The case of a Nebraska lady charged with serving to her teenage daughter finish her being pregnant after investigators obtained Facebook messages between the 2 has raised recent considerations about data privacy within the post-Roe world.
Since earlier than the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, Big Tech corporations that acquire private particulars of their customers have confronted new calls to restrict that monitoring and surveillance amid fears that legislation enforcement or vigilantes might use these data troves towards individuals searching for abortions or those that attempt to assist them.
Meta, which owns Facebook, mentioned Tuesday it acquired warrants requesting messages within the Nebraska case from native legislation enforcement on June 7, earlier than the Supreme Court resolution overriding Roe got here down. The warrants, the corporate added, “did not mention abortion at all,” and court docket paperwork on the time confirmed that police had been investigating the “alleged illegal burning and burial of a stillborn infant.”
However, in early June, the mother and daughter were only charged with a single felony for removing, concealing or abandoning a body, and two misdemeanors: concealing the death of another person and false reporting.
It wasn’t until about a month later, after investigators reviewed the private Facebook messages, that prosecutors added the felony abortion-related charges against the mother.
History has repeatedly demonstrated that whenever people’s personal data is tracked and stored, there’s always a risk that it could be misused or abused. With the Supreme Court’s overruling of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion, collected location data, text messages, search histories, emails and seemingly innocuous period and ovulation-tracking apps could be used to prosecute people who seek an abortion — or medical care for a miscarriage — as well as those who assist them.
“In the digital age, this decision opens the door to law enforcement and private bounty hunters seeking vast amounts of private data from ordinary Americans,” mentioned Alexandra Reeve Givens, the president and CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington-based digital rights nonprofit.
WHY DID FACEBOOK TURN OVER THE MESSAGES?
Facebook owner Meta said it received a legal warrant from law enforcement about the case, which did not mention the word “abortion.” The company has said that officials at the social media giant “always scrutinize every government request we receive to make sure it is legally valid” and that Meta fights back against requests that it thinks are invalid or too broad.
But the company gave investigators information in about 88% of the 59,996 cases in which the government requested data in the second half of last year, according to its transparency report. Meta declined to say whether its response would have been different had the warrant mentioned the word “abortion.”
NOT A NEW ISSUE
Until this past May, anyone could buy a weekly trove of data on clients at more than 600 Planned Parenthood sites around the country for as little as $160, according to a recent Vice investigation. The files included approximate patient addresses — derived from where their cellphones “sleep” at night — income brackets, time spent at the clinic, and the top places people visited before and afterward.
It’s all possible because federal law — specifically, HIPAA, the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act — protects the privacy of medical files at your doctor’s office, but not any information that third-party apps or tech companies collect about you. This is also true if an app that collects your data shares it with a third party that might abuse it.
In 2017, a Black woman in Mississippi named Latice Fisher was charged with second-degree murder after she sought medical care for a pregnancy loss.
“While receiving care from medical staff, she was also immediately treated with suspicion of committing a crime,” civil rights attorney and Ford Foundation fellow Cynthia Conti-Cook wrote in her 2020 paper, “Surveilling the Digital Abortion Diary.” Fisher’s “statements to nurses, the medical records, and the autopsy records of her fetus were turned over to the local police to investigate whether she intentionally killed her fetus,” she wrote.
Fisher was indicted on a second-degree murder charge in 2018; conviction could have led to life in prison. The murder charge was later dismissed. Evidence against her, though included her online search history, which included queries on how to induce a miscarriage and how to buy abortion pills online.
“Her digital data gave prosecutors a ‘window into (her) soul’ to substantiate their common idea that she didn’t need the fetus to outlive,” Conti-Cook wrote.
Though many corporations have introduced insurance policies to guard their very own workers by paying for needed out-of-state journey to acquire an abortion, know-how corporations have mentioned little about how they could cooperate with legislation enforcement or authorities companies making an attempt to prosecute individuals searching for an abortion the place it’s unlawful — or who’re serving to somebody achieve this.
In June, Democratic lawmakers requested federal regulators to analyze Apple and Google for allegedly deceiving tens of millions of cell phone customers by enabling the gathering and sale of their private data to 3rd events.
The following month, Google introduced it should robotically purge details about customers who go to abortion clinics or different places that would set off authorized issues following the Supreme Court resolution.
Governments and legislation enforcement can subpoena corporations for data on their customers. Generally, Big Tech insurance policies counsel the businesses will adjust to abortion-related data requests except they see them as overly broad. Meta, as an example, pointed to its on-line transparency report, which says “we comply with government requests for user information only where we have a good-faith belief that the law requires us to do so.”
Online rights advocates say that is not sufficient. In the Nebraska case, as an example, neither Meta nor legislation enforcement would have been in a position to learn the messages had they been “end-to-end encrypted” the best way messages on Meta’s WhatsApp service are protected by default.
“Meta must flip the switch and make end-to-end encryption a default in all private messages, including on Facebook and Instagram. Doing so will literally save pregnant peoples’ lives,” mentioned, Caitlin Seeley George, campaigns and managing director on the nonprofit rights group Fight for the Future.
BURDEN ON THE USER
Unless all your data is securely encrypted, there’s at all times an opportunity that somebody, someplace can entry it. So abortion rights activists counsel that individuals in states the place abortion is outlawed ought to restrict the creation of such data within the first place.
For occasion, they urge turning off telephone location companies — or simply leaving your telephone at house — when searching for reproductive well being care. To be secure, they are saying, it is good to learn the privacy insurance policies of any well being apps in use.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation suggests utilizing extra privacy-conscious internet browsers akin to Brave, Firefox and DuckDuckGo — but additionally recommends double-checking their privacy settings.
There are additionally methods to show off advert identifiers on each Apple and Android telephones that cease advertisers from with the ability to observe you. This is usually a good suggestion in any case. Apple will ask you if you wish to be tracked every time you obtain a brand new app. For apps you have already got put in, the monitoring may be turned off manually.
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