The case of a Nebraska Woman accused of helping her teenage daughter end her pregnancy after investigators caught her Facebook Messages between the two have raised new concerns about data privacy in the post-Roe world.
Since before the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade In June, Big Tech companies that collect the personal details of their users were faced with new requirements to limit tracking and surveillance due to concerns that law enforcement or the vigilant can use those troves of data against those who are searching abortion or people trying to help them.
Meta, which owns Facebook, said on Tuesday that it received an order for the Nebraska messages from local law enforcement on June 7, prior to the Supreme Court decision. high on the adoption of Roe is given. The company added that the subpoena “doesn’t mention abortion at all,” and court documents at the time showed police were investigating “the alleged burning and burial of an alleged fetus.” is illegal.”
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However, at the beginning of June, the mother and daughter were charged with only one felony for leaving, hiding or disposing of a body, and two misdemeanors: concealing another’s death and making false statements.
It wasn’t until about a month later, after investigators reviewed individual Facebook messages, that prosecutors added abortion-related felony felony charges against the mother.
History has repeatedly demonstrated that whenever people’s personal data is tracked and stored, there is always a risk that it could be misused or misused. With the Supreme Court passing Roe v. Wade in 1973 legalizing abortion, the collection of location data, text messages, search history, email and ovulation tracking apps and seemingly innocuous cycles can be used to prosecute people who want an abortion – or medically care for someone who has suffered a miscarriage – as well as those who support them.
“In the digital age, this decision opens the door to law enforcement and private bounty hunters seeking vast amounts of personal data from ordinary Americans,” said Alexandra Reeve. Givens, president and CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology, based in Washington. digital rights nonprofit.
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WHY IS FACEBOOK THROUGH MESSAGES?
The owner of Facebook Meta said they received a legal subpoena from law enforcement about the incident, which did not mention the word “abortion”. The company has said that the social media giant’s officials “always scrutinize every government request we receive to make sure it’s legally valid” and that Meta will fight those. the request it considers invalid or too broad.
But the company provided investigators with information on 88% of the 59,996 cases where the government requested data in the second half of last year, according to its transparency report. Meta declined to say whether their reaction would have been different if the order mentioned the word “abortion”.
NOT A NEW PROBLEM
Until this past May, anyone could buy a weekly amount of customer data at more than 600 Planned Parenthood sites around the country for as little as $160, according to a recent Vice investigation. These files include approximate patient addresses _ taken from where their cell phones “sleep” at night – income bracket, time spent in clinic, and top places people visited before And after that.
It’s all possible because federal law – specifically HIPAA, the Health Insurance Provision and Accountability Act of 1996 – protects the privacy of medical files at your doctor’s office. you, and not any information that third-party applications or technology companies collect about you. The same is true if an application that collects your data shares that data with a third party that could abuse it.
In 2017, a black Mississippi woman named Latice Fisher was charged with second-degree murder after she sought medical attention due to a miscarriage.
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“While receiving medical care, she was also immediately treated for suspected crimes,” civil rights attorney and Cynthia Conti-Cook, a fellow at the Ford Foundation, wrote in the post. 2020 paper, “Digital Abortion Diary Survey”. She wrote: “Fisher’s statements to the nurses, medical records and autopsy records of her fetus have been turned over to local police to investigate whether she intentionally killed her child. your baby or not”.
Fisher was charged with second-degree murder in 2018; Conviction can lead to life in prison. The murder charge was later dismissed. The evidence against her, though including her online search history, includes queries about how to induce a miscarriage and how to purchase abortion pills online.
Conti-Cook wrote: “Her digital data gave prosecutors a `window into the soul) to prove their general theory that she did not want the fetus to survive.
Although many companies have announced policies to protect their employees by paying for the necessary out-of-state travel for abortions, tech companies have said little about how they are doing. can cooperate with law enforcement or government agencies trying to prosecute people seeking abortion where it is illegal – or who is helping someone to do so.
In June, Democratic lawmakers asked federal regulators to investigate Apple and Google for allegedly deceiving millions of cell phone users by allowing data to be collected and sold. their personal data to third parties.
Next month, Google announced that it will automatically delete information about users who visit abortion clinics or other locations that could cause legal problems following the Supreme Court decision.
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Governments and law enforcement agencies can subpoena companies for data about their users. In general, Big Tech’s policies dictate that companies will comply with abortion-related data requests unless they find them too broad. For example, Meta pointed to its online transparency report, which states that “we only comply with government requests for user information when we have a good faith belief that the law requires us to do like that”.
Online rights advocates say that’s not enough. In the case of Nebraska, for example, neither Meta nor law enforcement would be able to read the messages if they were “end-to-end encrypted” the way messages on Meta’s WhatsApp service are protected by default. .
“Meta must flip the switch and make end-to-end encryption the default in all private messages, including on Facebook and Instagram. Doing so will literally save the lives of those who are pregnant, said Caitlin Seeley George, campaign director and chief executive officer of the nonprofit Fight for the Future.
BURDEN ON USERS
Unless all of your data is securely encrypted, there’s always the possibility that someone, somewhere could access it. So abortion rights activists suggest that people in states that ban abortion should refrain from creating such data in the first place.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation recommends using more privacy-conscious web browsers like Brave, Firefox, and DuckDuckGo – but also recommends double-checking their privacy settings.
There are also ways to turn off advertising identifiers on both Apple and Android phones to prevent advertisers from tracking you. This is usually a good idea in any case. Apple will ask you if you want to be tracked every time you download a new app. For apps you have installed, tracking can be turned off manually.
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