Explainer: Abortion, Techniques, Surveillance | WGN Radio 720

With abortion now or soon becoming illegal in more than 12 states and being severely restricted in many more states, big tech companies that steal user personal information are faced with a new call to limit tracking and surveillance. increase. One concern is that law enforcement agencies or vigilants may use these data trove for people seeking ways to end unwanted pregnancies.

History has repeatedly shown that whenever people’s personal data is tracked and stored, there is always the risk of it being abused or potentially abused. The Supreme Court’s Friday decision against Roe v. Wade in 1973 legalizes abortion and seeks abortion using location data, text messages, search history, email, and a seemingly harmless duration and ovulation tracking app. I was able to prosecute people. Medical care for miscarriage — and the people who support them.

“In the digital age, this decision opens the door to private bounty hunters seeking huge amounts of personal data from law enforcement and the average American,” said the Washington-based Democratic Technology Center. Alexandra Reeve Givens, President and CEO, said. A non-profit organization with digital rights.

It’s already happening

Until May, a recent side study showed that data on clients from more than 600 Planned Parenthood sites nationwide could be purchased for $ 160 each week. The file contained the approximate patient’s address (derived from where the cell phone “sleeps” at night), income brackets, time spent in the clinic, and top places people visited back and forth. rice field.

HIPAA, a federal law, specifically the 1996 Health Insurance Interoperability and Accountability Act, protects the privacy of medical files in clinics, but is collected by third-party apps and technology companies. Information is not protected, so everything is possible. This is also true if the app that collects the data shares the data with a third party that could misuse the data.

In 2017, a black woman named Latice Fisher in Mississippi was charged with a second murder after seeking treatment for a miscarriage.

“While receiving care from medical staff, she was immediately treated on suspicion of committing a crime,” said Cynthia Conticook, a civil rights lawyer and Ford Foundation fellow, in a 2020 paper, Digital Abortion Diary. I wrote in “Monitoring”. Fisher’s “statement to the nurse, medical records, and autopsy records of her fetus were handed over to local police to investigate whether she intentionally killed the fetus,” she wrote. rice field.

Fisher was charged with a second murder in 2018. His conviction could lead to life imprisonment. The murder charges were later dismissed. Her evidence against her included her online search history, including questions about how to induce her miscarriage and how to buy an abortion drug online.

“Her digital data gave the prosecutor a” window to (her) soul “and proved their general theory that she didn’t want the fetus to survive,” Conticook wrote.

Fisher is not alone. In 2019, prosecutors presented the young mother’s browsing history during a trial indicted by a young Ohio mother for killing and burying her newborn baby. Brooke Skyler Richardson’s lawyer, who was eventually acquitted of murder and manslaughter, said the baby was stillborn.

However, the prosecutor claimed that she had killed her daughter and partially pointed out Richardson’s Internet search history, including the question “How to get rid of the baby.” She was later acquitted.

Industry response

Technology companies are generally trying to avoid the abortion problem that users are concerned about. They describe how to work with law enforcement and government agencies seeking to prosecute those seeking abortion where abortion is illegal, or those who are helping someone do so. not.

Last week, four Democrats asked federal regulators to investigate Apple and Google for tricking millions of mobile users by allowing them to collect personal data and sell it to third parties. I requested.

“Individuals seeking abortion and other assisted reproductive technology will be particularly vulnerable to privacy hazards, such as through the collection and sharing of location data,” lawmakers said in a letter. “Data brokers already sell, license and share the location information of people visiting abortion providers to those who have a credit card.”

Apple and Google did not immediately respond to the request for comment.

Governments and law enforcement agencies can summon data about users to businesses. In general, Big Tech’s policy recommends that companies comply with abortion-related data requests unless they consider them overly broad. For example, Meta pointed out an online transparency report stating, “We will only respond to government requests for user information if we sincerely believe that it is required by law.”

Online advocates say that’s not enough.

“In this new environment, technology companies need to step up and play a key role in protecting women’s digital privacy and access to online information,” said Center for Democracy and Technology’s Givens. .. For example, you can enhance and extend the use of privacy-protected encryption. Limit the collection, sharing, and sale of information that may reveal pregnancy status. Also, refrain from using artificial intelligence tools that can help you guess which users are more likely to be pregnant.

What about the period app?

After Friday’s Supreme Court ruling, some period tracking apps sought to assure users that their data was safe. However, it is helpful to read the details of the app’s privacy policy.

FloHealth, the company behind the widely used physiology tracking app, tweeted on Friday and will soon launch an “anonymous mode” aimed at removing personal IDs from user accounts, selling user’s personal data. I promised not to.

Clue, which also has a time-tracking app, says that data encryption keeps user health data “private and secure,” especially related to pregnancy, miscarriage, and abortion. It also states that it uses auditing software for regulatory compliance and removes user IDs before the scientific researchers working with the company analyze the data.

At the same time, the company acknowledged that it has adopted “a carefully selected service provider to process data on our behalf.” For these purposes, he states, “Share as little data as possible in the most secure way possible.” But the clues didn’t provide any further details.

User burden

Unless all your data is securely encrypted, there is always the possibility that someone can access your data somewhere. Therefore, abortion activists suggest that people in states where abortion is illegal should limit the production of such data in the first place.

For example, if you are seeking reproductive health care, turn off your phone’s location services or encourage them to leave your phone at home. For your safety, they say it’s good to read the privacy policy of your health app.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation suggests using a privacy-friendly web browser such as Brave, Firefox, or DuckDuckGo, but we also recommend revisiting your privacy settings.

You can also turn off ad identifiers on both Apple and Android phones to prevent advertisers from tracking you. Either way, this is generally a good idea. Apple will ask you if you want to keep track of new apps every time you download them. If you already have an app, you can manually turn off tracking.


Associated Press writers Amanda Seitz and Marcy Gordon contributed to this story.

Explainer: Abortion, Techniques, Surveillance | WGN Radio 720

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