Domestic Violence and Technology - Shanahan Family Law

Domestic Violence and Technology

A new form of domestic violence is on the rise, with perpetrators resorting to using technology in their abuse tactics.  Also known as technology-facilitated abuse, this form of domestic violence uses platforms like the internet, social media, computers, surveillance devices, and mobile phones to intimidate, humiliate, or harass their targets.

According to the World Health Organisation, one in three women globally experience domestic violence in their lifetime by their partners or ex-partners.  Female victims are made to feel entrapped in the relationship by means of coercive control tactics such as intimidation, shaming, and surveillance.

With technology-facilitated domestic violence on the rise, here is a guide as to what may be found by a court to constitute this form of domestic abuse:

  • Keeping a person under video surveillance
  • Listening to or recording private conversations without consent
  • Tracking a person’s location through GPS without consent
  • Taking intimate images or recordings without consent
  • Sharing intimate images or recordings without consent
  • Threatening to record an intimate image without consent
  • Checking call logs, messages or accounts without permission
  • Making false online accounts or impersonating victims
  • Releasing a person’s details online such as their address, phone number, email address, or personal details (‘Doxing’)
  • Sending large volumes of electronic communications to threaten, intimidate or harass
  • Changing or demanding passwords
  • Blackmailing via electronic communications
  • Monitoring or unauthorised access of a person’s social media accounts, email accounts, internet dating accounts, or other accounts
  • Accessing a person’s computer, phone, or other devices without their knowledge or consent
  • Installing spyware on electronic devices to access a person’s messages, emails, photos, and call logs; intercept calls; act as a remote listening device or tracking device, or activate an internal device camera

Copyright

The federal Copyright Act provides that where a photo or video has been created by the victim, such as a ‘selfie’, the material may be protected by copyright as the person who takes the photo is the author of that work, and the director of a film is usually the owner.  Where a couple makes the material consensually during their relationship, they may be classified as joint authors/makers who are tenants in common of that copyright, presumably in equal shares.  The test of joint authorship is the extent to which two or more people collaborate in the creation of a work and the amount of skill and labour each contributes.[1]

Obtaining the evidence and knowing how to have it admitted into evidence in court can be challenging and here are a few tips on how to do this.

Email – extract evidence from the header of the email communication including the sender’s IP address (www.whatismyipaddress.com/find-headers).

Facebook – download a copy of your Facebook data via the Facebook Settings page (www.facebook.com/records) into a PDF file, which will include the IP addresses used to log in and out of Facebook, chat histories, posts, personal details, searches, and photos including their metadata.  Police may also be able to obtain Facebook records if investigating a criminal matter.

Google – use Google image search (images.google.com) to track if the intimate image has been published anywhere on the internet.  You can also set up an alert for your name, address, email, and telephone number which will alert you with search results that include those details.  Google will also remove content from its search results on request.

Phone – request that your device be handed up and its contents produced as evidence in court or use an app to download text messages, voicemails or online chat histories to be tendered as evidence.  Service providers may be able to reveal information about the true source of harassing or intimidating calls or messages and most deleted emails, messages, photos, and documents can be recovered with the right tools.

Photos – many photos have metadata or EXIF data sitting behind the file, as well as geotagging information (where the photo was taken or uploaded) or information about the device on which it was taken.  This can provide valuable evidence.

Where possible, screenshot evidence including website URLs where the image has been posted and save copies on a USB or secure cloud-based account and report it to the police.

The federal Enhancing Online Safety Act provides a range of penalties for the non-consensual recording and sharing of intimate images, and give new powers to the eSafety Commissioner to compel the removal of intimate images from online locations, issue warnings and infringement notices, and seek penalty orders in court.

[1] See Cala Homes (South) Ltd v Alfred McAlpine Homes East Ltd [1995] EWHC 7 (Ch)