John Arendt is the editor for our sister publication, the Summerland Review.

COLUMN: Truth, trust and surveillance technology

The ability to monitor a partner’s cell phone has disturbing implications

A form of surveillance technology, promoted as a way to increase peace of mind, has some disturbing implications.

The technology is a way of covertly monitoring emails, text messages and other forms of communication on someone else’s phone.

It has been promoted as a way for a woman to determine if her husband or partner is cheating, or as a way to catch sexual predators online.

It takes a few minutes with physical access to the phone in order to install the necessary software. Then the record of online communications is quietly delivered to the one monitoring the online behaviour.

The person on whose phone the software is installed will not be able to detect it.

Cheaters and predators beware. Your secret phone calls or text messages will be secret no longer. Your actions could come back to haunt you.

Technology to monitor online activity is nothing new. For example, in Canada it is legal for employers to monitor employee computer use, although there are some limits to this.

But monitoring a workplace computer is not the same as installing spyware or tracking every message and call on a partner’s phone.

Privacy advocates are uncomfortable with this surveillance technology.

But those who promote it will ask how anyone could question a technology which could expose a cheater or a sexual predator.

Should opposing or even questioning such technology be seen as taking the side of the cheater or the predator instead of supporting the victim?

Besides, why should personal privacy be a concern?

The reasoning is that there is no need to hide one’s actions unless those actions are illegal or shameful. Only the guilty have to keep secrets.

It’s not quite that simple.

There are some valid questions to ask about this or any other technology which allows such covert monitoring.

To start, what happens if an easily available monitoring software falls into the wrong hands? Could this technology be used to provide an unwanted person with access to banking details or other personal information?

Fraud and identity theft are serious matters, and as a result, privacy and security are extremely important for any device which provides online access.

Even if the technology can be used without any potential security breaches, there is the question of its effectiveness.

Surveillance technology may reveal messages which expose a cheater or a predator. And if that happens, the monitoring software has served its purpose.

But if there are no messages to suggest a parter is cheating, would this lack of evidence be enough to exonerate the suspected cheat? Or would a lack of such communications simply suggest the spouse is still cheating, but not using the cell phone to make calls or send messages?

If these questions are raised, the software is doing nothing to bring peace of mind.

At this point, the discussion moves away from technology to something far more uncomfortable.

At issue is a lack of trust.

If one person in a relationship feels the need to stealthily monitor a partner’s messages, something has gone horribly wrong in the relationship.

Once trust has deteriorated to this level, is there any way it can ever be restored?

Ultimately, this becomes the most important question to consider before installing surveillance technology on a partner’s phone.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.

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