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Privacy and Passcodes: Whose Domain Is It, Anyway?

July 19, 2007 By:
Adina Matusow, JE Feature
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When you're in a relationship, it's natural to want to share everything with your partner. But how much sharing is too much? Is there a certain time in the relationship when you should share more? When is it time to offer a house key, a bank code or a password?

George on the sitcom "Seinfeld" felt a password was private business, even after his engagement to Susan. He asked her why knowing his ATM password was so important to her. She replied: "Because, it's part of our relationship; it's an indication of trust."

Does sharing a password really indicate trust? Even though some of George's antics were obnoxious and rude, in this case, he had a point. A password is a very private thing.

You're allowed to be hesitant when it comes to sharing it, even with a significant other. You're also allowed to have your privacy, which means you're permitted to have your own e-mail account with a password only you know.

I asked readers if they think it's a good idea to share such vital information. Many felt that privacy is important; others thought sharing a password was no big deal.

Best Interests at Heart
What do you do if your significant other offers you his or her password? Is it really in your best interest to know?

Phoebe dated her boyfriend for more than two years. They shared an apartment and a checking account. He gave her his e-mail password, but she never felt the need to offer hers. After they broke up, she insisted he change his password because she knew she'd feel the urge to check it.

He told her, "No, I trust you, and I don't have any secrets from you." The year following their break up, she checked his e-mail more than a dozen times.

Phoebe felt that knowing his password was too tempting. She sometimes couldn't resist, and so came across e-mails that were hurtful. Still, it didn't stop her.

She said that after this experience, she would only want to know her significant other's password if she were married.

She said that once you know a password, it's more likely to lead to harm since temptation can be overpowering.

Automatically Saved Passwords
What if you're away from your computer, and your e-mail is automatically uploaded, or your password is saved to a computer you share? Should it matter that your significant other can read it? Hopefully not, but if the e-mail is there, you have to assume it might catch his eye.

Caroline was in this situation five years ago.

"At the time, it didn't occur to me that he could get to my password. I guess he was reading my e-mail for a long time before I ever realized it. My friend and I went to D.C. for the weekend, and I flirted with some guy and gave him my e-mail," she said.

"When I got home, my boyfriend was acting weird. I realized he knew. The guy had e-mailed me. It wasn't right for me to flirt, but it was invasive for my boyfriend to read my e-mail. Whenever somebody looks through your stuff, it's a violation."

Is it ever acceptable to look at e-mail? That depends.

Some people feel that once you tie the knot, the sharing level should change. But what if you still feel you want to retain your privacy? Is that really a valid reason for your significant other to get upset? Sharing passwords opens up a whole new can of worms.

If you share a password, does that mean your significant other has free reign to read every e-mail whenever he or she wants? Not necessarily. If you decide to share passwords, then maybe it's best to think about what that entails. If you consider the sharing of a password to be a big deal, maybe you have to look at the underlying reasons for it, and ask yourself if you really trust your significant other.

Sharing passwords can backfire, even if you have every intention of staying with this person for life. That's why you have to make sure you're ready.

Sharing passwords is not always a negative experience. Sometimes, it can be helpful, if you really trust each other, though it shouldn't be a requirement to prove trust exists.

I spoke with my sister, Liz, who's been married for a year. She said that she sometimes reads her husband's e-mail. She said she never reads it just to snoop, but knows that he's not the best at keeping up with it.

"I might log in to see if some cousin of his is coming to town or a family reunion is coming up. One time, he missed an e-mail about a friend's engagement. I'm looking out for him because I care. For us, it has nothing to do with trust," she said.

It's rather unlikely that you'll ever be put in the same predicament that George found himself in. It's doubtful you'll have to give your ATM passcode to save someone from being stuck inside an ATM vestibule.

However, if you were in this situation, I would hope (even if you agree with George that passwords are meant to be private) that you'd share it!

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