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Minnesota Senator hears tech concerns about domestic abuse

On June 4, Minnesota Sen. Al Franken chaired a Congressional panel tasked with reviewing the effect of modern technology as it relates to matters of domestic abuse. In particular, the panel was interested in the emergence of phone apps used in smartphones, which sometimes play a role in some domestic abuse cases. A victim's advocate spoke to the panel and warned that many offenders use smart phone technology to track and then harass their intended victims.

An expert from the National Network to End Domestic Violence says that in the past, stalkers would take advantage of the technology that was available to them at the time to track their victims. Tactics such as tracking the odometer readings in a car was one way they would keep track of their targets' movements. While speaking to the Senate Judiciary Committee formed to review new smart phone apps, the expert warned of the dangers of certain apps that can share tracking data.

Senator Franken related a story told to him about a Minnesota woman who visited a domestic violence center and then later received a text from her abuser questioning why she had gone to that location. Franken says the stalking continued even as the woman went to obtain a restraining order from a county building. According to Franken, the victim was terrified when her abuser again questioned her via text why she was at that particular location.

Senator Franken used the hearing as a platform to introduce a new bill that seeks to limit the amount of information shared by so-called "stalking apps". Detractors of Sen. Franken's proposed legislation argue that the bill may be too broad in its coverage and may have the unintended effect of stifling technological development or otherwise limiting innovation. The bill is not expected to gain much movement through the Senate in an election year.

Victims of domestic abuse should know that there are legal tools available to them that are intended to protect them from their abusers. For example, in some cases, a victim of domestic abuse can file a domestic violence complaint. They also can ask local authorities to issue them a protective order or a temporary restraining order. These legally binding orders require an abuser to keep away from his or her intended victim. Sometimes, this can mean that an abuser can be forced to leave a dwelling shared with his or her victim for a certain period of time. That period of separation can sometimes provide the victim with ample time to file for divorce or simply get away from his or her abuser.

Source: CBS- Minnesota WCCO 4, "Witnesses Say Apps Increase Stalkers’ Capabilities" No author given, Jun. 04, 2014

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