Safety Net Project's International Work Expands

We are thrilled to announce a new international partnership! The Safety Net Project is teaming up with a coalition of domestic violence programs in the Netherlands to assist in building and launching SafetyNED - a national project focused on supporting online privacy and security for victims of domestic violence.

Next week, NNEDV’s Executive Vice President and founder of NNEDV’s Safety Net Project Cindy Southworth and Safety Net Technology Safety Specialist Corbin Streett will spend the week meeting with key stakeholders and technology companies, training new tech advocates, and participating in the 2017 Combine Congress.

In our 17 years of working on this issue, we’ve learned how critical it is for everyone to be working together and to be a part of this conversation. From advocates and service providers to law enforcement, policymakers, and technology companies, the collective knowledge, skills, and expertise of everyone is needed to address the multifaceted needs of survivors and move forward towards an end to violence. We’re delighted to be part of this new project and to be coming together on June 22 for the Combine Congress. Working in partnership, our collective efforts can truly make a difference!

*UPDATED: Preserving Victim Privacy While Increasing Law Enforcement Transparency: Finding the balance with Open Police Data Initiatives

We are pleased to announce the release of a package of resources to support law enforcement, advocates and communities in in efforts to ensure victim privacy and safety while increasing transparency through Open Data and the Police Data Initiative.

First released in January of this year, “How Law Enforcement Agencies Releasing Open Data Can Protect Victim Privacy & Safety” was written together with the Police Foundation for law enforcement agencies. This guide describes the need for victim privacy to be a central consideration in efforts to share data with the public, including specific recommendations.

A companion handout written for advocates is now also available. This resource emphasizes the importance of advocates’ involvement in decisions to release police data online, and includes basic information to support advocates in joining those conversations.

Supplementing these written resources, we are making available a pre-recorded webinar conversation between representatives of NNEDV, the Police Foundation, and privacy experts from the Vera Institute, the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, and the Center for Government Excellence at Johns Hopkins University.

Background from previous post:

One of the hallmark efforts of the Obama administration was to improve the relationship between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. Work to increase “open data” included the Police Data Initiative, which encouraged local jurisdictions to provide access to information about 911 calls, stops, arrests and other police activities so that members of those local communities could look both at individual cases, as in some high-profile events covered by the media, and at trends that might reveal disproportionate response over time.

Over the more than two decades since the Violence Against Women Act was first passed in 1994, we have seen improvements in criminal justice system response to domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking when advocates and law enforcement work together to improve systems. We also know that there is more work to be done to improve response overall, and particularly in marginalized communities.

As we continue to work with law enforcement to improve the response to victims and communities, we have a need to ensure the privacy and safety of victims who interact with law enforcement. Police data released to the public has the potential to reveal victims’ identity and consequently put them at risk of further harm, harassment or damage to their reputation.

For more than a year, Safety Net has explored the issue of maintaining victim privacy and safety while supporting the overall intention behind the Police Data Initiative with the support of the Office on Violence Against Women (U.S. Department of Justice) and Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, and in partnership with the Obama White House, the Police Foundation, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Sunlight Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and others.

This project was supported by Grant No. 2016-TA-AX-K064 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this publication/program/exhibition are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.

Technology-Facilitated Stalking: What You Need to Know

Tech Doesn't Cause Stalking.jpg

Through technology and our use of social media, we can quickly and easily connect with other people. However, typical activities such as tweeting, updating a Facebook status, or using a phone’s GPS to find local restaurants can all be misused by abusers to stalk, harass, surveil, and control victims.

What is Stalking?

Stalking is defined as a pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. According to the CDC, 7.5 million people are stalked in the United States each year.

  •  61% of female victims and 44 percent of male victims are stalked by current or former intimate partners.
  • 90% of stalking incidents are committed by someone that the victim knows.

Learn more about stalking from the Stalking Resource Center

Misusing Technology in Order to Stalk Victims

One common form of technology-facilitated stalking is spying and eavesdropping. This is a popular method among perpetrators because it is inexpensive and easily hidden.

  • Mobile devices include call records, texts, web surfing and physical location histories.
  • Many social media apps also track a user’s friends, conversations and location.

The goal of the technology abuse can be to track or control a victim, to isolate the victim from supportive friends and family, or to damage a victim’s credibility or work-life.

