FROM THE TECH SAFETY TEAM
Is Tech Facilitated Abuse Illegal?
Tech facilitated abuse (‘tech abuse’) is a form of controlling behaviour that involves the misuse of technology in order to harm, threaten, coerce, stalk or harass another person. Tech abuse is a broad-reaching term that occurs in a variety of contexts. So what can tech abuse actually involve, and is it illegal?
Perpetrators of tech abuse misuse devices (such as phones and computers), accounts (such as email) and software or platforms (such as social media or tracking apps) to control, abuse, track and intimidate victim-survivors. Not all tech abuse occurs as part of domestic and family violence, but there is strong evidence to suggest that tech abuse occurs in nearly all instances of domestic and family violence in Australia.
One recent Australian study showed that 100% of survivors abused by an intimate partner reported technology abuse began or escalated at separation. 
Tech abuse can look like:
- Sending abusive texts, emails or messages via social media
- Making continuous or threatening phone calls
- Spying on, monitoring or stalking someone through any type of surveillance devices such as a tracking device or spyware
- Making someone prove where they are by sending photos of their location
- Checking someone’s activity on social media or looking at their web browser history
- Sharing intimate photos or videos of someone without their consent (image-based abuse) or threatening to share them
- Forbidding someone from having a phone or limiting who they can contact via phone or internet
- Publishing personally identifying information about someone online
- Impersonating or stealing another person’s identity
- Hacking into a person’s email or social media accounts or other personal digital accounts, profiles or devices
- Changing functions, impairing authorised functions or causing unauthorised functions on a digital account, profile or device
Can I report Tech abuse?
If you are experiencing some form of tech abuse, then it is possible that it may be a reportable offence. There are four primary areas of law relevant to people experiencing technology-facilitated stalking and abuse:
- Protection Orders
- Surveillance and Recordings
- Relevant Criminal Offences
- Image-Based Abuse
If you feel that you may have experienced tech abuse that fits into one of the above categories, then you may have the option of reporting to the police if this is something you wish to do. Reading the relevant legal guide will give you a better idea of whether you can report the abuse. WESNET has legal guides available on our TechSafety website that discuss each of the above topics in detail for each state or territory of Australia. These legal guides were created as part of a collaboration between Women’s Legal Services NSW and WESNET in 2015, and were recently updated in June 2022.
For the information relevant to your jurisdiction, click on the State or Territory you live in on the map of Australia.
For example, if you live in Queensland and have been receiving harassing or threatening text messages from someone, and are wondering if you are able to obtain a protection order, you would click on Queensland on the map and then Legal Guide to Domestic Violence Protection Orders in QLD. The information in the handout details all the possible tech abuse that may provide evidence you could use in order to apply for the protection order.
It is important that you do not delete anything from your devices until you have spoken to the police, as it may evidence the criminal offence.
Take screenshots of anything relevant and store them in a safe and secure place. Please see our handout on documenting tech abuse at: Documentation Tips for Survivors of Technology Abuse and Stalking. You may also wish to bring your jurisdiction’s legal guides with you when reporting the abuse in order to clarify what offences may have been committed.
If you are still unsure about whether or not the tech abuse you have experienced constitutes a crime, you can obtain free legal advice from your local Community Legal Centre (CLC) or Legal Aid in your State or Territory. Find your local CLC on this website: Community Legal Centres Australia
If you are experiencing tech abuse, know that it is not your fault and there is help available. For confidential information, counselling and support, we recommend calling 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732.
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 Woodlock, D., Bentley, K., Schulze, D., Mahoney, N., Chung, D., and Pracilio, A., (2020). Second National Survey of Technology Abuse and Domestic Violence in Australia. WESNET.