Smartphone Encryption: Protecting Victim Privacy While Holding Offenders Accountable

The last few months have seen heated debates between law enforcement and technology companies over the issue of smartphone encryption. The government has argued that encrypted devices and new technologies make it more difficult for law enforcement to investigate crimes while technology companies claimed that weakening encryption weakens security for everyone. Currently, Congress is drafting a bill that would require technology companies to make encrypted data readable, and several state legislatures have introduced legislation to block the sale of encrypted smartphones

At the core of the encryption debate is the concept of privacy and technology security. Technology nowadays – in particular the smartphone – collect and store an unprecedented amount of private information, including personal health data, access to online accounts (such as social media and email), videos and pictures, and so much more. Some of this information can be especially private and something a user may not want others – a friend or family member, an abusive partner, or an employer – to know about. For those individuals, the security on their smartphone can enhance or strip away that privacy.

Through the Safety Net Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, we have been addressing the intersection of technology and violence against women for over 15 years, and have trained more than 80,000 victim advocates, police officers, technologists, and other practitioners. In looking at how technology can be misused to facilitate stalking and harassment and how survivors can use their technology to attain safety, privacy is a recurring and fundamental component.

For victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking, privacy and data security are integrally connected to their safety. A survivor’s smartphone is their lifeline; yet their smartphone can also be incredibly vulnerable to misuse by an abuser. A survivor’s smartphone is often one of the first things an abuser will target simply because of the amount of information on there. If they can compromise the victim’s smartphone, they have access to all phone calls, messages, social media, email, location information, and much more. For these reasons, smartphone security and encryption is essential to safeguarding the privacy of victims’ personal information.

The other side of the encryption debate is the ability for law enforcement to hold offenders accountable, which is something we also strongly support. When abusers misuse technology to threaten and terrorize, investigators can trace the digital trail to discover and prove who committed the crime. An encrypted smartphone makes it more difficult for law enforcement to access information on that phone if the owner is unwilling or unable to unlock it.

While law enforcement should not be impeded in their ability to investigate a crime, it’s important to recognize that smartphone encryption does not prevent law enforcement from doing an investigation of technology-facilitated domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. In these types of crimes, the goal of the perpetrator is to wield power and control over the victim by controlling the victim’s technology, harassing the victim through messages or phone calls, monitoring their activity, or disseminating harmful and devastating rumors about the victim. It is often an interaction between the victim and perpetrator through a third party, and digital evidence or proof of this harassment and abuse could exist elsewhere: on the victim’s own devices or an online platform (Facebook, email, etc.).

There may be circumstances in which evidence only exists on the perpetrator’s device. This could be the case in a sexual assault, for example, in which the perpetrator recorded or took videos of the assault on his/her device and has not yet shared them or posted them publicly. In situations such as this, unless the videos or photographs were uploaded online or backed up, the evidence may not be anywhere but on the perpetrator’s smartphone.

In most cases, however, it is possible for law enforcement to successfully investigate and build a domestic violence and sexual assault case without needing the perpetrator’s smartphone. For example, evidence of harassment via emails, texts, or social media will also exist on other technology platforms. If the abuser purchased monitoring software or is tracking the victim through a paid service, there might be financial records. In some cases, the survivor may have access to some of the evidence that might be needed. While survivors should never be in the position of having to investigate their own crimes, they are often in the best position to know what’s happening, and they should be involved and part of the process.

Balancing Victim Privacy and Offender Accountability

Ultimately, for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking, the smartphone encryption issue comes down to balancing victim privacy and offender accountability. Both are equally important but neither should be compromised for the other. Victim privacy is fundamental to victim safety, and the technologies survivors use should have the most security and encryption possible.

It’s also important to recognize that weakening smartphone encryption to allow law enforcement access means weakened encryption—period. If an abuser is technologically savvy or is in law enforcement, their victim may have less privacy and security on their smartphones. There is no professional immunity to those who commit violence against women, and perpetrators of domestic and sexual violence work in all fields, including technology companies and law enforcement agencies.

