Smart home security systems ‘used to control domestic abuse victims’ | UK News

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee is concerned ‘tech abuse’ is on the rise (Pictures: Rex)

Domestic abusers are using technology such as home security systems against their victims, MPs have warned.

They reported a ‘surge in the 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’.

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee said the devices are being used to ‘broaden and exacerbate patterns of abuse and the reach of perpetrators’ who ‘no longer need to be physically present to inflict abuse’.

It has now called on the government to commit to tackling what has been dubbed ‘tech abuse’.

Chairwoman Dame Caroline Dinenage called the rise in this type of domestic abuse ‘truly chilling’.

The committee cited data from domestic abuse charity Refuge, which found 59% of the women and children it supported in 2020-2021 had experienced abuse involving technology.

They don’t believe the UK’s law enforcement and criminal justice system is equipped to deal with ‘tech abuse’, which they said is likely to become ‘even more prevalent in future’.

Recommendations to take it on include ‘upskilling’ workers in these sectors and ‘increasing law enforcement’s and victims’ and survivors’ awareness of specialist services tackling violence against women and girls’.

Security Camera in living room

Abusers are using smart home security systems to ‘monitor, harass, coerce and control victims’ (Picture: Getty)
Chairwoman Dame Caroline Dinenage said the rise in this kind of abuse is ‘chilling’ (Picture: Rex)

They also called on the government to ‘reflect on how official crime data on tech abuse can be improved to expand the evidence base for specialists, academics and policymakers in order to develop a more comprehensive, co-ordinated response’.

The committee wants the Office for Product Safety and Standards to form a ‘tech abuse working group’ to bring researchers, specialist support services and public services together.

But they stressed this must be ‘more than just a talking shop’ and should eventually produce guidance and a code of practice.

MPs also raised concerns about using connected technology in schools and by children in their homes.

The worries are about ‘the harvesting and third-party use of children’s data and their lack of control over what technology is used and when’.

The committee went on to accuse the Government and Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) of having been ‘quick to dismiss their concerns about this issue’.

They said: ‘We urge the ICO to take a more proactive approach in engaging with manufacturers of connected toys and education technology.

‘It should ensure that all products include: terms and conditions that are age-appropriate; privacy settings that are intuitive for children and help them exercise data rights; and fully explain the benefits and risks of data processing.’

Ms Dinenage added: ‘Connected devices also harvest a large amount of personal data and there are particular concerns where children are involved.’

Monitoring employees in smart workplaces should be done only in consultation with, and with the consent of, those being monitored, the MPs also said.

Ms Dinenage acknowledged the ‘undoubted benefits to everyday life’ of technology, but said ‘the flip side is the real risk some of these gadgets pose to privacy and personal safety online’.

She went on: ‘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.’

A Government spokesperson said: ‘Domestic abuse is a despicable crime and one which this government is determined to tackle.

‘That is why we published the cross-government Tackling Domestic Abuse Plan in March 2022 and are investing over £230 million of funding to prevent offending, support victims and pursue perpetrators.

‘We will introduce world-leading rules next year to bolster cybersecurity standards across devices, protecting individual privacy and security, and our Online Safety Bill will become law in a matter of months – making the UK the safest place in the world to be online.’

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