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Reliance on technology can always be a two-edged sword

by Natalia Vander Laan

Nowadays, we rely on technology more than ever for our health and safety. However, this same technology can also be maliciously used to further endanger those already facing a peril of domestic violence. Monitoring and tracing electronic devices by installing apps, spoofing phone numbers to evade a list of blocked contacts, or stalking via social media are inexpensive and easy to implement tactics used by domestic abusers.

The first signs of technology-based abuse may seem minimal and trivial. These signs, such as a victim noticing unfamiliar sent and deleted messages an abuser bringing up one’s private conversations with another person, or even feeling like being watched might seem like a coincidence until they happen too often. How does a victim protect themself against technology-based abuse?

It is crucial to start by making a list of every device and account, including children’s devices and accounts. This includes not only phones, laptops, and tablets, but also other devices that are connected to the Internet like smart speakers, cameras, and cars. Such devices can be used to collect information or to even track the location of the victim. Some services show which devices are currently logged in to the account, so if the device is not on the list, it likely belongs to someone else, like the abuser.

Next, shared access to the accounts should be discontinued. Preferably, new accounts should be set up; at the minimum, passwords should be changed and two-step authentication should be used to protect the privacy of the account. A password manager can create intricate passwords for each account and lock them behind one single master password. Passwords should not be based on personal details that can be guessed by the abuser and answers to security questions should be random.

Social media accounts should be made private to disallow Internet stalking. Any apps, games, or tools that automatically track location should be deleted. Alerts should be set up to for account log ins.

The settings in search engines should be modified so the search results are not saved in the search engine history. The safest option is to use a public facility, such as a library, to search for help and contact the local domestic violence shelter.

Cell phone security should also be addressed immediately as malware can be installed not only to stalk the victim but even to collect information via microphone and camera. Fingerprint or face login might appear the safest in light of its unique character, but the abuser can attempt to access the phone while the victim is sleeping. For that reason, a passcode should be enabled and used. Notifications appearing on the locked screen, like the first line of email or text message, should be disabled. Emergency phone numbers should be saved under unassuming names. The cell phone operating system should be set to update automatically to enhance phone security.

This same technology can also be used for protection. Security cameras allow monitoring of the home indoors and outside. Motion activated lights can be triggered by movement of a stalker. A security system can alert the victim and the police of an intruder. It is important to notify the security company if there is a restraining order in place. If these devices are too expensive, a simple personal alert device can notify others of possible danger.

Technology can improve lives, but without proper security and privacy, it can be used to torment the victims of domestic violence. Most protective measures can be implemented at no cost and can protect the victim from stalking, harassing, or even physical danger.

Natalia Vander Laan is a Minden attorney and owner of Vander Laan Law Firm