We believe it is possible for law enforcement to investigate technology-facilitated domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking crimes, without compromising victim privacy through weakened smartphone encryption. Law enforcement, federal funders, technology companies, and the victim advocate community need to come together to figure out how to support survivors and help them be safe while also holding offenders accountable.

Instead of finding ways to get around smartphone encryption, law enforcement agencies deserve and need far more resources to investigate crimes facilitated through technology. Law enforcement should be given more information and tools so they not only know how technology is misused to facilitate crime, but all the different places where the evidence could exist, and the proper process and method on gathering this evidence. A good, thorough investigation of technology-facilitated domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking goes beyond examining a perpetrator’s encrypted smartphone.

At our annual Technology Summit, we ensure that there are sessions geared specifically for law enforcement professionals, so they can take this knowledge back to their communities. We’ve worked with other national organizations, such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police, to develop articles to share this knowledge with law enforcement. Despite 15 years of addressing this issue, however, we still hear from survivors and their advocates that thorough investigation of technology-facilitated crimes is not happening consistently across the country. Rather than proposing legislation requiring access to encrypted data on a smartphone or banning encrypted smartphones, we encourage legislators and advocacy groups to look at what is actually needed to fully investigate these crimes and to truly address what law enforcement can do to hold offenders accountable.

Technology Summit 2016 Registration Open

Registration for the 4th Annual Technology Summit is now open! Please join us for an exciting 3-day conference centering on the intersection of technology and domestic violence. Covering a wide range of technology-related issues that will be helpful to advocates, law enforcement, and legal professionals who work with survivors of abuse. National experts on these issues will be presenting, sharing their knowledge and expertise. We look forward to seeing you there!

Dates & Location

The summit will be held at the Hilton Financial District in San Francisco, CA near Chinatown from July 25-27, 2016. On July 28, 2016, we will hold an exclusive day-long meeting, which is open only for NNEDV state coalition members and tech advocates.

OVW Approval

We are happy to share that OVW has approved the following grantees to use their training travel funds to attend Safety Net’s Technology Summit.

Grantees from the OVW's Campus, CLASSP, Disabilities, LAV, Rural, State Coalition, and Underserved Grant Programs have been conditionally approved to attend this conference. Grantees from the aforementioned programs are required to contact their OVW program specialist to get approval specific to their award and to ensure that a Grant Adjustment Notice (GAN) is issued. A GAN must be completed before grantees expend any funds related to attending this conference.

Grantees from Transitional Housing, Justice for Families, Improving Criminal Justice Responses to Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence (formerly the Arrest Program) and STOP programs may be invited to attend this conference and do not have to contact OVW for prior approval.  STOP sub grantees need approval from their STOP State Administrator.  Grantees that are not required to get prior approval to attend this conference should be advised to place a “memo to the file” in their grant records indicating the conference approval reference number.

The reference number for this conference is OVW-2016-MU-007. This number must be used by grantees when requesting approval via a GAN or in their “memo to the file.” This approval and assigned reference number is for this conference only.   

Cost for Attending

The registration fee includes full access to all training sessions, light receptions, and related events as well as continental breakfast (lunch and dinner is not included).   

Early Bird Registration: $400

Standard Registration: $475

Registration

Please register to attend by clicking this link.

Check out last year’s program book for more information! 

Technology Summit 2015 Agenda & Events

Tech Summit 2015 Welcome Image

We're so excited to welcome attendees to our 3rd Annual Technology Summit next week in San Francisco! If you're joining us, we can't wait to meet you! If you're not joining us, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to see what we're up to. Take a look at the program book to see what's going on.

This year, we have much to discuss in the world of technology, privacy, and survivor safety. 
Earlier this year, in Elonis v. the United States, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the conviction of Anthony Elonis, who posted threats (which he called rap lyrics) against his ex-wife on Facebook. Elonis had been convicted under the standard that a “reasonable person” would have viewed the posts as real threats. However, the Court said that something more is required, without specifying exactly what, so it is unclear how that decision will impact future cases involving online threats.

