Monday, 3 November 2014

Surveillance begins at home

Sarah Jeong writes about the need for people – especially women – to protect themselves against surveillance by their partners and the complicity of law enforcement in the abuse of technology.  She says that privacy advocates rarely make this point and I think she’s right.  We’ve (rightly) learned a lot recently about how women are being relentlessly hounded, generally for the crime of expressing an opinion while female. But we haven’t learned enough about when this kind of abuse happens behind closed doors.

NPR surveyed more than 70 shelters — not just in big coastal cities like New York and San Francisco, but also in smaller towns in the Midwest and the South.

[They] found a trend: 85 percent of the shelters we surveyed say they’re working directly with victims whose abusers tracked them using GPS. Seventy-five percent say they’re working with victims whose abusers eavesdropped on their conversation remotely — using hidden mobile apps. And nearly half the shelters we surveyed have a policy against using Facebook on premises, because they are concerned a stalker can pinpoint location.

She also talks about this piece in BetaBoston, which gives a chilling – yet hardly atypical – account of domestic abuse facilitated in part by technology:

Sarah’s abuser gained access to every password she had. He monitored her bank accounts and used her phone to track her location and read her conversations. She endured four years of regular physical and emotional trauma enabled by meticulous digital surveillance and the existing support services, from shelters to police, were almost powerless to help her.

Go there for the full story if you have a strong stomach. Jeong explains how the people behind Tor are working with care professionals to help protect victims.

“Abuses with technology feel like you’re carrying the abuser in your pocket. It’s hard to turn off,” said Kelley Misata, a Tor spokesperson.

Close to impossible if the victim doesn’t know how to protect themself.  Most charities and other support systems (including the police) aren’t really geared up to teach victims how to protect themselves.  It’s heartening – but not surprising – that Tor is working in this area. 

Tor is not enough, of course, and neither does it pretend to be. Privacy and security requires vigilance and the building of habits. It requires an understanding of threats, risks and tradeoffs.

“The question I always asked was how does someone end up in that situation?” her best friend said. “And the answer — from having witnessed it — is, gradually.”

That gradual evolution is crucial to understanding abuse, Mednick said.

Abuse works slowly: First abusers often forbid Facebook, then friends of the opposite sex, then friends altogether, then access to transportation, then privacy of any kind. Without noticing, a victim feels suddenly suffocated and intensely vulnerable.

We all need to build and maintain the security triangle of prevention, detection and response. When we enter a relationship – any kind of relationship – we should know how to protect ourselves and have a strategy for revealing more about ourselves when we want to. We should understand the tradeoffs we’re making as we do this and what – if any – options we have for rolling back if we want to.

Unfortunately, while there are various sites I won’t link to which tell abusers how to perform technological surveillance on their partners, there aren’t so many resources around to tell victims – or people entering into relationships – how best to protect themselves. 

This article has convinced me to put some resources together to help with that.  I can write some stuff and put together some courses.  I can approach charities and agencies to see if they could use some help.  I can connect people who know about this sort of thing in other areas. Does any of this sound good? Does anyone have any links that might help?

This is one of the many reasons it’s so important:

To escape, Sarah took about a hundred ibuprofen in an attempt to end her life.

Please do read the rest of that article to see how difficult it can be to hide from someone who means you harm. Notice in particular how legal systems and law enforcement agencies are not necessarily on the side of victims. When Sarah tried to obtain a restraining order against her abuser, he drove past the courthouse.

“He knew to drive by a court that was completely in a different town,” said one staff member with detailed knowledge of Sarah’s case.

The abuser knew where his victim would be due to a leaky court and police system and – I expect – technological surveillance by the abuser. What we can do to plug these holes we should. Urgently.

But let’s stop saying “victims” and “abusers”. Let’s be explicit:

Intimate partner violence does not only happen to women, but the hard statistics make it a women’s issue. Women make up 4 out of every 5 victims of intimate partner violence. And women are also disproportionately murdered by intimate partners.About a third of female homicide victims over the age of 12 are killed by an intimate partner, where about 3% of male homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner.

I don’t bring this up as an obligatory footnote to a discussion about intimate partner violence. The gender skew directly affects how we understand remedies and solutions. It’s not enough to acknowledge that technology is used by abusers, and then to progress directly to “And that’s why police need to address this new menace!”

That’s exactly right and Jeong explains why.

Police officers as a body are overwhelming male. They are also more likely to commit intimate partner violence than the general population. Some sources say that police officers are four times more likely to commit domestic violence; others say twice the average rate. Combine this knowledge with the knowledge that technological surveillance is used against victims of intimate partner violence, and suddenly the law enforcement abuse and promotion of surveillance technologies begins to sound more sinister.

And there’s other stuff, don’t not read it.

And if you can help me bring together people and resources or help me to talk to networks or help me to help other people to talk to better networks or help me learn from wiser people than do.

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