Smart home devices ‘a growing problem’ in enabling domestic abuse – report

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee has published its report Connect tech: smart or sinister, which warns that the use of smart technology and connected devices in facilitating domestic abuse is becoming a growing problem.

The Committee launched its inquiry in May last year to consider both the potential benefit and harms of connected technology, such as smart speakers, virtual assistants and wearable fitness trackers, according to UK Parliament.

Government figures state that there are on average nine connected devices in every household in the UK, while by 2050 there will be 24 billion interconnected devices worldwide.

The report calls on the Government to improve the skills of law enforcement and the response of the criminal justice system, while boosting awareness of specialist services tackling violence against women and girls.

In response to privacy concerns raised by the use of connected tech, the Committee recommends that the Government empowers users, and in particular children, to exercise their rights over their personal data through intuitive product design, clear terms and conditions and digital literacy schemes.

Dame Caroline Dinenage MP, Chair of the CMS Committee, said:

“While the rising popularity of connected technology has brought undoubted benefits to everyday life, the flip side is the real risk some of these gadgets pose to privacy and personal safety online. In particular, the surge in 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 is truly chilling.

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. The police and criminal justice system must be better equipped to deal with it, while victims should be properly supported. “

The Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales stated that perpetrators of domestic abuse will “manipulate new technology such as smart home devices to further control, coerce, and abuse”. They added:

“Too often, victims and survivors are expected to keep themselves safe from tech abuse, rather than tech companies taking steps to prevent harm.

While the government has made good progress on some forms of tech abuse through the Online Safety Bill,  they must ensure tech companies address all the tools that perpetrators use, including smart home devices.

I also want to see more police training on how perpetrators use these new forms of technology, and investment in specialist domestic abuse services that are focussed on supporting victims of tech abuse.”

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