Gathering Evidence

When it comes to technology-facilitated abuse, preserving evidence is critical. Though our gut reaction may be to hit ‘delete,’ we need to consider documenting what’s happening on the device before removing it. Possible steps include:

  • Coordinating with law enforcement and prosecutors early on, if you choose to.
  •  Keeping a stalking incident log. This helps to paint a picture and can help to refresh a victim’s memory. Some items to keep in the incident log include: text messages, photos, videos, voice messages, screenshots of phones and laptops, and printed emails with the header expanded.

Safety Tips for Survivors of Technology-Facilitated Stalking or Abuse

Though abusers can misuse technology, it can also be used strategically by survivors to enhance or maintain safety.

Safe and private use of technology is possible

  • Learn more about technology safety through our Survivors’ Toolkit, including guides to privacy and safety with social media, mobile devices and more.
  • Download our Tech Safety App to your mobile device to access tech safety tips, resources, and information on the go

 

Read a longer version of this summary. This post is drawn from a webinar hosted in January by Jewish Women International (JWI) featuring Safety Net and the Stalking Resource Center.

 

This project was supported by Grant No. 2016-TA-AX-K069 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this publication/program/exhibition are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.

Recent Instagram Changes Aim to Create a Safer Platform

Early last Fall, Instagram made a commitment to users to make sure it’s a safe place. Recently they’ve taken new steps toward fulfilling that commitment by launching a number of additional safety tools. These include:

·         Instagram Together a new safety center that catalogues all of the safety tools available to Instagram users, and lists international resources to support peoples’ safety (And we’re thrilled to say that techsafety.org is listed among them!)

·         Two-factor authentication will now be available to all users, adding an extra layer of security that helps keep your account safe even if your password is stolen.

·         Sensitive Content Screens will now blur out images and videos that have been flagged by users (and verified by Instagram’s review team) as sensitive in nature. These are images and videos that don’t violate Instagram’s guidelines, but that some users may feel are offensive or disturbing. As we know, sometimes online harassment takes the form of people mis-flagging the photos of victims in an effort to prevent them from effectively engaging on social media. We spoke with Instagram to see how they work to make sure the Sensitive Content Screens won’t be misused in such a way, and were told that the only time the screens will go up is if the content doesn’t violate their community guidelines but contains graphic or violent content. Examples of this include images of animal abuse, the impact of war on local communities, etc. Only Instagram can place a screen over a photo, and the number of times a post is flagged will not impact their decision-making process – so if someone is trying to troll a victim by mis-flagging their photos, their efforts will be ineffective.

We’re pleased to see Instagram work to make their platform a safer place for survivors of harassment and abuse, and look forward to seeing what’s next in their efforts to fulfill their commitment to kindness!

NNEDV Resource Highlight: Staying Safe on Facebook

Yesterday, Facebook announced that it would apply photo-matching software to help stop the spread of “revenge porn” – which is a pervasive crime that occurs across social media channels and the internet (however, we prefer the more accurate term “non-consensual sharing of intimate images”). We are proud to have helped advise Facebook in the development and rollout of these new tools to stop the spread of non-consensual sharing of intimate images on Facebook platforms. Read more about these new tools here.

Since 2009, Safety Net has worked with Facebook to help improve safety considerations and increase survivors’ ability to safely utilize the platform. We believe that survivors have the right to remain connected to their friends and loved ones and that everyone deserves to be safe at home, at work, on the street, and online.    

Learn more about staying safe on Facebook:

«  Safety & Privacy on Facebook: A Guide for Survivors of Abuse is available in English, Spanish (Latin America), French, Arabic, and more

«  Our quick Guide to Staying Safe on Facebook is currently available in English

«  Review additional tools and resources for survivors in our toolkit, Technology Safety & Privacy: A Toolkit for Survivors

If you have additional questions about helping survivors stay safe on social media – or any other technology safety questions, please reach out to our Safety Net team: safetynet@nnedv.org.

Do I REALLY Need to Worry About My Password? (Spoiler Alert: Yes!)

red padlock with a heart etched on it

Passwords have become such a regular part of our daily lives that it’s easy to forget about the importance of making sure they’re secure. We generally only think about password security when we’ve gotten a notice that one of our accounts has been compromised, or when we’ve forgotten our current password and have to make a new one. Rather than seeing them as a main line of defense against prying eyes, it’s easy to get into the habit of just being annoyed that we need them in the first place. 

