MPs warn of use of smart tech by domestic abusers

The term ‘domestic abuse’ is still understood by many to refer only to acts or threats of violence. Indeed, until relatively recently we referred to it as ‘domestic violence’, rather than ‘domestic abuse’.

But domestic abuse encompasses much more than just acts or threats of violence. In particular, it also includes coercive and controlling behaviour, whereby the abuser seeks to manipulate their victims, and restrict their freedom.

And abusers now have an additional weapon that they can use to harass and control their victims: smart technology.

The issue of smart technology being used by domestic abusers has attracted the attention of the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport (‘CMS’) Committee, which has recently published a report on the subject.

As the Committee state, smart technology is everywhere, and influences every part of our lives, with an average of nine such devices in every UK household.

Smart technology takes many forms, from mobile phones and wearable technologies such as smartwatches and fitness trackers, to voice assistants, such as Alexa and Siri, security systems, and all sorts of smart appliances, controlling such things as lights, doorbells and central heating systems.

A common feature of smart technology is that these devices are often connected wirelessly via the internet, making them usable remotely, often without the knowledge of abuse victims.

Abusers can use the technology in various ways, for example to spy on their victims and monitor their movement, to take illicit videos and recordings of their victims, and even to manipulate the environment of their victims, for example by switching off lights and changing room temperatures.

As the CMS Committee pointed out, smart technology can even follow abuse victims who seek the sanctuary of a refuge, for example via a smartwatch, enabling abusers to find out where they are.

To tackle these issue the Committee make a number of recommendations, including raising awareness and training police to respond better to tech abuse.

Dame Caroline Dinenage MP, Chair of the CMS Committee, said:

“While the rising popularity of connected technology has brought undoubted benefits to everyday life, the flip side 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.”

You can read the full report here.

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