Domestic Violence

Most domestic abuse cases feature spyware and remote monitoring, MPs warn

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The government has been urged to do more to tackle ‘tech abuse’ as new evidence suggests that the vast majority of domestic abuse cases now feature some sort of cyber element.

MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee launched an inquiry last year to consider the potential harms of connected technology such as smart speakers, virtual assistants and wearable fitness trackers.

It is estimated that there are roughly nine connected devices in every household in the UK, while by 2050 there will be 24 billion interconnected devices worldwide.

Evidence to the Committee suggested that most domestic abuse cases now include the use of spyware, with perpetrators monitoring movements and collecting recordings and images of victims and survivors.

In a report, it called on the government to make efforts to improve the skills of law enforcement and the response of the criminal justice system, while boosting awareness of specialist services tackling violence against women and girls. It also said that manufacturers and distributors should be brought together to mitigate risks through product design.

The Committee wants users of tech – including children – to exercise their rights over their personal data through product design, clear terms and conditions and digital literacy schemes.

This would include standardising privacy interfaces for connected devices, which should be “intuitive and flexible” enough so people with a reasonable level of digital literacy can use them without requiring complex dashboards and long lists of terms and conditions.

It also wants more oversight around the harvesting and third-party use of children’s data and their lack of control over what technology is used and when.

The monitoring of employees in smart workplaces should be done “only with the consent” of those being monitored, the report said.

Dame Caroline Dinenage MP, chair of the Committee, said: “While the rising popularity of connected technology has brought undoubted benefits to everyday life, the flipside is the real risk some of these gadgets pose to privacy and personal safety online.

“In particular, the surge in use of devices such as smart home security systems, baby monitors, cameras and smart speakers to monitor, harass, coerce and control victims of domestic abuse is truly chilling.

“The government must make it a priority to work with manufacturers to tackle this technology-facilitated abuse, which is only going to get worse in the future. The police and criminal justice system must be better equipped to deal with it, while victims should be properly supported.”

The Committee is expected to publish a second report later in the summer focusing on the impact of connected tech and AI on the creative industries.

Last year, the London Metropolitan Police began working on building a system designed to predict which men are likely to commit violence against women and girls. It was designed to use data analytics to help stop offenders before they commit an additional or worse crime. 

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