Explainer: online privacy in a post-cry world

Nebraska Woman’s Case The two have been accused by investigators of helping their teenage daughter terminate her pregnancy after receiving Facebook messages that raised new concerns about data privacy in the world of Ro-Ro.

Wade in June, the big tech companies that collect the personal details of their users have faced new calls to limit that tracking and surveillance amid fears that Law enforcement or vigilantes can use those data troves against people seeking abortions. Or those who try to help them.

Meta, which owns Facebook, said Tuesday that it received warrants requesting messages from local law enforcement on June 7 in the Nebraska case, before the Supreme Court decided to override the row. The warrant, the company added, “did not mention abortion at all,” and court documents from the time revealed that police were investigating “the alleged illegal burning and burial of a dead infant.”

However, at the beginning of June, the mother and daughter were charged with only one offense of removing, concealing or leaving a body, and two misdemeanors: concealment of another person’s death and false reporting. .

It wasn’t until nearly a month later, after investigators reviewed private Facebook messages, that prosecutors added charges related to a serious miscarriage against the mother.

History has shown time and again that whenever people’s personal data is tracked and stored, there is always a risk that it may be misused or misused, With the Supreme Court dismissing a 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, legalizing abortion, the use of location data, text messages, search history, email and seemingly spontaneous periods and ovulation-tracking apps on people seeking abortions can be used to prosecute. – or medical care for an abortion – as well as those who assist them.

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

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Why did Facebook replace Messages?

Facebook owner Meta said it has received a legal warrant from law enforcement regarding the case, which does not mention the word “abortion”. The company has said that executives from the social media giant “always scrutinize every government request they receive to ensure it is legally valid” and that Meta fights against requests that it deems invalid or too broad. Huh.

But the company provided investigators with 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 if the warrant had mentioned the word “abortion.”

no new issue

According to a recent Vice investigation, as of last May, anyone could buy a weekly trove of data on customers at more than 600 Planned Parenthood sites across the country for as little as $160. The files included estimated patient addresses — from where their cellphones “sleep” at night — income brackets, time spent in the clinic, and the top places people visited before and after.

All of this is 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 none of the information is stored on third-party apps or technology. Companies collect about you. This is true even if an app that collects your data shares it with a third party who can abuse it.

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

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“While receiving care from medical staff, she was immediately treated with suspicion of committing a crime,” civil rights attorney and Ford Foundation fellow Cynthia Conti-Cook wrote in her 2020 paper, Monitoring Digital Abortion Diary. Fisher’s “narcissists’ statements, medical records, and autopsy records of her fetuses were handed over to local police to investigate whether she intentionally killed her fetus,” she wrote.

Fisher was charged with second-degree murder in 2018; The punishment could have been life imprisonment. The murder charge was later dismissed. However, the evidence against her included her online search history, which included questions on how to induce an abortion and how to buy abortion pills online.

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

industry feedback

Although many companies have announced policies to protect their own employees by paying for out-of-state travel required to obtain abortions, technology companies have said little about whether they are contacted by law enforcement or government agencies. How can you cooperate with those who are trying to prosecute people seeking abortion? It is illegal – or those who are helping someone to do so.

In June, Democratic lawmakers asked federal regulators to investigate Apple and Google For allegedly defrauding millions of mobile phone users by enabling the collection and sale of their personal data to third parties.

The following month, Google announced that it would automatically purged information about users visiting abortion clinics or other places that could trigger legal problems following a Supreme Court ruling.

Governments and law enforcement may subpoena companies for their users’ data. In general, Big Tech policies suggest that companies comply with abortion-related data requests unless they consider them to be overly broad. For example, Meta pointed to its online transparency report, which says, “We comply with government requests for user information where we believe the law requires us to do so.”

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Online rights advocates say this is not enough. For example, in the Nebraska case, neither Meta nor law enforcement would have been able to read messages if they were “end-to-end encrypted,” the way messages on Meta’s WhatsApp service are protected by default.

“Meta should flip the switch and make end-to-end encryption the default in all private messages, including Facebook and Instagram. Doing so would literally save pregnant lives,” said Caitlin Seeley George, of nonprofit rights group Fight For said the campaign and managing director of The Future.

burden on the user

Unless all of your data is securely encrypted, there is always a chance that someone, somewhere, can access it. That’s why abortion rights activists suggest that those in states that have outlawed abortion should limit the creation of such data in the first place.

For example, they insist on turning off phone location services or leaving their phone at home when seeking reproductive health care. To stay safe, he says, it’s a good idea to read the privacy policies of any health app you’re in use.

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

There are also ways to turn off the advertising identifier On both Apple and Android phones that prevent advertisers from being able to track you. This is generally 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 already have installed, tracking can be turned off manually.