Despite our disappointment with that decision, the issue of sharing or distributing intimate images without consent (aka “revenge porn”) has seen a lot of movement. In fact, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and Google have updated their policies to include banning non-consensual pornography on their sites. Currently, a federal bill addressing this issue is being discussed and debated.

For victim service programs, selecting effective technologies to support their services, using technology to reach survivors, and finding ways to hold offenders accountable for their crimes continue to be core topics. Privacy, security, safety, and survivor empowerment are part and parcel of those issues, making these very complex discussions.

We hope that by the end of the Summit, we will all leave with more tools and ideas as well as more questions and thoughts about what we can do to help survivors find safety and healing while working toward a world where violence against all people no longer exists.

If you're not able to join us, follow along on social media (#techsummit15 and #TS15QA)!

Early Bird Registration Extended

We have great news! We are extending the deadline for early registration to Monday, June 29th. Early bird registration is $375 and will go up to the standard rate of $475 on June 30th. Take advantage of this extension and get $100 off your registration!

Register to attend the 2015 Technology Summit

Also, don't forget that if you're an OVW grantee, some OVW grantees have been approved to use their training travel funds to attend the Summit. More information about using your OVW funds to attend is here.

For the most up-to-date information about the Technology Summit, go to this page

We look forward to seeing you in July!
 

Technology Summit 2015 Registration Now Open

Registration for the 3rd Annual Technology Summit is now open! Join us for unique 3-day training focusing on the various complex issues and concerns that come from the intersection of technology and intimate partner violence. National experts on these issues will be presenting, sharing their knowledge and expertise. This summit is open to service professionals working with victims of domestic & sexual violence, stalking, and trafficking. 

Dates & Location

The summit will be held in San Francisco, CA near Chinatown from July 27-29, 2015. (On July 30, 2015, we will hold an exclusive day-long meeting, which is open only for NNEDV state coalition members and tech advocates.)

Cost for Attending

The registration fee includes full access to all training sessions, receptions, and related events, as well as breakfast and afternoon snacks (lunch and dinner is not included). Take advantage of the early bird registration fee by registering before June 1, 2015. 

Early Bird Registration: $375

Standard Registration: $475

Registration

Please register to attend by clicking this link

Submit a Proposal

For the first time, we are soliciting workshop proposals. We are looking for sessions that will provide tools and information to respond to technology abuse, enhance services for survivors of abuse, and hold offenders accountable. 

For more information, read more here. You can submit a proposal through this link

Act. Speak. Make a Difference.

 

Last week, was a busy week for the Safety Net team. At the beginning of the week, Erica Olsen, Stephen Montagna and I were in Little Rock, AZ, co-hosting The Use of Technology in Intimate Partner Stalking Conference with the Stalking Resource Center. The three of us provided trainings on phones and its misuse, the internet and how privacy and safety can be compromised, and focused specifically in a 3-hour presentation on social media to about 50 victim service advocates, law enforcement, and prosecutors. Visit the links below for tips and handouts on these topics.

On Thursday & Friday of last week, Cindy Southworth and I attended Facebook’s Safety Advisory Board meeting. Each year, Facebook brings together their Safety Advisory Board to talk about upcoming products and how they can ensure that their services are safe for teens and users who might be stalked or harassed on Facebook. 

Kaofeng Lee and Cindy Southworth at Facebook HQ in Menlo Park, CA.

Kaofeng Lee and Cindy Southworth at Facebook HQ in Menlo Park, CA.

I’m always struck at how passionate Facebook staff is about connecting people. Facebook, at its core, is about connections. That’s why we urge victim advocates and service providers to NOT tell survivors to just get off Facebook. We know how important that community can be for many survivors. Doing this work, we are focused (and rightly so) on how social media is misused to stalk and harass. We are constantly having conversations about how survivors can find resources, justice, and peace of mind and spirit when they are subject to abuse and control by abusers and stalkers. 

