Reading someone else’s email: punishable?

Opening someone’s email program or reading someone else’s email messages is a violation of that person’s privacy and is therefore punishable. But to what extent is this punishable and when can a report be filed?

Violation of privacy

The law is clear about violating privacy: ‘ Everyone has the right to respect for his personal privacy, subject to restrictions imposed by or pursuant to the law. ‘ (Article 10, Constitution). This means that everyone must be left alone, and that their telephone is not tapped or their mail is not opened. With the rise of computers and the Internet, this also falls under privacy: an unauthorized person is not allowed to look at someone else’s computer or read their e-mail. Article 13 of the Constitution describes: ‘ The secrecy of correspondence is inviolable, except in cases determined by law, by order of the judge.’ No one, not even the government, may open someone else’s mail unless there is permission from the judge. This also applies to e-mail to a certain extent.

Accidentally read someone else’s email?

Anyone who accidentally reads someone else’s email does not violate their privacy. With e-mail messages it is more often the case that they are forwarded or incorrectly addressed. Soon someone else’s email will be read. There is often a request at the bottom of an email to contact us if the email has been delivered incorrectly. Anyone who reads this has often already read the rest of the email. In this case, no one can be blamed.

Intentionally opening or hacking an email program

Knowingly opening an email account is opening someone’s account containing one or more email messages. If one is allowed to use someone else’s computer and the e-mail program is accidentally clicked, then this person cannot be blamed. When this person then starts reading the e-mail messages, he or she is consciously reading other people’s digital mail. In this case, he or she can be accused of violating privacy. Giving someone a password for an e-mail program (for example through hacking) and using it to open that e-mail program is in itself a criminal offense. In addition, reading, deleting, forwarding or sending e-mail messages from this e-mail program is also punishable. It becomes even more punishable when e-mail messages are sent from this e-mail program in which the perpetrator pretends to be the victim.


If the perpetrator has read an email from the victim once and has an identifiable reason for this, it will often only be a warning. Reporting a crime is therefore usually pointless. When it happens several times, the perpetrator is often consciously trying to violate the victim’s privacy. Everyone has the right to report a criminal offense and the police have a duty to record every report.

  • Make a note of anything suspicious: passwords that have suddenly changed, secret questions that have changed, email messages that have suddenly been deleted or sent.
  • Remember who works on your PC.
  • Be suspicious of programs or links sent to you asking you to open them.
  • Save e-mail messages or text messages from people who say they know things about you that could only be found through your e-mail messages.
  • Collect sufficient evidence and file a report with the police.
  • The police will handle the case and will call the suspect if there is sufficient evidence.

Criminal cases

Anyone suspected of reading other people’s e-mails should hire a lawyer. This person will assist the suspect as best as possible in any criminal case. In general, reading someone else’s e-mail messages, also called violation of privacy, is punished less severely than computer intrusion. In computer trespassing, the perpetrator breaks into the victim’s computer and has to bypass security or use a false key or a false signal. A computer that is simply switched on at a workplace and is not protected by a password is accessible to everyone. Computer trespassing is punishable by a prison sentence of up to 1 year or a first category fine. If the data is used by the perpetrator to resell or distribute, or if this data is stored for his own use, or if the hacked computer is used for further illegal purposes, the maximum prison sentence may be up to four years or a fine up to fourth category.