United States: Abortion surveillance: Tech giants prepare for "legal chaos" from abortion data subpoenas

Jul 20, 2022 | Posted by MadalineDunn

On June 24th, the US Supreme Court overturned Roe vs Wade, ruling that there is no constitutional right to abortion in the US. Called a "tragic error" by President Joe Biden, the ruling means that individual states can now decide on the legality of abortions, and it's estimated that around half of states will make abortion illegal. While the Center for Reproductive Rights predicts that 25 states are likely to make abortion illegal, thirteen states have so-called trigger laws, meaning either quick state action, or an immediate ban.  Tech giants are now reportedly preparing for the data-sharing implications of the ruling. The likes of Google, Microsoft, and AWS are now discussing the question of whether they would share personal data from users in the event authorities approached them regarding individuals pursual of abortion in states where it's illegal. There have subsequently been calls for tech companies to make clear their stance on the situation, however, for the most part, they've stayed quiet. 

The consequences of this ruling will be devastating, and as UNFPA, the United Nations' sexual and reproductive health agency, highlights, 45% of the world's abortions are unsafe and a leading cause of maternal death. This is something that has been echoed by FIGO, the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics, which said: "Lack of access to safe abortion care is one of the leading causes of preventable maternal death and disability. Each year, 47,000 women in the world die as a result of unsafe abortion and an estimated 5 million are hospitalized for the treatment of serious complications such as bleeding or infection." As many have outlined, the Supreme Court ruling won't stop abortions, it will stop safe abortions. 

Speaking about this, Dr. Alvaro Bermejo, director-general of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, said: "We also know that those who cannot access safe abortion care legally, including medical abortion pills, will be forced into unregulated and unsafe methods, potentially resulting in serious harm or even death and costing lives for decades to come."

Of course, in 2022, the environment in which the ruling has taken place is incredibly different from the one back in 1972, and from a legal standpoint, the decision around Roe vs Wade means that location data, text messages, search histories, emails, as well as period and ovulation-tracking apps could be used to prosecute those seeking an abortion. Alexandra Reeve Givens, the president and CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology, explains: "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."

Google has gone some way to secure customers' data, and said that it will automatically delete location-tracking records of user visits to places such as abortion clinics and will enable easier deletion of period logs from its Fitbit app. Meanwhile, the fertility app Proov, a company that sells ovulation strips, and calculates users' hormone values and ovulation scores, has announced that it has decided that it will shift from AWS and Microsoft Azure to Google Cloud in a move to protect the data of its customers. This is reportedly due to the latter having a data center in Nevada, which the company believes is unlikely to pass restrictive abortion laws, meaning that users' data is more likely to be protected. Speaking about this decision, Amy Beckley, founder and CEO of Proov, said: "As things change and the environment changes, things that were safe before aren't safe anymore."

{{ commentCount }} Comments