Yet, let’s take a moment and focus on Facebook and social media as a medium of connection and communication. How can we use social media to shift how we, as a society, talk about issues of domestic violence, sexual violence, and other crimes of abuse, harassment, and stalking? How can we use these spaces to change the way we talk about these issues, the way we think about these issues, and ultimately change the way people understand and perceive gender roles, relationships, and violence? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

In less than a week, it’ll be October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month. What are you doing to raise awareness about domestic violence? Here at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, this year’s 31n31 campaign will be focused on actions: 31 actions you can take to make a difference. We’re also starting a book club on Goodreads to discuss issues of domestic violence in modern literature. Follow this blog and our Facebook page for other activities you can take part in.

Take action with us. Join our book club and talk to us (and each other) about this issue. Let us know what you think we can do to use social media to change the way we talk and understand domestic violence.

PS…To receive updates of new blog posts, click on techsafety.org RSS (at the left navigational toolbar on this page) and sign up.

 

Technology Summit 2013

We are so excited to welcome attendees to Safety Net’s inaugural Technology Summit at the end of this month in San Jose, CA! During the Summit, we will cover topics ranging from learning how technology gets misused to abuse and harass to how to help victims address technology abuse and maintain privacy and safety. Click here to take a look at the agenda. 

In addition to more than 100 attendees, we are thrilled to have 21 experts on technology, privacy, and safety from across the country join us to share their expertise. Check out our faculty list.

If you’re not able to join us, check back here for updates from the Summit (we'll post something each day), and follow #techsummit13 and @nnedv on twitter for up-to-the-minute reports!

Take a peek at the Technology Summit 2013 program book.

For more info about the Summit, visit the main page here.

Technology Is Not Neutral

Photo Credit kaofenglee

Photo Credit kaofenglee

The Safety Net Project began with a very simple story: a survivor wanted to flee her abuser and wrote an email of her plans to a friend. The survivor even deleted the email from her sent folder, fearing that the abuser would find it when going through her email. However, she didn’t realize that the email still remained in her deleted folder. When a survivor leaves an abusive partner, the risk of escalated violence, injury, and lethality significantly increases. This proved to be true for this particular woman; when her abuser found the email detailing her plans to leave him, he killed her. 

Today, the intersection of technology and intimate partner violence has evolved as our technology advances and changes. Every day, we hear examples of how interconnected the issue of violence against women is with technology. Stories of teenage girls committing suicide after videos of their rape circulates on the internet are occurring all too often. We hear of female gamers and bloggers being attacked, stalked and harassed for speaking out against violence toward women in gaming spaces. We hear from victims whose exes post pictures, videos, and personal information about them on revenge porn sites. Abusers, stalkers, rapists, and traffickers now have social media platforms, text messaging, internet websites hosted overseas, spoofing and disappearing text messages technologies to facilitate their crimes.

Yet technology is not the culprit. The true offenders are the individuals who use power and control to harm someone they profess to love; who take advantage of the vulnerable to coerce them to share naked images of themselves online or sexually assault them in real life; who rapes, stalks, beats, sells another person.

At the same time, technology is not neutral, and those of us who use technology, build technology, and create policies around technology can make a difference.

The Safety Net Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence has changed the way the violence against women field addresses technology and abuse. At the end of July, we will host our inaugural national Technology Summit in San Jose, CA. For the past ten years, the Safety Net Project has trained more than 55,000 victim service providers throughout the United States, Europe, Canada, and Australia. We’ve worked with survivors, their advocates, law enforcement, technologists, and companies—all on the intersection of technology and intimate partner violence. We have launched national projects that look at how technology and privacy issues impact survivors and victim service agencies. We have created and supported a network of technology advocates working in the field of violence against women in each state and abroad so that this information and knowledge reaches the most important people: survivors, their advocates, law enforcement, and other service providers. The Technology Summit advances that goal.

The Technology Summit continues the national dialogue that Safety Net has begun on how advocates, service providers, technologists and technology companies can ensure that technology isn’t being used to facilitate crimes against victims. Together, we can strategize on how technology can help survivors of abuse, and create a world where offenders are held accountable for their crimes and survivors find justice and hope.