A woman leaves her home in the middle of the night, fleeing an abusive spouse who has threatened to kill her.
She realizes his violence is escalating. Next time, she might not recover.
It was not easy to do, leaving with only a few belongings, but she knew it was her only choice. She moved to a new location, did everything she could think of to cover her tracks. She got an unlisted landline and a new cell phone.
Then she received a text, referring to her current location and stating it was listed online.
Horrified, she saw the text was from him.
Jane Shirley, executive director at the Shuswap Area Family Emergency Society, or SAFE Society, says it’s important for everyone, not only people in abusive situations, to be aware of ways privacy can be invaded.
“As technology evolves, privacy becomes less and less,” she says.
“It’s just a reminder to anyone, actually, but people in an abusive situation, if you’re putting information out there – Facebook, telephone – how secure is secure?”
She recommends caution in all situations where a person is providing personal information.
“Be very cautious of who you give your numbers to. I don’t know how secure some of the systems are – find out policies before you enter into an agreement with a phone company, Internet company – check it out first to make sure you are secured.”
Marc Choma is spokesperson for the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association. He offers a number of tips regarding privacy, particularly pertaining to cell phones.
“Rule number one is if you do have a cell phone, you never let that be in anyone else’s hands other than your own,” he says, explaining you don’t want to give others a chance to install programs that could jeopardize security.
If that’s not possible, there are other steps to take, he advises.
• make sure your cell phone is password protected and locked at all times.
• change your password often.
• make sure operating systems are completely up to date, whether it’s your phone or computer. Updates can help get rid of flaws in privacy protection.
“Another piece of advice, you really have to be careful what you’re downloading, whether to computer or cell phone. There are millions of apps out there. Sometimes they can be a source of malware… You really have to make sure you’re downloading from a reputable source.”
Choma also suggests cell phone users read all the information regarding their device about privacy settings and, especially, location settings.
Asked about apps people who wish to invade privacy can install on your phone, Choma said he hears of them but isn’t sure of all the options.
“And of course there is hacking – that Ashley Madison mess going on,” he says, using the example of an online ‘cheating’ website for married couples. According to media reports, hackers stole customer information from the site last month and later dumped 9.7 gigabytes of data, which is said to include account details on 32 million users.
Choma said if he was concerned someone had compromised his phone, he would “either get a new device or speak to the service provider and make sure anything downloaded onto the device has been wiped clean.”
He notes there are apps available so if a cell phone is stolen, the owner can remotely wipe out all the information it contains.
He suggests contacting your service provider immediately if your phone has been stolen so it can be deactivated right away.
“A lot of newer phones have a kill switch built in. You can shut that phone down, it is locked and it will never be able to be used again.”
He notes how important this could be in a situation of domestic violence.
“They don’t just have access to your information but all your contacts. You’re actually protecting all your families and friends.”
Choma’s organization has a website called Protect Your Data at www.protectyourdata.ca.
“Especially cell phones. A lot of times our lives, banking information, photos are there. There’s so much information now we like to keep in the palm of our hands,” he says, noting a cell phone may be worth $500 or $600, but “information can be just as dangerous if it’s in the wrong person’s hands.”
Regarding sites such as Facebook, Choma warns users to pay close attention to who is going to see the information they post.
“There are all kinds of privacy settings. I am shocked sometimes… the things you can see about someone’s life. (You wonder) why anyone would be posting that…”
There are, of course, ways other than via cell phone that privacy can be breached.
Another situation where private information could be spread is when a person is providing details in a public place.
Shirley mentions a hospital’s emergency department, where an option would be to pass a note to staff requesting privacy.
“If you are at the hospital or something like that, you are within your rights to speak to someone away from the public,” she says.
Mark Pugh, manager of Shuswap Lake General Hospital, agrees.
“You always do have the option of saying can I speak to you in private,” he says, adding the hospital has to consider the nurse’s safety as well, so they normally wouldn’t go into a completely private area.
Pugh notes that if a person has been admitted to hospital, they can request anonymity.
“We do have the ability, if a person asks, we cannot release names or acknowledge they’re in the hospital. Only upon the request of the individual,” he says. “Normally we would acknowledge patients and a person could get the room number.”
He adds the hospital has “a very strenuous policy” for protecting the privacy of medical charts.
Both Telus and Rogers suggest a method for keeping your identity private when making phone calls.
Writes Telus spokesperson Liz Sauvé in an email:
“What I can tell you is that dialing *67 from a landline or cell phone will hide your number during that call. That’s called per-call blocking, and someone picking up on the other end of the line will see ‘private’ or ‘blocked’ as opposed to your name or number. If customers want their call blocked at all times, we can do that for them.”
Aaron Lazarus, spokesperson for Rogers Communications, has a similar message:
“We do use technology that allows people to block their number – this can be especially important for people fleeing abusive situations.
“Call blocking can be done in wireless and landlines by dialling *67 before the call on landline or #31# on a cell phone. This will block anyone from seeing the incoming call number.
Regarding safety, Sauvé also writes:
“In 2013, we launched a program called Telus Wise, that stands for Wise Internet and Smartphone Education.
“This program is free to all Canadians and offers best-in-class training for parents and youth, focusing on Internet and smartphone safety and security to help keep families safer online. The content was developed in partnership with Media Smarts and other industry experts, and ranges from coaching parents on how to talk to their kids about the potential dangers of online and social media, to how adults can support their elderly parents and keep them safe from online dangers such as identity theft.”
Other community resources, particularly regarding women fleeing domestic abuse, can be found at the Ending Violence Association of BC, http://endingviolence.org/prevention-programs/public-education-resources/