Bugged: The Problems Posed By Parents And Covert Recording 

Published on 31 August, 2021 | Katie Welton-Dillon

There is no doubt that the rapid pace at which technology has evolved in recent decades has made our lives much easier in many respects.

Remaining in contact with friends, family and work as well as on top of world affairs and even our finances is much more straightforward and immediate than it was for previous generations.

Many of us would rightly regard that as progress. However, we shouldn’t overlook the capacity for the devices upon which we rely so heavily to also create complications.

One such difficulty arises on a rather frequent basis in the work of myself and my colleagues in the Children’s Law team at Hall Brown.

Although many separated or divorced parents are able to contribute to their children’s well-being without dispute, there are those who experience disagreement.

In an effort to advance their respective arguments, some occasionally ask about the possibility of using covert means to gather evidence.

As I’ve been explaining to Emily Dugan, who is Social Affairs Correspondent for the Sunday Times, the question has surfaced on an increasingly regular basis, prompted in part by the ease by which such surveillance can be undertaken these days.

There is no longer any need to plant the kind of bugging equipment which was once a staple of espionage thrillers or detective dramas.

Now, the kind of apps which allow us to make voice and video calls or avoid losing our mobiles and tablets can be put to more surreptitious purposes.

That is, of course, in addition to our ability to make discreet recordings and take high quality photographs with a ‘phone’ which slips into our pockets.

Furthermore, smart home devices enable us to watch and listen in on what’s happening in our homes – and those places where we used to live – when we are or should not be around.

Whenever the subject is broached, we always insist that clients do no such thing, pointing out that such actions are fraught with potential complications.

In one case involving this kind of behaviour that was before the court, a judge spoke of how it had caused “serious complications” (https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2016/29.html).

That case featured a father who made covert recordings for more than a year before their existence became known, even going so far as to place devices in his daughter’s school blazer.

By the time that the case was heard, the judge concluded “even the father appeared to be beginning to understand the difficulties that he had created not just for his case but for his child”.

It should be pointed out that these issues are not confined to disputes involving children.

In recent years, my colleague Laura Guillon has spoken of how husbands and wives deliberating how best to divide their assets have failed to appreciate the risks posed by opening their ex’s post or reading their e-mails (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4457438/Divorcing-couples-read-s-post-risk-jail.html).

Rather than justifying an argument, covert recording can be entirely counter-productive.

Instead of being seen as simply taking an interest in a child’s home, it can be interpreted by former partners and courts alike as evidence of controlling behaviour.

Even the suspicion that parents are engaged in surveillance can heighten tensions and impact on relations with children by leading to some mothers and fathers limiting or even completely forbidding the use of the very apps which have been so especially useful in facilitating contact during lockdown alone.

We always advise that clients update passwords for computers and ‘digital assistants’, such as Amazon’s Alexa or Cortana by Microsoft, in order to provide both security and reassurance against potential problems of this nature.

In my experience, clarity, honesty and openness are critical in resolving any difficulties which can arise.

Resorting to underhand methods – even those readily available in items that we use every day – can only lead to conflict which no amount of technology can undo.

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