This month, we’re taking a fresh look at password security, and the particular ways that survivors of domestic violence can use password security to protect their privacy and increase their safety. Check out our new resource “Passwords: Simple Ways to Increase Your Security” to learn more!

Twitter Announces New Safety Features In Latest Effort To Protect Users

twitter logo

Most people who have spent time on Twitter have seen the harassment that can take place within the platform - users taking advantage of the ability to remain anonymous and using it to intimidate, threaten, dox, and otherwise abuse people in a very personal and targeted fashion. In an effort to combat the often rampant abuse on its platform, Twitter announced four new safety features this month. The changes come in large part from the guidance they’ve received from the Twitter Trust and Safety Council (of which NNEDV is a member) and feedback from victims of harassment and abuse on the platform.

  • In the past, even when someone was permanently banned from Twitter for their abusive behavior, it was relatively easy for them to create a new account and continue their harassment. Twitter is now taking steps to identify those people and stop them from being able to create new accounts.
  • The creation of a safe-search mode that will remove Tweets from your search results that contain harmful content, and Tweets that are created by accounts you have blocked or muted. You can turn safe-search mode off and on so that you can still find the abusive content if you want or need to (to monitor an abuser's behavior, collect evidence, or make a report to Twitter, for example).
  • Abusive, confrontational replies that are created by new accounts without many followers, and that are directed at a person who doesn’t follow the account, will be pushed to the bottom of conversations and housed in a section called “less relevant replies.” The replies will still be viewable by those who want to see them, but won’t interrupt productive, civil conversations.

If an account holder has blocked you, but is continuing to mention you in abusive or harassing Tweets, you will now be able to report those Tweets.

We’re pleased to see Twitter take these steps to make their platform a safer place for survivors of harassment and abuse, and we look forward to seeing continued advances in promoting civility and safety online.

For more information on how to increase your safety and privacy on Twitter, be sure to check out our guide to Safety & Privacy on Twitter for survivors of harassment and abuse. It provides tips and guidance for increasing privacy on the social network, and for how to respond to others who misuse the platform.

Safer Internet Day: So What's the Deal with HTTPS?

computer with lock on it

While browsing online, you may (or may not) have noticed that some web addresses start with http:// and some they start with https://. So what’s the difference and why does that extra “s” matter so much for online safety and privacy? With tomorrow being Safer Internet Day, we thought it'd be a great time to explain.

HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) encrypts the data that’s sent between your browser and the webpages you visit. When you see https:// at the beginning of the address, it means that the page you are visiting is secure. It tells you that it isn’t a fake version of what you were looking for, and that information you enter on that page is kept private.

For instance, Facebook uses HTTPS by default, so every time you go to log into your Facebook account, you should see that the login page is https://www.facebook.com. As long as you see that “s”, you can rest assured knowing that the username and password you enter will be kept secure and private. But if you see that instead it says http://www.facebook.com, it means someone has set up a fake version and is trying to steal your login information and gain access to your account.

For survivors who are especially concerned for their privacy and are carefully trying to ensure no one gets access to their accounts, this is an important tip to remember. In addition, there are a number of things you can do to help make sure the pages you are visiting are secure:

  • Most browsers now will show an icon of a deadbolt lock when you are on a site that is secured with HTTPS.
  • When you use the newest versions of Chrome or Firefox to browse the internet, you’ll receive a warning if you are trying to access a webpage that isn’t properly secured.
  • The browser extension HTTPS Everywhere can be added to your Firefox, Chrome or Opera browser and will automatically switch thousands of websites you visit from HTTP to HTTPS.

But remember that nothing is perfect when it comes to online security. HTTPS has its vulnerabilities - but using it is much better than browsing the web unencrypted. Most importantly, on Safer Internet Day and every day, it’s critical to remember that online security is a complex picture. HTTPS is just one of many tools available to increase security. For more tips and information on increasing your online safety and privacy, especially if you are a survivor of abuse, visit our Toolkit for Survivors on Technology Safety & Privacy.

Data Privacy Day: Honoring A Survivor’s Right To Safely Access Technology

person on computer

When a survivor reaches out to a domestic violence program for help, it’s often as a last resort and with much trepidation. Social connection, access to financial resources, and a safe home have often been systematically stripped away from them by their abuser. Smartphones, email, and social media accounts are often the last remnants of their connection to support, and can serve as an important lifeline when they’re in danger.

