Tech Safety: Should Spyware Be Legal?
Staying abreast with new technologies is almost impossible. We hear about new forms of technology every few weeks, such as GPS tracking devices and spyware. Advancements in technology are always greeted with a lot of intrigue and admiration from users. However, the safety of these technologies is not guaranteed. Technology gives room for privacy to be breached, and one way is through spyware. Spyware applications give someone remote access to your device and allow them to monitor your activities and gather information.
You need physical access to a mobile device for you to install spyware or convince the user to install spyware, which is mostly done through deception. For domestic violence survivors, privacy is equivalent to their safety. The abuser can use information from their devices to track them. Our mobile phones hold the most intimate information about our lives and they are a convenient access point for personal information. An abuser can use spyware to access a lot of information about the survivor. This information could lead them straight to where the survivor is staying or working.
Should Spyware Be Legal?
According to computer crime laws like the United States Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the United Kingdom’s Computer Misuse Act, gaining or attempting to gain access to someone’s computer without their knowledge or consent is criminally illegal. Spyware is not necessarily illegal. In fact, law enforcement agencies often pursue malware developers who generally remain un-prosecuted under criminal law. Most spyware companies operate as legitimate businesses but occasionally face lawsuits.
The reason why spyware developers remain untouched is because of the manner in which spyware finds itself in your computer or mobile device. Spyware mostly comes from software that people normally download and install. It is usually mentioned in the license agreement that users are required to click “Agree” before the installation. However, most users do not read through the details but just click “Agree.” That is why most people claim that they never authorized spyware to access their computer while developers say otherwise.
Other forms of spyware are against the law, like those that are not mentioned in any consent form upon software installation. Due to the availability of spyware, it has become mandatory for domestic violence shelter workers to do a device audit on trackable devices for every survivor that checks in. It is up to you to ensure that your devices are not infected with spyware. Since spyware technology can be used to hurt women, children, and even men, it should not be legalized.
Disturbing Spyware Technology Trends
According to research carried out by Diarmaid Harkin and others at Deakin, spyware technology has two trends that are of great concern to domestic violence survivors:
Poor Data Security Practices
Spyware not only allows the abuser to track down the survivor but also leaks their whereabouts all over the internet. These are privacy breaches on people who have no clue that they are under surveillance.
Many Abuse Enablers
There are several domestic abuse enablers who come in the form of companies that provide internet infrastructure and support. Android devices are more vulnerable than iPhones. Spyware allows abusers to send messages to the victim’s friends or while appearing like they come from the victim’s phone. This act is manipulative, hostile, and abusive.
Here are possible tech solutions for domestic violence survivors:
- Put pressure on commercial actors that facilitate and host spyware products like Google to remove spyware from their sales platforms.
- Advocating for law enforcement to get convictions for spyware users.
- Learning how to determine if your phone’s security has been compromised.
Ultimately, you should prevent spyware from contaminating your mobile devices or computer by reading all licensing agreements before you consent to any app. You can also learn how to remove spyware when it shows up on your computer.
Jack Warner is an accomplished cybersecurity expert with years of experience under his belt at TechWarn, a trusted digital agency to world-class cybersecurity companies. A passionate digital safety advocate himself, Jack frequently contributes to tech blogs and digital media sharing expert insights on topics such as whistleblowing and cybersecurity tools.