Privacy fears over ‘terribly misguided‘ and ‘flawed’ new 888 tracking service for women

‘Tracking women’s movements is not a solution for male violence’ says campaigner

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
Wednesday 13 October 2021 18:47 BST

A new ‘888’ tracking service for women travelling alone has been dismissed as “terribly misguided” and “flawed” by campaigners who fear freedoms and privacy are being eroded.

The app and reporting system, proposed by BT and backed by home secretary Priti Patel, would require users to call or text to enter journey details that would be monitored by smartphone GPS.

Ministers and police have faced criticism for failing to tackle male violence in the wake of Sarah Everard’s murder and rape by a serving Met Police officer.

Wayne Couzens, who used coronavirus lockdown restrictions to falsely arrest the 33-year-old marketing executive before kidnapping, raping and strangling her, was sentenced to a whole-life prison term.

The 888 service would require women to enter their home address and other regularly-visited locations. Failure to respond to automated checks would trigger alerts to emergency contacts or the police.

Silkie Carlo, director of campaign group, Big Brother Watch, told The Independent: “Tracking women’s movements is not a solution for male violence. This is a terribly misguided, invasive and offensive policy that misdiagnoses the problem and will do nothing to make women safer.”

Leigh Morgan, senior legal officer at Rights of Women, said the scheme was “deeply flawed in its approach and expectation on women to adapt our lives to try and ensure safety from male violence.”

“This approach encourages a culture of victim responsibility and victim-blaming, and doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the issue,” she said.

While Andrea Simon, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, raised concerns about the “potential security risks” the 888 service poses.

“And the impact of private companies having access to women’s locations and patterns of movement,” Ms Simon added. “Particularly as we know domestic abusers use tech platforms to monitor and perpetrate harm against women”.

Campaigners also hit out at the government’s controversial new policing bill which has been widely criticised for rolling back human rights.

A petition challenging the legislation, which passed all stages in the House of Commons without amendment, has been signed by over 600,000 people. Opponents argue the wide-ranging bill includes a vast range of oppressive powers that crack down on the right to protest.

Ms Simon added: “We’re concerned that violence against women is being used politically to bring about greater police powers, which we know will disproportionately harm Black and minoritised communities through increased profiling, discrimination and intrusion in their lives.”

Violence against women needs to be framed as an issue of “rights and freedoms” rather than safety, she said.

Janey Starling, co-director of feminist campaign group Level Up, said the increase in police powers was “sinister and saddening.”

If the government genuinely wanted to keep women safe, it would “invest in specialist support services”, rather than capitalising on “stranger danger” fears, she said.

BT has been contacted for comment.

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