Can Smart Home Devices Be Covered by Restraining Orders?

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on June 28, 2018 6:57 AM

Smart homes can do a lot: like turn on lights, regulate temperature, play music ...

According to reports, they can also be used to harass people. When the house locks you down, or the heat goes up to 100 degrees, or the music suddenly blasts in the middle of the night, that's harassment. Isn't it?

The problem for judges and lawyers is: how to enforce restraining orders against smart homes? They aren't bad; they're just programmed that way.

Smart Home Harassment

Of course, people -- not smart homes -- do the harassing through their smart devices. It's like any other implement of harassment.

Even sending a malicious Twitter message can be a criminal act, but the person who activates the program gets the complaint. Programs don't harass; people do.

Even so, the New York Times reported stories of more than 30 people who said they were victims of smart home harassment. Their lawyers said it was domestic violence because an ex was usually behind it.

The advocates say judges should include all smart devices in restraining orders. However, those orders could be unenforceable as over-inclusive.

Over-Inclusive Orders

Jennifer Becker, an attorney with the women's rights group Legal Momentum, says not every smart home action -- like turning on the television -- is against the law. She says criminal laws may be inadequate to deal with the problem.

Hacking, stalking and other behaviors, on the other hand, are within the gambit of harassment laws. For example, abusers who use remote cameras to take intimate pictures of victims may find themselves on the wrong side of privacy and revenge porn laws.

Until the law catches up with some tech, however, the smart home may be a bit of a boogey man.

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