from the cops-are-the-best-stalkers-tho dept
Some (mostly) good news has arrived, courtesy of Hayley Tsukayama and Eva Galperin of the EFF. The Maryland legislature has passed a bill that would require law enforcement officers to be trained to better spot stalkerware deployment and give them a better understanding of applicable laws related to electronic surveillance and tracking.
The bill, S.B. 134, passed unanimously through the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates. EFF thanks this bill’s author, Senator Susan Lee, and her staff for all of their work on this bill. The bill originated from conversations between the Senator’s office and EFF Director of Cybersecurity Eva Galperin, based on her extensive work on “stalkerware”—commercially-available apps that can be covertly installed on another person’s device for the purpose of monitoring their activity without their knowledge or consent. The bill is now on Governor Larry Hogan’s desk. If he either signs it or waives his right to veto, then it will become law.
The EFF has long fought against the proliferation of “stalkerware” — extremely invasive spyware often deployed by disgruntled spouses, significant others, or garden variety miscreants who simply wish to become unseen parasites with the power to eavesdrop on almost all cell phone activity of their victims.
This is a good law, to be sure, and should be adopted elsewhere in the nation. Successfully prosecuting stalking and harassment cases requires knowledge of tactics and software used to perform these acts. The better law enforcement gets at recognizing the digital symptoms of these crimes, the better it will be at generating probable cause for warrants and arrests.
But even with the movement forward, let’s not forget law enforcement’s troublesome past with spyware and the sort of stalking now handled digitally.
For years, law enforcement officials have pushed “stalkerware” as useful options for parents wishing to monitor their children’s internet usage and communications. Tools that provide information to parents about nearly every aspect of device usage have been touted by cop shops, even as those creating these parental versions of stalkerware play fast and loose with all the personal information and communications that have been hoovered up by their software.
Law enforcement officers are notorious domestic abusers. They also have access to databases filled with personal information, which they have used to target women they find attractive or their exes’ new paramours. This is untraceable stalkerware, fully sanctioned by government agencies and seldom subjected to any serious oversight. Cops who abuse databases are more likely to receive wrist slaps than criminal sentences.
The problem with training cops about stalkerware is that it might backfire. Just like some retail employee orientation classes on theft might teach employees how to beat anti-theft systems, teaching officers which stalkerware is the most difficult to detect might result in officers selecting those options to deploy when in possession of significant others’ devices or electronics seized from attractive criminal suspects.
This is not to say officers shouldn’t be trained to recognize stalkerware and use digital symptoms to build criminal cases. But it would be foolhardy to assume this mandated training won’t be misused by some officers who prefer stalking to hunting stalkers and who often tend to disregard the claims of women who approach them for help.