Recently, the Independent in the UK reported on the use of spyware by abusers to track and control their victims. “Helplines and women’s refuge charities have reported a dramatic rise in the use of spyware apps to eavesdrop on the victims of domestic violence via their mobiles and other electronic devices, enabling abusers clandestinely to read texts, record calls and view or listen in on victims in real time without their knowledge.”
A 2009 report about stalking from the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics found: “Electronic monitoring was used to stalk 1 in 13 victims. Video or digital cameras were equally likely as listening devices or bugs to be used to electronically monitor victims (46% and 42%). Global positioning system (GPS) technology comprised about a tenth of the electronic monitoring of stalking victims.” (Here’s the 2012 update.) The U.S. National Network to End Domestic Violence has a paper about how abusers and stalkers use technology to control and harass their victims.
This type of surveillance has been increasing as the privacy-invasive technology has improved and prices for over-the-counter gear have dropped. The surveillance equipment also is being marketed to consumers, so what once was the province of law enforcement officials has become easily accessible to the everyday person.
The surveillance technology is being used in divorce cases. A case in Ohio concerned a hidden surveillance system installed by a husband to spy on his wife; the system included a camera, microphone and computer-monitoring software. A Tennessee woman, according to federal records, installed spy software on her husband’s computer to intercept and alter his e-mails.
Law enforcement officials are investigating the misuse of such surveillance technology to invade privacy by individuals, as seen in the cases above, and by device and app creators, as well. Last year, the chief executive of the company that makes a mobile app for spying on individuals was indicted on federal charges.
Hammad Akbar pleaded guilty in November and “was ordered to pay a fine of $500,000 for advertising and selling StealthGenie, a spyware application (app) that could remotely monitor calls, texts, videos and other communications on mobile phones without detection. This marks the first-ever criminal conviction concerning the advertisement and sale of a mobile device spyware app,” the FBI said. (Here’s more on StealthGenie.)