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Anti-porn ‘shameware’ app being used to spy on alleged criminals’ families

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A so-called ‘shameware’ anti-porn app has been used to survey phone use of family members of people on probation in the US, raising concerns among legal professionals that the process may be violating constitutional rights.

Covenant Eyes is an app that monitors phone use, by sending regular blurred screenshots of phone activity to a designated ‘accountability partner’. Marketed largely at parents and church organizations, the app is designed to rat out supposedly undesirable and immoral internet use, and also block porn sites.

The app is generally used with the consent of the person who has it on their phone, but in 2022 was removed from Google Play for breaching privacy rules.

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Covenant Eyes’ terms and conditions say it cannot be used in a “premeditated legal setting”. However, a Wired investigation found that in at least five US states the app has been used to monitor the devices of people on parole or awaiting trial.

A family in Monroe County, Indiana told Wired that the devices of four family members were monitored via Covenant Eyes when the father of the family was released on parole after being charged with possession of child sexual abuse material. He pleaded not guilty to the crime, with his partner also saying he’s innocent.

The man was recalled to jail one week after being released on probation, after Covenant Eyes flagged that one of the phones had allegedly been used to attempt to access Pornhub. The app was also sending blurred screenshots of the phones’ activity to the accused man’s parole officers: his designated ‘accountability partners’ for the app.

The accused man was banned from using digital devices as part of his parole terms. However, his partner claimed that no-one in the family visited Pornhub, and that her partner had not touched her phone. Covenant Eyes makes network requests to site servers as part of background refreshes: a known issue that could account for the Pornhub flagging.

This didn’t stop the man being recalled to jail, however.

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Privacy, as well as the reliability of website flagging such as this, has been raised as a concern in the use of Covenant Eyes for probation surveillance. Although the app blurs the screenshots it sends, the family were concerned that private conversations would be sent to probation officers, as well as private activity such as shopping for personal items.

The mother of the family said she was scared to communicate with their lawyers on her phone, in case their communication was fed to the probation officers and used against her partner.

Covenant Eyes and Monroe County officials did not responsd to Wired’s requests for comment.

Pilar Weiss, founder of the National Bail Fund Network, said: “This is the most extreme type of monitoring that I’ve seen,” and was “part of a disturbing trend where deep surveillance and social control applications are used pretrial with little oversight.”

SEXTECHGUIDE contacted Covenant Eyes for input into this story, but hadn’t received a response at the time of publication. We will, of course, update here if we receive anything substantive.

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