A new domestic abuse bill unveilled by the UK government will make tech abuse illegal.

According to the Ministry of Justice, this is the “most comprehensive package” to tackle the issue of domestic abuse.

In an attempt to future proof the bill, it has been expanded to include tech abuse. This refers to the use of technology, such as home devices, personal devices, and online accounts, to “stalk, isolate or control” victims, or harass individuals with calls or messages. According to charity Refuge, abusers may also use children’s devices to reach victims.

According to the charity, 72% of those who use its domestic abuse helpline have been affected by tech abuse. The charity has been running a Technological Abuse Project since 2017.

A survey conducted by Safety Net Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence found the three most common types of technology that abusers used to harass victims were texting, social media accounts, and email.

Under the new bill, tech abuse will fall under the legal definition of domestic abuse, making it illegal to use smart technology, such as smart locks or cameras, to spy, control or abuse a partner or ex-partner.

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Jake Moore, Cybersecurity Specialist at ESET believes that this is a step in the right direction:

“This is a great step forward to help with this usually hidden offence. Many people have their spouse’s fingerprint on each other’s device to gain easy access, but in the case of controlling abuse it may go unnoticed at first.

“Making it illegal will, of course, help, but there are other things you can do to help better protect yourself. I would always advise people to scrutinise what is on their devices at all times. Your devices should always be locked, and you should never use simple or easy-to-guess passcodes, like dates of birth or anniversaries. Most phones will allow you to check which apps are able to track and log your location, so it can be quick and easy to monitor if there are any unwarranted apps on there.

“It’s always advisable to regularly check which apps are on your phone and conduct a virus scan where necessary. If there are any apps on your device that you do not recognise, it is worth deleting them. As a general rule, if you don’t use an app, delete it.”

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