I Spy

I was on a plane recently and browsing through the SkyMall catalog in the seat pocket when I stumbled across some products that made me extremely uncomfortable. BrickHouse Security makes products that are supposed to be for security purposes. However, some of them seem to go above and beyond what is necessary for security. They seem more like products that are to be used for spying, and the only thing that I could think was how dangerous these things would be in the hands of an abusive person, and how they could be used against a domestic violence victim in awful ways.

The Cell Phone Spy Text Reader allows you to “read deleted text messages & private data from any SIM card.” From the site (emphasis mine):

This is the only SIM Card reader in the world that can actually see the deleted messages. Have you ever wondered what a suspicious family member is doing or an employer who needs to see what someone is up to on a company phone? This device lets you review all deleted text messages, numbers dialed, contacts, and other activity from any cell phone with a SIM Card.

Have you ever “wondered what a suspicious family member is doing?” Oh, you mean “Have you ever wanted to spy on your partner?” If you can’t trust your partner, chances are you shouldn’t be with them anyway. But beyond that, I could see this being a dangerous tool in the hands of an abuser. Being able to see deleted texts and numbers dialed could be extremely dangerous for someone, because it’s so easy for abusers to distort information and use it against their partners. Or, if a victim is trying to plan their escape, the consequences of the abuser finding out about that could be fatal.

The Stealth iBot PC Monitor “covertly monitors passwords, chatting, photos, websites & more” and allows someone to “record everything a person does on a computer.” Great. So a battered person, trying to find resources and information about how to leave and where to go could be caught. Another thing that an abuser could also easily use to twist the information received around to punish the victim.

The Executrack Mobile GPS Tracker makes me VERY uncomfortable. The product allows you to “see exactly where that cellphone (and the person carrying it) is [at any given time].” Okay, maybe if it was your child’s phone and you wanted to be able to keep tabs on them. But an abuser installing this on their victim’s cell phone could be lethal. Many abusers will check car mileage and require a by-the-minute timeline of where their partner is, was, and is going. This takes that a step further. And if a victim flees and tries to hide from their batterer? This could give their location away and put them in great danger. Granted, we tell people that leave abusers to get new cell phones, and to keep their phone off so that it can’t be tracked, but many people don’t think of that. The consequences of an abuser being able to track their partner down could be devastating.

The Stealth Phone Tap Recorder allows you to record phone calls. And then there are the plethora of hidden cameras that you can use to spy on someone. I can’t really see a purpose for these items outside of private investigation and police use. Putting these products in the hands of abusive people could be so, so dangerous. Abusers already control their victims in so many ways, and these tools could make them even MORE controlling and would give them even more information to twist and use against their victims.

I know that because of my work, I tend to view many things within that framework, but it’s an important angle to consider. And I just don’t see the reason for making things like this widely available to the general public. I can’t see anything good coming from the ability to spy on people.

Photo source.

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  1. MegNo Gravatar
    Posted March 29, 2010 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    That is some scary stuff–I think we’re getting too used to being able to know where people are, what they’re doing, etc. In the hands of an abuser, it’s dowright frightening what could happen.

  2. alanaNo Gravatar
    Posted March 29, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    Seriously creepy.

  3. AmyNo Gravatar
    Posted March 30, 2010 at 5:31 am | Permalink

    The thing is that there is no good for any of those things anyway, especially if they can be used in such an awful way. So what if you want to be able to track your children to keep them safe? Um, people have not been able to for thousands of years and most of them have been fine!

    Stuff that is available for police use should not be given to the general public. The general public is stupid and only bad things can come of it! And especially after you pointed out all of this!


  4. KateNo Gravatar
    Posted March 30, 2010 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    This one was terribly fascinating to me, as I’ve been in a relationship where I was tracked using the “family finder” option on our family cell phone plan. My whereabouts were closely monitored, without my knowledge, for a very long time. My internet activity was also recorded via software, and my then-partner used the “information” he gathered in very terrifying ways. It was HELL.

    I’ve paged through the same catalog and had many of the same thoughts.

    However, it’s hard for me to say that none of these products should ever be on the market. For example, in my line of work, reporters use wire taps to record interviews ALL THE TIME. From the standpoint of accuracy, it’s a far superior means to conducting a phone interview than by hand transcribing an interview in real time. However, sources are always notified and asked for permission to record.

    Lawyers and sales-related professionals who do much of their consultation via telephone use wire taps regularly, as well. It helps them document and transcribe their clients’ needs with greater accuracy. Again, they’ll notify you if your call is being recorded. But I think that’s a perfectly justifiable reason for the existence of these devices.

    As a business owner, I also understand that it’s useful to be able to track the internet activity of employees. After all, it’s my butt on the line if anything illegal were to go down from any computers I own. It’s not anything I’ve ever had to do before, nor is it anything I ever think I WILL have to, but in an economic climate where an employee can sue you for wrongful termination, it’s conceivable that there are circumstances when information about employee activities might be necessary. And again, notifying individuals that their activity may be monitored is key. It’s one thing to say, “I might be watching. Be aware.” It’s another to secretly spy.

    My suggestion: Sell these devices via police precincts, at a markup, as a fundraiser for DV-related police training. Require record of who purchases them–a verifiable name and address ought to do nicely. That way, there’s a paper trail and court-admissible evidence if you’re stupid enough to use them for sinister purposes.

    It’s tricky. As a DV survivor who was stalked for months, I wouldn’t wish my experiences on my worst enemy. But the truth is, abusers will find ways to obtain whatever information they can, in any circumstance. While I would have loved it if he couldn’t have tracked me via my cell phone, I’m fairly certain he would have found other creative ways to follow me if he hadn’t used that tactic. I don’t really know what the answer is…

    And, while it’s hard to see a practical use for many of these items, some of that may be in the marketing that SkyMall does. After all, before I started working as a reporter, I NEVER would have been able to dream up a practical, legal, and necessary use for wire taps. It’s conceivable that there are excellent uses, security-wise or otherwise, for many of these devices that I just haven’t dreamt up, yet.

    I’d lean toward strengthening laws that require consent in any environment where activities may be monitored, so that USING these devices illegally or unethically is enough to result in imprisonment. Had I been able to have my ex-husband arrested for tracking my with my cell phone, my ordeal would have ended in MUCH less time.

    Not trying to be contrary. Just some thoughts…

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