School of
Information Technology and Electrical Engineering

Turning on your lights with your smart phone might make you feel secure, but advances in wi-fi technology are also making it easier for domestic violence perpetrators to spy on victims.

How the law can safeguard victims from technology-facilitated abuse will be the focus of Tuesday’s panel discussion and mini hackathon at the Organised Crime and Corruption Forum run by The University of Queensland’s TC Beirne School of Law and the Australian Institute for Business and Economics (AIBE).

UQ’s Dr Mark Burdon will appear on a panel moderated by Antony Funnel from ABC Radio National’s Future Tense program, discussing ‘The Smart Home as a Safer Place’ session on Tuesday 19 September from 4pm.

“Smart homes and the vast range of connectable home-based devices can provide many benefits, in particular a better understanding of how the home is operating,” Dr Burdon said.

“However, there are also downsides such as smart home infrastructures and devices potentially being used as a home-made surveillance network to constantly track domestic and family violence (DFV) victims.

“Smart devices can be hacked and even possibly held to ransom by attackers.

“This obviously gives rise to a number of significant legal, social and technical issues that challenge foundational notions of privacy, individual autonomy and indeed, the sanctity of the home.”

Joining Dr Burdon on the panel will be University of Vienna’s Dr Farsam Salimi and Rebecca Shearman from the Domestic Violence Action Centre.

The ‘Smart Home as a Safer Place’ session will include a student-focussed ‘mini-hackathon’ event that explores potential new solutions to better protect the smart home from outside attackers and to consider how the home could be made safer for victims of DFV.

The mini hackathon is a joint initiative of the TC Beirne School of Law, AIBE and UQ Idea Hub.

Cross-disciplinary groups of students, including information technology, interaction design and electrical engineering students from the Faculty of Engineering, Architecture and Information Technology, as well as criminology and social work students, will apply design-thinking principles to the legal challenges of making smart homes safer.

Each group will then pitch their potential solutions to a panel of experts which will decide on the most viable solution to be developed further.

“We’ll be asking hackathon participants to consider challenges like whether a smart device inside the home could be activated to provide a warning that some form of DFV may be taking place,” Dr Burdon said.

“We also want to hear ideas for ways the home itself could be protected from hacking, stalking, or scamming.

“An important element of these potential solutions will be how they deal with the risks arising from unintended consequences, like loss of privacy and autonomy for victims of DFV and cybercrime.”

Dr Burdon and Professor Douglas have written an article for The Conversation about their research, and also produced a video about the use of smart technologies to both facilitate and protect against DFV.

The Organised Crime and Corruption Forum’s public lectures, panel discussions and roundtable workshops will feature experts from government, international organisations, industry, the judiciary and legal profession, and academia.

They will share experience, exchange ideas and develop practical outcomes for policy development, law reform, and further research.

For more details about the session and to register for the Organised Crime and Corruption Forum (held 18 to 21 September), please visit https://law.uq.edu.au/occ-forum