Here’s what you need to know about online privacy in a post-Roe world – National

The case of a Nebraska woman accused of helping her teenage daughter term her pregnancy after investigators received Facebook messages between the two has raised new privacy concerns in the post-Roe world.

Before the US Supreme Court Roe v. Wade lifted in June, big tech companies that collect their users’ personal information have faced new calls to limit that tracking and surveillance amid fears that law enforcement or vigilante groups could use those treasure troves of data against people seeking an abortion or those trying to help them.

Meta, which owns Facebook, said Tuesday it received warrants requesting news in the Nebraska case from local law enforcement on June 7, ahead of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe. The warrants, the company added, “made no mention of abortion at all,” and court documents at the time showed police were investigating the “alleged illegal cremation and burial of a stillborn child.”

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However, in early June, the mother and daughter were charged with just a single felony, removing, concealing or leaving behind a body, and two misdemeanors: covering up 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 abortion charges against the mother.

History has repeatedly shown that tracking and storing an individual’s personal information always involves the risk of it being misused or misused. With the annulment of the Roe v. Wade’s 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion, collected location data, text messages, search histories, email, and seemingly harmless period and ovulation tracking apps could be used to track people who want an abortion — or medical ones Care for a miscarriage – as well as those who help them.

“In the digital age, this decision opens the door to law enforcement agencies and private bounty hunters seeking vast amounts of private data from ordinary Americans,” said Alexandra Reeve Givens, president and CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington-based nonprofit digital rights organization.

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Facebook owner Meta said she received a law enforcement court order on the case that did not mention the word “abortion.” The company said officials at the social media giant “always review every government request we receive to make sure it’s legal,” and that Meta defends itself against requests it believes are invalid or overly broad.

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However, 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 his response would have been different if the warrant had mentioned the word “abortion.”

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According to a recent study by Vice, up until May of last year, anyone could buy a weekly data collection from customers at more than 600 Planned Parenthood locations across the country for just $160. The files included patients’ approximate addresses – derived from where their phones “sleep” at night – income brackets, time spent in the clinic, and the main places people visited before and after.

All of this is possible because federal laws — most notably HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 — protect the confidentiality of medical records in your doctor’s office, but not information that third-party apps or technology companies collect about you. This also applies if an app collecting your data shares it with third parties who may misuse it.

In 2017, a black woman named Latice Fisher was charged with second-degree murder in Mississippi after seeking medical attention for a pregnancy loss.

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“While being treated by medical personnel, she was also immediately treated on suspicion of a crime,” wrote Cynthia Conti-Cook, civil rights attorney and Ford Foundation grantee, in her 2020 paper, Surveilling the Digital Abortion Diary. . Fisher’s “statements to nurses, medical records and autopsy records of her fetus have been turned over to local police to investigate whether she intentionally killed her fetus,” she wrote.

Fisher was charged with second-degree murder in 2018; Conviction could have resulted in life imprisonment. The murder charge was later dropped. However, evidence against her included her online search history, which included questions about how to induce a miscarriage and how to buy abortion pills online.

“Her digital data gave prosecutors a ‘window into (her) soul’ to support their general theory that she did not want the fetus to survive,” Conti-Cook wrote.

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Though many companies have announced policies to protect their own employees by paying for necessary travel abroad to obtain an abortion, tech companies have said little about how they might cooperate with law enforcement or government agencies trying to harass people seeking an abortion where it is illegal to prosecute – or who help someone to do so.

In June, Democratic lawmakers urged federal regulators to investigate Apple and Google for allegedly deceiving millions of cellphone users by enabling the collection and sale of their personal information to third parties.

The following month, Google announced that it would automatically delete information about users who visit abortion clinics or other places that could trigger legal troubles, following the Supreme Court’s decision.

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Governments and law enforcement agencies can subpoena companies for data about their users. In general, Big Tech’s policies suggest that the companies honor abortion-related data requests unless they deem them too broad. For example, Meta referenced its online transparency report, which states, “We will only comply with government requests for user information if we have a good faith belief that the law requires us to do so.”

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Online rights advocates say that’s not enough. In the case of Nebraska, for example, neither Meta nor law enforcement could have read the messages if they were “end-to-end encrypted,” the way messages on Meta’s WhatsApp service are protected by default.

“Meta needs to flip the switch and make end-to-end encryption the standard in all private messages, including on Facebook and Instagram. It will literally save the lives of pregnant people,” said Caitlin Seeley George, campaigns director and executive director of nonprofit rights group Fight for the Future.

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Unless all of your data is securely encrypted, there’s always a chance someone somewhere could access it. Abortion rights activists therefore suggest that people in states that ban abortion should limit the creation of such data in the first place.

For example, they are urging turning off phone location services — or simply leaving the phone at home — when seeking reproductive health care. To be sure, they say, it’s good to read the privacy policies of any health apps you use.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation suggests using more privacy-conscious web browsers like Brave, Firefox, and DuckDuckGo — but also recommends checking your privacy settings.

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There are also ways to disable advertising identifiers on Apple and Android phones that prevent advertisers from tracking you. In principle, this is a good idea in any case. Apple asks you if you want to be tracked every time you download a new app. If apps are already installed, tracking can be switched off manually.

© 2022 The Canadian Press Here’s what you need to know about online privacy in a post-Roe world – National


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