Tracking devices increasingly used by DV offenders to ‘stalk, harass, intimidate and monitor victims’

<span>One woman stalked by an ex-partner found an Apple AirTag inside a magnetic box attached to her car.</span><span>Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA</span>
One woman stalked by an ex-partner found an Apple AirTag inside a magnetic box attached to her car.Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

One in four people who purchase tracking devices in New South Wales have a history of domestic violence, a new state Crime Commission report suggests.

The study, released on Tuesday, says there has been a “sharp rise” in the use of trackers in recent years, including among organised crime networks to “monitor, locate and ultimately attack their rivals”.

The commission analysed more than 5,500 tracking devices sold in 2023 to more than 3,000 customers. One in four had a history of domestic violence, while a further 126 were apprehended violence order defendants at the time the items were purchased.

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The commission, which investigates serious criminal activity and has the power to confiscate items, noted many customers purchased a device in the days after an AVO had been enforced.

“Tracking and other surveillance devices are frequently used by perpetrators of domestic and family violence to stalk, harass, intimidate and monitor victims, sometimes leading to violent outcomes,” the report states.

“One in four known individuals who purchased tracking devices since the beginning of 2023 have a history of domestic violence.”

The report calls for tighter controls on tracking devices and recommends their use be factored into bail and AVO conditions to protect victims.

Some private investigators and specialist spy stores were selling the surveillance equipment to DV offenders by marketing the fact their products could be used to monitor intimate partners, the commission found.

The commission recommended the government restrict the sale and use of devices without built-in anti-stalking measures.

Between 2010 and 2023, NSW police charged 219 people under the Surveillance Devices Act. About a third of the 438 charges laid related to the unlawful use of tracking devices.

“There has been a general increase in the number of charges laid over time,” the commission found.

“The introduction of the Apple AirTag into the Australian market in April 2021 almost certainly contributed to this increase, with 14 offenders charged in relation to unlawful use of AirTags since this time.”

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The report detailed the case of a woman who was being stalked by her former partner late last year. The man reportedly drove past her house multiple times a day and called her repeatedly.

“When the victim became suspicious she was being physically tracked by the offender, she used an anti-stalking mobile phone application to find an Apple AirTag affixed to her vehicle inside a magnetic box,” the report said.

The investigation uncovered 391 customers deemed “particularly high-risk” that were referred to police and other authorities.

Murders, public-place shootings, kidnappings, drug thefts and trafficking have all been linked to the use of tracking devices by criminal networks.

The Crime Commission report primarily covered GPS tracking devices designed for monitoring the location of vehicles. These devices use global navigation satellite systems.

The commission used its powers to make 20 retailers produce data relating to the sale of 5,663 devices sold to 3,147 customers.

It did not review data relating to the sale of Bluetooth tags – such as Apple AirTags, Samsung SmartTags and Tiles – that rely on a mesh network of nearby Bluetooth devices to provide location data.