child in danger", he said.

The case raises serious questions about what is, and is not acceptable on shared computers, such as checking a partner’s emails, or social networking accounts.

The decision to charge Mr Walker under the anti-hacking laws has angered many, who say the law is being misused.

Mr Walker’s defence attorney Leon Weiss is baffled by the move.

"I've been a defense attorney for 34 years and I've never seen anything like this," he told the Free Press.

"This is a hacking statute, the kind of statute they use if you try to break into a government system or private business for some nefarious purpose. It's to protect against identity fraud, to keep somebody from taking somebody's intellectual property or trade secrets.

"I have to ask: Don't the prosecutors have more important things to do with their time?"

County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper has defended her decision to charge Mr Walker, who works as a computer technician.

"The guy is a hacker, it was password protected, he had wonderful skills, and was highly trained. Then he downloaded them and used them in a very contentious way." she said.

A jury will decide the case in February.

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