Criminal Justice

Lawyers consider restraining orders to stop abusers from using smart home devices to harass

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Some domestic abusers are using smart home devices to intimidate, harass, watch and listen to their victims.

Lawyers are grappling with the issue as they seek to cover smart home technology in restraining orders, the New York Times reports. Its story is based on more than 30 interviews with victims, their lawyers, shelter workers and emergency responders.

The abusers use smartphone apps to control home doors, speakers, thermostats, lights and cameras, according to the article. One woman who runs a shelter said she is hearing reports of abusers turning up the thermostat to 100 degrees or blaring music through smart speakers. The abusers gain control by overseeing installation of the technology and keeping the passwords secret.

Judges should be asked to include all smart home devices, even if they are unknown to victims, in restraining orders, according to advocates. Even if there is a restraining order, actions such as suddenly turning on a TV or the lights may not be a violation, said Jennifer Becker, a lawyer at the women’s rights legal advocacy group Legal Momentum.

Becker said criminal laws may also prove inadequate to deal with the harassment. In one situation, however, prosecution may be possible. An abuser could be violating a state revenge porn law by circulating intimate videos or photos taken by a security camera, Becker said.

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