UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy


The UK Computer Misuse Act 1990 and its application to cases of technology-facilitated abuse

11 August 2021, 12:30 pm–1:30 pm

Image of laptop in a dark room

This webinar will summarise the outcomes of one of the first studies to explore the relevance and applicability of the Computer Misuse Act for cases of domestic abuse.

This event is free.

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Online abuse is one of the most pressing challenges for our digital society. This is best demonstrated in the context of domestic violence. Different forms of intimate partner violence (IPV) continue to affect over two million UK adults (Office for National Statistics, 2019), with estimates suggesting that nearly 85-100% of victims/survivors are subjected to some form of technology-facilitated abuse (Suzy Lamplugh Trust, 2021; Women’s Aid, 2018). Tech abuse describes the subversion of “every day” digital technological systems (computers, smartphones, apps, cameras) to coerce, control, and harm a person or groups of individuals. It includes offences such as image-based sexual abuse (“revenge porn”), cyberstalking, and GPS-tracking (McGlynn, Rackley, & Houghton, 2017; Stevens, Nurse, & Arief, 2020). It exposes victims/survivors and their children to all types of physical, emotional, and financial harm.  

Yet, tech abuse is not a domestic abuse offence per se. Instead, activities such as hacking into someone’s phone, tracking one’s online behaviour or installing malicious software (i.e., spyware) are offences that can also fall under the CMA. While this piece of legislation is conventionally associated with unauthorised access to computer material for (say) financial and monitory gain (i.e., “cybercrime”), the Act may also be used to prosecute IPV tech abuse offenders.  

In this upcoming webinar, we will summarise the outcomes of one of the first studies to explore the relevance and applicability of the CMA for cases of domestic abuse. The research project was funded by the UK Home Office Domestic Abuse Perpetrators Research Fund and examined the occurrence and prevalence of tech abuse in court cases prosecuted through the CMA in England and Wales. 

Practitioners working for voluntary and statutory organisations such as the College of Policing/law enforcement representatives, domestic abuse charities, the Crown Prosecution Services/legal professionals, as well as policy officials and researchers, are invited to this presentation in which the research team will outline how the use of technology in domestic violence cases has evolved over time, give recommendations for people working with victims/survivors, and discuss the next steps that are planned to continue this pressing piece of work. 

Image by Philipp Katzenberger on Unsplash

About the Speakers

Dr Leonie Tanczer

Lecturer in International Security and Emerging Technologies at UCL STEaPP

Dr Leonie Tanczer is also Honorary Visiting Lecturer at the Violence and Society Centre, City/University of London. She leads the "Gender and IoT" pilot study and is a member of the "Violence, Abuse and Mental Health" network.

Professor Shane Johnson

Professor of Future Crimes and Director at UCL Dawes Centre for Future Crime

Professor Shane Johnson works closely with the voluntary sector, College of Policing and DCMS, is a member of the Home Office Scientific Advisory Council and has published over 140 peer-reviewed publications.

Francesca Stevens

Research Assistant at UCL STEaPP

Francesca Stevens is an incoming PhD student at City/University of London, and volunteer with the National Stalking Helpline. She holds an MSc in Criminology and Criminal Justice and recently published a systematic review on the intersection between cyberstalking and the impact upon victims’ mental health.

Frances Ridout

Director at Legal Advice Centre

Frances Ridout is also a practising barrister and Senior Lecturer at the School of Law at Queen Mary University of London (she is an associate tenant at 15 New Bridge Street Chambers). She specialises in image-based sexual abuse cases and upskirting and leads the SPITE project at the Queen Mary Legal Advice Centre which offers free legal advice for revenge porn victims.