The Spy Who Loved Me: Spotting the signs of cyber-stalking in relationships
When we talk of spies we think of James Bond and the secret service but, sadly many people fall victim to the sinister effects of having their privacy invaded by a source much closer to home – a distrusting partner or obsessive ex who uses stalking as a way to control or intimidate the other party. This article highlights the subtle signs of spying to be aware of, how to protect yourself and, how to get help.
Historically, separated or distrustful partners would actively follow the unsuspecting party. For example by instructing private investigators or checking paper phone bills or receipts in pockets. This often happened to try and determine if a partner or spouse was cheating before making a decision to leave them.
However, modern technology has made it easier and exacerbated the problem of spying, which all too often has a more sinister reasoning behind the behaviour. For example, many people are going beyond trying to identify infidelity but using stalking behaviours as a means to control their partner, even after a relationship has ended.
Although in some instances it may feel reasonable to obtain recordings of a partner’s actions, it is rare that covert recordings will be of any use in evidence in legal proceedings.
The common signs of spying
In Family Law cases, we see many instances of spying that goes beyond the obvious sign of a partner looking through your phone whilst you’re not looking.
In some situations, recording devices have been used around the home, and in some cases where people have separated, we’ve seen devices being implanted into children’s toys that they take with them when staying with the other parent.
Many times, stalking has occurred by devices that have been accessed without obtaining the other party’s phone or laptop. For example, through shared software accounts such as Google, Microsoft or iCloud.
More recently, the use of specific stalking apps referred to as Stalkerware or Spouseware has increased, giving more and more information about and access to a partner or ex-partner’s movements. This information can include reading messages, seeing screen activity, accessing files such as photos, tracking locations and using the cameras on the unsuspecting party’s device to record activity.
Finding out a partner or ex is spying on you can come to light in many ways. Often in Family Law cases, we see the wronged party finding out due to the stalker’s own comments or actions. For example, in some cases, they have appeared at the same location too often to be a coincidence or may make comments about personal matters they could not have easily found out about elsewhere.
Understandably, it is extremely upsetting for the party being spied upon, who often cannot understand how the other party is getting information and can lead to long-lasting effects on an individual’s life. Often those who have been stalked end up feeling as though they have no private life and in some circumstances, it leaves victims questioning their own sanity and becoming distrustful of others around them and the devices they use.
Steps to protect yourself against cyber-stalking
To protect yourself against cyber-stalking, you can take steps on all your devices, including; laptops/PCs, mobiles, tablets, smart-watches etc. It’s also worth considering if you have children, to take steps to protect spying from their devices, as in some instances stalking a parent also happens through their child’s device.
It’s always recommended to seek advice especially if you suspect stalking, from an IT professional who can help run checks and change settings to provide some reassurance. However, below is a list of some simple steps you can take now to protect yourself including:
- Check your privacy settings on social media don’t include your current location, or enable anyone to access your profiles.
- Check that you are not linked through shared accounts e.g. Google, iCloud, Microsoft etc.
- Turn off GPS/Location on your devices.
- Regularly change passwords on all accounts (email/social media/Google/Microsoft/iCloud, online banking etc).
- Password protect your devices and don’t use thumbprint security as this can be used in your sleep if still together.
- If you can, try not to leave any electronic devices unattended.
- Install antivirus software on all devices and scan regularly (if you receive a potentially harmful software alert, check all apps and if unsure get an IT expert to check for you as this could be a sign of stalking software).
What legal help is available to victims of cyber-stalking
If evidence can prove that a partner or an ex has been stalking you through technology, you may be able to take action under the Protection From Harassment Act. In some Family Law cases, the actions may be considered coercive control and actionable as such. Legal action can be pursued through the police, who may pursue criminal convictions and/or seek restraining orders or privately with the help of a solicitor by way of injunctions in the family court.
Anyone who believes they are a victim of harassment or coercive control or needs help with any difficulties arising as a result of relationship breakdown should seek legal advice from a specialist family solicitor, to understand their legal position and what they can do to move forward with their lives.
Written by Carol-Anne Baker