Yet we often hear from survivors that when they’ve reached out for help about the harassment, stalking, and abuse they’ve experienced through technology and social media, the only advice they get is to completely disconnect from technology and delete their accounts. But this places the blame in the wrong place. The technology isn’t the issue; the abuser’s behavior is. And worse yet, this response punishes the victim for the abuse they’ve suffered, forcing them to become more isolated because their only option is to disconnect. It also impacts their safety; if a survivor is in need of help but can no longer access their support systems, the risk of danger can increase dramatically.

This Data Privacy Day, we celebrate a survivor’s right to safely access technology, and encourage programs to proactively safety plan with survivors to help them feel empowered and safe with their technology use. We need to view safe access to technology, the internet and social media as a fundamental right of survivors. Technology is a necessity in our everyday lives, and removing it is not a feasible option. Instead, domestic violence programs can help survivors not only find temporary refuge, but also help them build a new skill that will empower them to stay connected, feel less isolated, and have communication tools that can help them in emergency situations.

The Safety Net Project develops tools and resources that help both survivors and victim service agencies become more informed about how to safely use technology, and about how abusers might misuse technology to stalk and harass. On Data Privacy Day, we encourage you to explore these tools listed below, and to reach out to us with any questions you may have about the safe use of technology.

  • The TechSafety App - This app was created for anyone who thinks they might be experiencing harassment or abuse through technology or who wants to learn more about how to increase their privacy and security while using technology.
  • Technology Safety & Privacy Toolkit For Survivors - Survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and trafficking often need information on how to be safe while using technology. This toolkit provides safety tips, information, and privacy strategies to help survivors respond to potential technology misues and to increase their safety and privacy.
  • The App Safety Center - There’s an app for everything, right? An increasing number of apps for smartphones and tablets are attempting to address the issues of domestic violence, sexual assault, and/or stalking. With so many apps, knowing which ones to use can be difficult. The App Safety Center will highlight some of these apps by providing information on what survivors and professionals need to know to use them safely.
  • Agency’s Use of Technology: Best Practices & Policies Toolkit - The way domestic violence, sexual assault, and other victim service agencies use technology can impact the security, privacy, and safety of the survivors who access their services. This toolkit contains recommended best practices, policy suggestions, and handouts on the use of common technologies. 

Protecting Victim Privacy While Increasing Law Enforcement Transparency: Finding the Balance with Police Data Initiatives

One of the hallmark efforts of the outgoing Obama administration has been the Police Data Initiative, launched to improve the relationship between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. The Police Data Initiative encourages local law enforcement agencies to publicly share information about 911 calls, stops, arrests, and other police activities so that community members can look both at individual cases, as in some high-profile events covered by the media, and at trends that might reveal disproportionate response over time.

It has been more than two decades since the Violence Against Women Act was first passed, and we have seen significant improvements in the criminal justice system’s response to domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. This success is due in great part to the efforts of victim advocates and law enforcement officials working together to improve systems. But as we celebrate these successes, we know this work is far from finished, and that there is still much work to be done to improve police response - particularly within marginalized communities.

As we work with law enforcement to improve responses to victims and communities, we must ensure that the privacy and safety of victims who interact with law enforcement is a fundamental cornerstone of those efforts. Police data released to the public has the potential to reveal victims’ identities and consequently put them at risk of further harm, harassment, or damage to their reputation. These concerns can also significantly impact a survivor’s decision on whether they even contact law enforcement for help in an emergency.

For more than a year, Safety Net has explored the issue of how to maintain victim privacy and safety while simultaneously supporting the overall intention behind the Police Data Initiative. These efforts have been made possible by the support of the Office on Violence Against Women (U.S. Department of Justice) and Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, and in partnership with the White House, the Police Foundation, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Sunlight Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Vera Institute of Justice, and others.

Today, we are pleased to announce the release of a guide that outlines the results of these efforts titled, “How Law Enforcement Agencies Releasing Open Data Can Protect Victim Privacy & Safety”, which was authored collaboratively with the Police Foundation. This guide describes the need for victim privacy to be a central consideration in efforts to share data with the public, and provides specific recommendations that will assist local law enforcement agencies in their efforts to ensure victim privacy while increasing transparency.

In the coming weeks, we will be releasing a similar guide written for advocates, as well as an issue summary that describes how the Police Data Initiative intersects with our work to ensure the safety and privacy of survivors.